Discovering The Battlefields Of The Anglo – Zulu War by Ken Gillings

30 Degrees South Publishing
by John Stallard

There are many publications available today that cover the short but bloody Anglo – Zulu War and certainly many existing books that are rather good cover the battlefields as this new book is set to do. They are larger books, cover the battles in extreme detail and are often lavishly  illustrated with excellent  shots of today’s battlefield. Why then  would  you buy this book if its all been done before?

Well, of course, it hasn’t all been done before. Each writer brings a fresh perspective to the events of 1879, a political view, a cultural view, etc. They may have either more recent access to facts or interpret them differently, and Ken Gillings, being a South African writer, and an accomomplished one at that, has provided us with a terrific slim volume, just over 200 pages, that any budding battlefield explorer should slip into their bush jacket when battlefield walking.

Walking old battlefields is beneficial in so many ways. From helping local economies economically, sharing fact and counter fact with fellow travellers ad nauseum, but mainly the fact that it’s so difficult to appreciate a battle, of any size or complexity, excluding  you are perhaps a soldier well versed in reading maps, unless you walk them yourself and see what the general’s could see and what the other ranks could see (generally not a lot). Ken certainly has done  a lot of walking in his time and also provides tours of the  battles, both the obvious Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana, to the far more obscure fields of conflict that are well off the beaten track.

The South African goverment, tourist board and local historians have tried hard over the years to maintain signage tracks and roads to dozens of battlefields/skirmishes and graves, and, in general, using a cheap and cheerful hire car you can get to visit most of the places of interest. What works against this is time, extremes of climate, cattle, termites and grave robbers, to mention just a few…meaning that sometimes you will have no idea where to look as there will no longer be markings or signage. With the wonders of modern technology however, GPS  is your friend. This book has all the interesting co-ordinates for you to load in and my understanding is that these things are accurate to a metre or two, enabling you for instance, should you wish, stand exactly by Jim Rorke’s grave-S28 21.409′   E30 32.298′, and why wouldn’t you!

The book is carefully split to cover both campaigns and to cover all the columns, so you can follow their progress in a coherent manner. The military history  is good and the assessment of the British and Zulu armies most useful to any wargamer who struggles with what appears at first to be  a mass of amorphous Zulus and exotic Natal volunteer units.

Encouragingly, Mr Gillings has an excellent endorsement  to his research in the shape of  a foreword written, with care, by no other than Prince Buthelezi, Zulu Prime Minister and who had the Zulu King Cetshwayo as his maternal great grandfather. The Prince writes  of his enjoyment in reading the book and praises its fairness to all, a theme I certainly warmed to when reading it.

It is well illustrated in black and white, with just some spots of colour to make the excellent maps really stand out.

Finally, like all good writers, he acknowledges handsomely the other people upon whom he has based so much of his research in a good bibliography and a page of thanks to all who helped compile this most useful book, which will certainly accompany me on my next trip to Natal. A good read.