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Shields that prove blockbuster movie Zulu got it WRONG; Plaques reveal names of 91 brave Midlands men who fought in Anglo-Zulu War.

Byline: MIKE LOCKLEY Staff Reporter

THE first thing that catches your eye in Lichfield Cathedral's regimental chapel is the array of Zulu shields. A closer look reveals plaques on the shields, containing the names of 91 soldiers from the 80th Foot (Staffordshire Volunteers) who fought in the Anglo-Zulu War.

The display is proof positive that big screen blockbuster Zulu got it wrong.

The defiant stand at Rorke's Drift was made largely by men from the Midlands, not the Welsh.

And Staffordshire's links with the conflict are strong. Extremely strong.

The shields were commissioned in 1893 by the Marquis of Anglesey, whose family seat was Beaudesert on the southern tip of Cannock Chase. The 1st Marquis of Anglesey, previously known as Lord Uxbridge, had raised the Staffordshire Volunteers during the French Revolutionary Wars.

The Marquis had a distinguished military career. He led the cavalry charge at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and, after being hit by cannon fire, calmly informed Wellington: "By God, Sir, I've lost my leg."

The saw used to remove the right limb in the days before anaesthetic is displayed at the National Army Museum. The Marquis, not short of a bob or two, declined the offer of a PS1,200 pension the injury entitled him to.

The 80th Foot (Staffordshire Volunteers) later became the South Staffordshire Regiment and the cathedral shields are testimony to its part in the Zulu conflict.

The Honourable William Littleton, third son of the 1st Baron Hatherton of Teddesley, near Penkridge, played an important part in that conflict.

Littleton, the deputy lieutenant of Staffordshire, was private secretary to diplomat Sir Henry Edward Bartle Frere, the High Commissioner in the Cape Colony. It was a role that allowed him to document, through photographs, the events and personalities of the Zulu War.

Littleton died, aged only 42, in 1889 and St Michael's Church, in the Staffordshire market town of Penkridge, contains memorials to him and other family members.

Also installed inside St Michael's are railings that once formed part of the main gate of a Boer farmstead, situated at Rust En Vreugd. It is believed that the railings were given to Littleton by Bartle Frere.

Bartle Frere was appointed Cape Colony's High Commissioner in 1877, having previously served in India. He was tasked with pulling all the southern Africa states and colonies under the umbrella of British rule and soon realise dthat could only be achieved by taking on the Zulus.

To that end, he tasted both ignominious failure and glory - all in the space of 48 hours in early 1879.

Firstly, there was the battle of Isandlwana, the British Army's greatest defeat at the hands of native tribes, with more than 1,300 men slaughtered. Just 10 miles south-east at Rorke's Drift - a Swedish mission - 150 men stood firm against 4,000 Zulus.

The battle, immortalised in the film, Zulu, spawned 11 Victoria Crosses for bravery. But in truth, the British were hell-bent on baiting Zulu king Cetshwayo and his army of 40,000 warriors into battle. The final straw was Bartle Frere's demands that Cetshwayo disband his army.

There's little doubt our politicians sorely underestimated the native force, armed with only hide shields, knobkerrie clubs, assegais - long, throwing spears - and shorter, stabbing spears dubbed iklwa, a Zulu word which described the slurping noise as the weapon was pulled from a victim.

Under Zulu law, warriors could not marry until they proved themselves in battle. Therefore, the bachelors - high as kites on drugs to bolster their bravery - took the lead at Isandlwana. It was the married men who fought at Rorke's Drift. British generals had no doubt the "savages" would be mown down en masse by the army's state-of-the-art Martini-Henry Rifles.

Much has been written about Rorke's Drift and Isandlwana and the Victorian Cross won by Birmingham's Samuel Wassall for saving a fellow soldier swept away in a river.

But the 80th Foot also suffered bloody defeat at a battle that has been near-forgotten. The Battle of Intombe Drift, on March 12, 1879, saw 104 troops face around 700 Zulus. Just over 40 soldiers survived.

The violence erupted when four companies, led by Major Charles Tucker, were despatched to help German settlers in the north Zululand village of Luneberg. A convoy of 18 wagons, carrying 90,000 rounds of ammunition and supplies, set off for the garrison in late February, but heavy rain turned the ground to mud and by March 5 the convoy was still eight miles from Luneberg.

By March 7, the wagons had reached the banks of the Intombe river and gathered to form a "laager" - a fort. Tucker inspected the wagons, formed into an inverted V, and was less than impressed with the construction, commenting: "They would afford no protection whatever in the event of the Zulus attacking in numbers".

To make matters worse, the wagons were split by the river, with 30 on the opposite bank.

At 3.30am on March 12, a shot was heard near the camp, but Captain David Moriarty decided it was nothing to worry about and sent the troops back to their beds. Halfan-hour later, however, a sentry spotted a huge mass of Zulus moving silently towards the camp and fired his rifle to raise the alarm.

The warning came too late. In a flash, Zulus were crawling all over the wagons and inside the corrals where cattle were kept.

Captain Moriarty was one of the very first to die, skewered in the back by an assegai as he rushed from his tent. His last words were: "I am done, fire away, boys." Those who survived waded into the river, troops on the other side of the bank providing covering fire.

Soon after they reached the Luneberg side of the river, secondin-command Lieutenant Henry Harward scanned the large Zulu force wading through the water and gave the order to withdraw. Immediately after giving the command, Harward grabbed a horse and raced from the carnage, effectively abandoning his men.

That left Sergeant Anthony Clarke Booth, from Brierley Hill, in charge of the survivors.

He and his 40-strong unit were chased for three miles, Booth sometimes stopping to fire his revolver at those giving chase. Four men who became separated from the band were pounced on and killed, the others made it to Raby's Farm, where the Zulus ended the chase. Booth, promoted to colour sergeant 24 hours after the battle, received the Victoria Cross for his heroics.

But the presentation was stalled by the court martial of Lt. Harward for cowardice. His trial began on February 20, 1880, and lasted seven days. Harward was, surprisingly, cleared of deserting his men, but resigned his commission three months later. Booth died in Brierley Hill on December 8, 1899, at the age of 53, and his VC is displayed at the Staffordshire Regiment museum in Whittington. In many ways, Intombe was the reverse of Rorke's Drift. Perhaps that's the reason Intombe has been airbrushed from the history books.


The wooden Zulu shields in Lichfield Cathedral
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 28, 2016
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