EVERY SOLDIER TELLS A STORY
1879 Private 24th Foot
(WB Redcoats 43137)
The Zulu War of 1879 has become familiar to collectors and the general public through popular movies such as Zulu (1964) and Zulu Dawn (1979) which recreated the battles of Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana respectively. This Britain’s Classic Redcoat represents a private of the 24th Regiment of Foot which participated in these engagements. The Zulu War was fought from January through August 1879 in South Africa between the British and the indigenous Zulu Kingdom and is often referred to as the Anglo-Zulu War. It is an example of the colonial wars that the British fought in Africa and Asia during the 19th Century, a time of great rivalries between the European powers for territory, resources, and markets for their industrial products. The Zulu war was part of what has been described as “the scramble for Africa”.
The British had first demonstrated interest in South Africa in 1795 when they seized control of the Cape from the Dutch East India Company establishing their own colony there. The British and Dutch would continue as rivals for this part of the African continent eventually leading to the series of conflicts known as the Boer Wars in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. In 1843 the British annexed the Colony of the Republic of Natalia from the Dutch and renamed it Natal. Directly bordering the colony of Natal was the Kingdom of Zululand, home to the largest indigenous African population in South Africa.
The Zulus had strengthened their power in the region and expanded their territory during the early 19th Century under the leadership of their King Shaka, who was responsible for turning his followers into a formidable military force. During the 1870s the leadership of the Zulu Kingdom had passed to Cetshwayo (1826-1884) pictured below:
At this time, Cetshawayo had 50.000 well-trained warriors at his disposal, who like the English soldiers across the border from the Zulu Kingdom, were divided into regiments. A typical Zulu Warrior of the time is illustrated in this example from Britain’s 2008 range of figures from the Zulu War:
Like most of these warriors he is armed with a spear and a shield. Some Zulus also carried wooden clubs (knob-kerrie) or firearms purchased from European traders.This was the enemy that the Britain’s Classic Redcoat of the 24th Regiment of Foot faced in the epic battles that took place in South Africa in the 1870s.
The Uniform & Equipment:
The figure’s uniform and equipment are illustrative of the British soldiers who fought against the Zulus.
WB # 43137 and 24th Foot Regimental Badge
His headgear is a cloth-covered cork foreign service helmet issued to all ranks in 1877. It was originally covered in white cloth but tea has been used to stain it a tan or light brown color to blend in better with the tropical environments were it was in use. His scarlet service-dress frock coat is decorated with green collar patches to which are attached small brass regimental badges in the shape of a sphinx. Grass green pointed panels decorate his cuffs. These panels are bordered by white tape that forms a trefoil knot at the point. Brass general service pattern buttons bearing the Royal coat of arms decorate the front of the coat and white tape borders his shoulder straps to which the number 24 in white metal or brass has been affixed. He wears dark blue serge trousers with a scarlet stripe running down the outside of each leg. Black leather leggings and shoes complete the uniform. His accessories consist of a white belt with brass buckle and white leather ammunition pouches. A white strap holds a water bottle on his right hip and a buff-colored belt supports a haversack of the same color on his left. A black leather and white metal bayonet scabbard is attached to his belt beneath the haversack. His standard issue weapon is a Martini-Henry rifle that he holds by his side in the “Order” position from the drill manual of the period.
What were the events that led to the Zulu War of 1879? Historians have suggested a variety of motives behind the conflict such as 19th Century imperialism, capitalism, and individual hubris and ambition. The latter were represented by Sir Henry Bartle Frere who was appointed High Commissioner in South Africa in 1877.
Sir Henry Bartle Frere
Frere arrived at a time when there was simmering conflict among the three powers in the region: the British, Dutch and Zulus. By the 1870s diamonds had been discovered and mining and industrialization were moving forward. Frere believed that he could advance both Britain’s position in South Africa and his own career by confronting the Zulus who had periodically clashed with the Europeans now encroaching on their borders. Seizing upon such incidents, Frere in December 1878 presented a list of demands (known as the “Ultimatum” to the Zulus that he knew would not be met. After the deadline passed in January without an agreement, Frere ordered Lord Chelmsford, the commander of British forces in South Africa to move an invasion army across the Natal border into the Zulu Kingdom. The 24th Regiment of Foot was part of that invading army.
The 24th Regiment of Foot had been active since the 18th Century including involvement in the Seven Years War, the American War of Independence, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Indian Mutiny of 1857. In the 1870s two battalions of the 24th were sent to South Africa. During the Zulu War of 1879, they participated in the two most famous battles of that conflict. On January 22nd at Isandlwana, the first battle of the war, they fought in the losing battle against a Zulu force of 22,000 warriors. Despite British defeat in the battle, two British officers of the 24th , Lieutenants Melville and Coghill were posthumously awarded Victoria Crosses for their bravery in attempting to rescue the Queen’s Colours from the Zulus. Later on the 22nd a company of the 2nd Battalion of the 24th left behind in Natal with a few other combatants (a total of 139 men) at the Swedish missionary station located at Rorke’s Drift successfully defended their position against an attacking force of over 4000 Zulus who had crossed the border during the fighting at Isandlwana. Seven of the 11 Victoria Crosses awarded for bravery and heroism at Rorke’s Drift went to men of the 24th Regiment of Foot.
Britain’s Zulu War
This Classic Redcoat representing a private of the 24th Regiment of Foot proudly joins the ranks of Britains new 2008 series on the Zulu War illustrated below in a scene from the Battle at Rorke’s Drift: