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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Giving You Colonel Durnford of Isandlwana 1879

Colonel Anthony William Durnford's final moments.

Colonel Anthony William Durnford was born in Ireland in 1830. He was a brave man who would earn his celebrity in the final moments of his life, fighting bravely, as a valiant soldier, in a battle that was one of the biggest disasters in British military history.

As a 12 year old boy he left Ireland to grow up with his uncle in Dusseldorf Germany, but as a young man he came to England and enlisted in the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, London. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1848.

He was stationed overseas in Ceylon, but tried to get transferred away during the start of the war in Crimea against imperial Russia. He wanted to see action. He was not accepted for this and was disappointed to miss the campaign. While in Ceylon he also got married. 

He was then sent to Malta for a few years and had three children by his wife. Sadly, the first - a boy, died in infancy. The second - a daughter survived, but the third - another daughter, also died in infancy. This was a traumatic time for Anthony William Durnford and his wife. They separated after this and, for a while, he was stationed in Gibraltar, before returning to England.

He was then sent to South Africa in 1872 and stationed at a place called Pietermartizburg. He was now 42 and may have thought his army career had been uneventful on the action side of things.

In South Africa his first chance came and he took part in his first action when he was caught in a skirmish with  an African tribe called the Hlubis at Bushman's River. He fought bravely and took two stab wounds during the fight. He managed to kill two assailants with his pistol but one of his wounds left his lower left arm paralysed from the elbow down. He had no use of his left hand after this and would ride with his native horsemen (The Natal Native Horse) keeping his redundant hand inside his jacket similar to the way Napoleon sometimes did.

Colonel Durnford was very popular among his fellow horse contingents and was regarded affectionately as a larger then life character - a commanding Irishman with a confident presence. He moulded his Natal Native Horseman in to fine riders and very competent men.

In 1879, Colonel Durnford and his men were used in Lord Chelmsford's invasion of the Zulu's land when Britain declared war upon the Zulu King Cetshwayo. The mission was to be a disaster. A large force of the British army encountered the Zulu warriors at a place called Isandlwana. A huge battle took place between over 23,000 Zulus against 858 British troops and 471 native soldiers. All but 55 of the Britain's troops were wiped out during this battle.

During the desperate struggle, Colonel Durnford and his men rode out and tried to hold the left horn of the flanking Zulu army and put up a very fierce resistance faltering the enemy until his men ran out of cartridges. They then had to remount and return to the main camp where the Redcoat British foot soldiers were being over run by the Zulu forces.

Colonel Durnford and his last remaining men put up a last stand as they ran headlong into the Zulus. They were overcome and killed - falling alongside the other soldiers of the British army. Of the 55 soldiers who did manage to escape across the Buffalo river; a few were NNH soldiers. 


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