consisting of 25,000 warriors, several thousand women and fifteen thousand young braves squatting in silence over the ridge.
Out of breath and “in a mortal funk”, one rode as fast as his horse would carry him back to warn of the impending fury which was about to be unleashed.
“I stood aghast,” he said, “as below and beyond me, as far as the eye could see, regiment after disciplined regiment of Zulu warriors were sitting in silence on the plains.”
Disturbed and having lost any element of surprise which had existed, the Zulus immediately rose up, their great, rolling, rhythmic war chants accompanied by mass stamping of their feet with such a force that it shook the earth.
Their women followed, chanting blood-curdling, keening cries of encouragement.
Well organised and superbly drilled for battle, six thousand warriors split off to the west and a similar number curved off in the opposite direction to form a classic buffalo-horn pincer movement.
Once in place and ready to engage the enemy, the buffalo head and body surged forward to engulf the hillside like a big, black tsunami wave. The little knots of red where riflemen had been positioned to try and stem the flow, were soon bobbing about like corks on a dreadul, furious ocean like flotsam tossed around.
Those caught in the mailstrom fought valiantly, of that there is no doubt, and were later hailed as heroic individuals – even in Zulu folklore.
The Zulus too were gallant as they hacked and stabbed their way through the thin red line.
British newspapers of the time portrayed them as barbaric savages, reporting how they had disembowelled each of their victims. In truth, the warriors did the same to their own dead. It was an important ritual they performed, believing they would release the spirit from the corpse.
History records Isandlwana as a British defeat which could have been prevented. The camp had not been fortified nor protected by an excavated trench. Chelmsford was vilified for splitting his column and leaving those who remained in a vulnerable and impossible-to-defend position.
In fact, very few if any commentators gave the King Cetshwayo and his Zulu chiefs any of the credit for their tactical supremacy and incredible bravery in the face of volley after volley of fire from the Martini-Henry carbines which blasted their ranks for close on two solid hours.
Although a major disaster for the British Government of the day, honour was partly restored through the bravery of the few remaining soldiers who fortified the nearby Rorke’s Drift supply station a few miles away and defended it against the odds with such gallantry that fourteen VCs were subsequently awarded – more than were won in both World Wars put together.
The epic story, of course, was told to the world in the epic blockbuster ‘Zulu’ starring Michael Caine.
* Leading specialist tour operators African Pride take groups out to visit the Zulu Battlefields and hear the stirring stories of valour and British upper crust arrogance that resulted in such unnecessary slaughter.