In January, 1879, the English armies of South Africa crossed the Buffalo River into Zululand with the intent of destroying the Zulu military and subjugating the Zulu empire. Ten days later, at the rock outcrop called Isandlwana, the British suffered the greatest defeat in their colonial history.
For the final leg of our South Africa excursion, we'd come to the Zulu Battlefields for a remarkable taste of the history of this remarkable country. Our destination was Fugitive's Drift -- a guest house and reserve within sight of the major historical sites where the staff specializes in tours and memorabilia as well as fine meals and comfortable repose.
An afternoon guided tour brought us across the river to the British encampment beneath the large sphinx-like rock called Isandlwana. There Lord Chelmsford had based his army of roughly 4,000 men. The following day, Chelsford took half his force in search of the Zulu army, not realizing that 25,000 of them were in a hidden valley just 6 miles away.
We brought chairs up the hill side and listened spellbound as our guide described the events of that day. Over 1,700 men had been left in camp, but underestimating the enemy who they believed was far away, no defenses or wagon kralls had been constructed. A numerically superior and highly disciplined Zulu force overran the camp killing everyone. The final survivors were believed to have fought a last stand exactly where we sat.
As I said before, Isandlwana was the greatest defeat ever suffered by the British colonial armies. It was the Little Bighorn of the Victorian Empire -- an interesting analogy since the two events had many similarities and occurred only three years apart. Over 1,700 British troops were lost, and as many as 3,000 Zulu are believed to have been killed. British graves are marked with large white stone cairns where groups of soldiers are buried.
A handful of survivors retreated across the plain back toward the Buffalo River. Most were caught and killed by Zulu who moved over the rocky terrain on foot faster than the mounted British. To make the situation even more eerie, a total solar eclipse occurred as the battle was ending and the retreat begun. The few English who reached the river, crossed at Fugitives Drift. Two officers who sought to save the Queens Colors are buried an the reserve where our Guest House is located. They were honored with posthumous Victoria Crosses.
Victory at Isandlwana complete, a portion of the Zulu force now turned toward the small British supply station at Rorke's Drift. With some dramatic license, the battle was portrayed in the epic film "Zulu".
At Rorke's Drift, 139 men, including 25 already hospitalized, constructed defenses of wooden biscuit boxes and grain sacks around two buildings. That evening, 4,000 Zulu assaulted them.
Our guides described the details -- Private Hook defended this doorway; Lieutenants Bromhead and Chard manned these positions; Sergeant Bourne built the last defense here...
The battle lasted through the night and at dawn the Zulu retreated back across the river. Seventeen British defenders lay dead. Eleven Victoria Crosses were later awarded -- the most for any single engagement.
Our whirlwind tour of South Africa was now complete. We packed up our laundry, souvenirs and memories for a long, long trip home. My flight from Cape Town to Frankfurt was 13 hours, followed by a seven hour lay-over, followed by a ten hour flight to Portland and two hour drive home.
We've spent the past week trying to take care of accumulated business, prepare for convention, and re-adjust our sleeping patterns. But we can't get the image of a wonderful country and a wonderful people out of our heads.
On behalf of all the "SA Troopers" I want to thank our organizer, Mike Green of Cape Sport Tours for handling the details, Cape Mental Health for being our hosts, and all of you for sharing our adventures.
Below I've repeated a request for support of the CMH program. Our hope is to have a large number of international kiters send small donations of $10, $20 or more. Think of it as your subscription fee for the Weekly Update.
Next week, we'll have the Lincoln City International Festival here close to home, culminating with a big party at the Gomberg house Sunday night. Then Monday we are off to Seaside for the AKA Convention. The weekend after that, we'll be in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. No rest for the weary....
See you there!!
This is very important. The 'intellectually disabled' children supported by Cape Mental Health in Kyalisha live in unimaginable conditions. But with the help of the Association, they receive support, care and nutrition. Unfortunately, CMH has just lost one of the two buses they need to bring kids to the center each day.
What this means is that half the kids in need must be left at home. Their parents - usually a single parent - are forced to leave them alone while working. There are no other alternatives for transportation or special-needs care.
Our group was determined to help in some small way, and we invite you to be a part of this show of support from the kiting community. If you can send a small check to GKPI, or authorize a deduction from your credit card, we'll forward the donations. We want to gather as many small contributors as possible. I'm sure our collection will not pay for a bus. But it will show the broader support that exists for this important program and surely draw significant local matching funds. Thank you.
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