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 James Hamer's letter to his Farther

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Drummer Boy 14

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PostSubject: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Wed Aug 22, 2012 10:26 am

James Hamer's letter to his Farther with regards Isandlwana


‘"I dined the night before in his tent with Colonel Durnford and (poor?) Captain Geo. Shepstone. We were then at Rorke’s Drift about 10 miles from the Isandhlwana camp. The next morning Wed. Jan. 22, we had a dispatch from General Lord Chelmsford and Colonel Durnford sent for me to his tent. I had some breakfast with him & he gave me a verbal message to Lord Chelmsford at camp. When I got there I found the General had left the camp to attack the Zulus. About an hour after my arrival in camp, Col. Durnford arrived with his mounted native horse, the rest of the native contingency being some miles behind. The Zulus were then seen on the distant hills in small numbers (for an officer lent me his glass and I saw them myself). Colonel Durnford being superior officer took over command and orders from Colonel Pulleine and of course has all the ... (?). Very soon after the mounted native horse had arrived they were sent out to some hills on the left of the camp. Captain George Shepstone in command. I went along with him, and after going some little way, we tried to capture some cattle. They disappeared over a ridge, and on coming up we saw the Zulus, like ants in front of us, in perfect order as quiet as mice and stretched across in an even line. We estimated those we saw at 12,000. After his having given orders to the Captain of the Native Horse to retire gradually, Geo. Shepstone (& myself) rode as hard as ever we could back to the camp and reported what we had seen. A company of the 1/24 Foot was sent to back up our horsemen who by that time had retired down the hill towards the camp (I sent you a plan of the camp - which being the first I made out is slightly incorrect - I made out two other plans which have been sent to England to the War Office). We left our horses (for Geo. Shepstone & myself had rejoined the men) at the bottom of the hill, and went up and attacked the Zulus on foot, we drove them back at first, but after retiring over a ridge they were reinforced and came on in overwhelming numbers and we had a sharp run for it to our horses, which were some little distance away. We retreated towards the camp. Up to that time I had only had a revolver, so I rode into the camp and got a carbine. I then joined some soldiers in front of the camp and fired away as fast as possible, but we had to run for the Zulus came on us like ants on all sides. I had the greatest difficulty in finding my horse but got him and galloped through the camp, the Zulus being within 200 yards and then our company of the 24th with poor Colonel Durnford making a heroic and most gallant stand to cover the retreat. The scenes at the top of the camp baffles description, oxen yoked to waggons, mules, sheep, horses and men in the greatest confusion, all wildly trying to escape. I saw one gun brought over the neck of the hill, but it stuck fast among the stones. We had a very bad country to go over, large rough boulders and stones. Some distance from the camp is a small ravine which was hid by bushes, the greater part of the fugitives fortunately went above it, but several (with myself) went too low down, and met it at the centre. We could not go above as the Zulus were too near, and we had to go to the end of it before we could cross. The Zulus saw this and in large numbers tried to cut us off, I and four others were the last to get round, and we had to use our revolvers very freely, for the Zulus followed us up quickly, the ground being very bad for horses, and footmen had not the ghost of a chance. Several even were stabbed on their horses. My horse (Dick) had had a great deal of work that day and with tracking over the stones he got completely done and would not move a step further. I was in a jolly predicament when (thank God) a man of the Rocket Battery galloped up with a led horse and let me have it. I had just taken the saddle off poor Dick when a bullet struck him dead and the poor fellow who gave me the horse had only ridden ten yards when I saw him fall killed from his horse. The animal I was now on was a splendid beast, but the girth of the saddle was not strong enough and when I had galloped another two miles it burst and I came down on the stones, luckily I stuck like mad to the bridle and quickly rigged up a girth by passing the neck rein through the D of the saddle, and thereby saved myself as the Zulus were by this time close upon me. I managed all right till I got to the Buffalo River which was very difficult to cross. I myself saw several men swept down and drowned or killed. The Zulus charged us down to the river but they took care to cross lower down where it was safer. I had a dreadful ride to Helpmakaar half insensible and wet through. We got in about 6 p.m. to Helpmakaar and were up all night making ... (?) and keeping guard. We four volunteered to go with Major Spaulding next morning to Rorke’s Drift. Where as I had lost everything I possessed, horse (and my cash went down the river in my saddle bags where I had another spill getting out), Lord Chelmsford with his extreme courtesy and kindness (he is beloved by every one, and we only think of him in this sad affair), I mean chiefly for poor Col. Durnford, Geo. Shepstone and the other brave fellows, it is too awful to think of (and I have escaped on mere luck) allowed me to accompany his staff to Helpmakaar and thence to Pietermaritzburg. I am to my deep disgust now today in Natal and am proceeding up country to Ladysmith."
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Chard1879

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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Wed Aug 22, 2012 5:01 pm

Good post DB. Interesting to see another account that states Durnford took over command from Col Pulliene.
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Thu Aug 23, 2012 8:54 am

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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Thu Oct 04, 2012 11:16 pm

"James Nathaniel Hamer was born in Clerkenwell, London, in October 1858, the son of James Hamer, a Clerk of the Queen’s Bench.

Believed to have served briefly as a member of the 6th (Volunteer) Battalion, Manchester Regiment, Hamer departed for South Africa in 1878, where he applied unsuccessfully for the position of Postmaster-General for Natal, no doubt on account of his youth, but with the advent of the Griqua War, he quickly found alternative employment as a Civil Commissariat Officer. So, too, in the Zulu War, when he was among a handful of men to escape the massacre at Isandhlwana in January 1879, and fewer still to leave such a detailed account of events. A letter to his father takes up the story, the transcript of which is held in the collection of the National Army Museum:


‘I dined the night before in his tent with Colonel Durnford and (poor?) Captain Geo. Shepstone. We were then at Rorke’s Drift about 10 miles from the Isandhlwana camp. The next morning Wed. Jan. 22, we had a dispatch from General Lord Chelmsford and Colonel Durnford sent for me to his tent. I had some breakfast with him & he gave me a verbal message to Lord Chelmsford at camp. When I got there I found the General had left the camp to attack the Zulus. About an hour after my arrival in camp, Col. Durnford arrived with his mounted native horse, the rest of the native contingency being some miles behind. The Zulus were then seen on the distant hills in small numbers (for an officer lent me his glass and I saw them myself). Colonel Durnford being superior officer took over command and orders from Colonel Pulleine and of course has all the ... (?). Very soon after the mounted native horse had arrived they were sent out to some hills on the left of the camp. Captain George Shepstone in command. I went along with him, and after going some little way, we tried to capture some cattle. They disappeared over a ridge, and on coming up we saw the Zulus, like ants in front of us, in perfect order as quiet as mice and stretched across in an even line. We estimated those we saw at 12,000. After his having given orders to the Captain of the Native Horse to retire gradually, Geo. Shepstone (& myself) rode as hard as ever we could back to the camp and reported what we had seen. A company of the 1/24 Foot was sent to back up our horsemen who by that time had retired down the hill towards the camp (I sent you a plan of the camp - which being the first I made out is slightly incorrect - I made out two other plans which have been sent to England to the War Office). We left our horses (for Geo. Shepstone & myself had rejoined the men) at the bottom of the hill, and went up and attacked the Zulus on foot, we drove them back at first, but after retiring over a ridge they were reinforced and came on in overwhelming numbers and we had a sharp run for it to our horses, which were some little distance away. We retreated towards the camp. Up to that time I had only had a revolver, so I rode into the camp and got a carbine. I then joined some soldiers in front of the camp and fired away as fast as possible, but we had to run for the Zulus came on us like ants on all sides. I had the greatest difficulty in finding my horse but got him and galloped through the camp, the Zulus being within 200 yards and then our company of the 24th with poor Colonel Durnford making a heroic and most gallant stand to cover the retreat. The scenes at the top of the camp baffles description, oxen yoked to waggons, mules, sheep, horses and men in the greatest confusion, all wildly trying to escape. I saw one gun brought over the neck of the hill, but it stuck fast among the stones. We had a very bad country to go over, large rough boulders and stones. Some distance from the camp is a small ravine which was hid by bushes, the greater part of the fugitives fortunately went above it, but several (with myself) went too low down, and met it at the centre. We could not go above as the Zulus were too near, and we had to go to the end of it before we could cross. The Zulus saw this and in large numbers tried to cut us off, I and four others were the last to get round, and we had to use our revolvers very freely, for the Zulus followed us up quickly, the ground being very bad for horses, and footmen had not the ghost of a chance. Several even were stabbed on their horses. My horse (Dick) had had a great deal of work that day and with tracking over the stones he got completely done and would not move a step further. I was in a jolly predicament when (thank God) a man of the Rocket Battery galloped up with a led horse and let me have it. I had just taken the saddle off poor Dick when a bullet struck him dead and the poor fellow who gave me the horse had only ridden ten yards when I saw him fall killed from his horse. The animal I was now on was a splendid beast, but the girth of the saddle was not strong enough and when I had galloped another two miles it burst and I came down on the stones, luckily I stuck like mad to the bridle and quickly rigged up a girth by passing the neck rein through the D of the saddle, and thereby saved myself as the Zulus were by this time close upon me. I managed all right till I got to the Buffalo River which was very difficult to cross. I myself saw several men swept down and drowned or killed. The Zulus charged us down to the river but they took care to cross lower down where it was safer. I had a dreadful ride to Helpmakaar half insensible and wet through. We got in about 6 p.m. to Helpmakaar and were up all night making ... (?) and keeping guard. We four volunteered to go with Major Spaulding next morning to Rorke’s Drift. Where as I had lost everything I possessed, horse (and my cash went down the river in my saddle bags where I had another spill getting out), Lord Chelmsford with his extreme courtesy and kindness (he is beloved by every one, and we only think of him in this sad affair), I mean chiefly for poor Col. Durnford, Geo. Shepstone and the other brave fellows, it is too awful to think of (and I have escaped on mere luck) allowed me to accompany his staff to Helpmakaar and thence to Pietermaritzburg. I am to my deep disgust now today in Natal and am proceeding up country to Ladysmith ... ’

Not mentioned in Hamer’s account is the fact he was given a new horse by Lieutenant Horace Smith-Dorrien, 95th Foot, attached as a Transport Officer, on reaching the other side of the river bank at Fugitive’s Drift, one of two incidents that were to lead to the latter being recommended for the V.C., but owing to the the wrong channels of communication being used, he never received the award. Hamer, however, did all within his power to get the recommendation accepted:

‘Mr. Hamer, the civil commissary whose life he [Smith-Dorrien] had saved, wrote copious letters to the Horse Guards and to Horace’s family but to no avail. When this became apparent, Hamer did his best to obtain for him the Royal Humane Society’s Medal but was told it was too late’ (The Man Who Disobeyed: Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and His Enemies, refers).

Also present at Ulundi, Hamer later gained appointment as a Sergeant, afterwards Acting Sub. Inspector, in the Cape Mounted Police, and was also for two years a Deputy-Commissary of Ordnance under the Cape Government. Having then briefly returned to the U.K., he sailed for New Zealand, where he found employment as a Sub. Manager with the Trust & Agency Co. of Australasia and was married in 1888.

And over the coming years he became a prominent local figure, rising to Manager of the Trust & Agency Co. and being elected a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute, in addition to serving with the Canterbury Yeomanry. Less happily, he was divorced in November 1900, after a much publicised case involving his adultery ‘with a woman in Wellington’.

In the following year, Hamer enlisted in No. 24 Company of the 7th N.Z. Contingent, and briefly saw service as a Lieutenant in the Boer War before being invalided home on account of sickness - as a result of which he received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for ‘Cape Colony’, ‘Transvaal’, ‘South Africa 1901’ and ‘South Africa 1902’. He also remarried in June 1902 and the couple eventually settled in Kent with her two children. Hamer’s step-daughter later left a colourful account of her new life, from which the following extract has been taken:

‘We only remained at the old home for another three years, because during that time my mother re-married a Captain in the South African War. I remember being decked out in a new green suit and hat, and my brother in a Norfolk suit, so that we could go to meet him. We were rather dubious as to what he would be like as we had heard terrible stories about stepfathers. He looked every inch a military man with his waxed moustache, as he whisked us away in a cab to go to the London Zoo, which was a great event for us. He was very kind, I guess he thought he had better make a good impression, which he did, and all through the years he lived, I must say he was always very kind to me.

When the day came for us to leave London, we were told that we were going to live in a 500 year old country inn, in Kent. Of course, this seemed a great adventure for my brother and I, and we were thrilled but very tired when the moving van arrived at 3.a.m., to take us to our new home. My stepfather had bought us a parrot in Africa so, of course, it had to go along with us.

Eventually we moved into the Chequers Inn, which however, was only to be our home for eight months. We were placed in school there, my brother at the Grammar School, and I was sent to a young ladies school. However, it was not for long, as it appeared my stepfather had a drink problem.

At the back of the Chequers Inn lies the old Castle, hundreds of years old. Our new friends spent many happy times playing there. Playing there soon came to an end, as life was very unhappy for my mother. She tried to stay as long as possible at the Inn, but the environment was not at all good, so one day, we were told that we were moving back to London, that is, my mother, brother and I. I know she was very sad as she had to leave all her furniture and start life afresh to provide for us, as my stepfather's capital had all gone. I can only realize now, in later life, how brave she was. My aunt was still living in London, but mother was independent and wanted to face her troubles alone. Of course, my brother and I were sad at leaving our new friends but knowing nothing could be done otherwise, we tried to help all we could.

We, my mother, brother and I lived a normal life at 29, Tremadoc Road until my step-father arrived and decided he was going to live without alcohol, so my mother took him in and trusted that life would be made easier for her. His endeavours did not materialize. Finally, he decided he would try again, but in another country, and Canada was his choice ... My mother had received many letters from Canada written by my step-father asking her to join him, way far, in land up the coast of British Columbia, where he had obtained a position as supervisor of a Government Salmon Hatchery ... ’

This was in 1906 and his wife duly joined him Canada shortly before the Great War, but she died in British Columbia while Hamer was visiting the U.K. in August 1920, so he decided to remain here and died at Clun, Shropshire, in September 1925."
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Julian Whybra



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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Mon Oct 15, 2012 8:30 am

Point of information: the letter was written to his mother.
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Mon Oct 15, 2012 11:48 pm

littlehand wrote:
"
Not mentioned in Hamer’s account is the fact he was given a new horse by Lieutenant Horace Smith-Dorrien, 95th Foot, attached as a Transport Officer, on reaching the other side of the river bank at Fugitive’s Drift, one of two incidents that were to lead to the latter being recommended for the V.C., but owing to the the wrong channels of communication being used, he never received the award. Hamer, however, did all within his power to get the recommendation accepted:

‘Mr. Hamer, the civil commissary whose life he [Smith-Dorrien] had saved, wrote copious letters to the Horse Guards and to Horace’s family but to no avail. When this became apparent, Hamer did his best to obtain for him the Royal Humane Society’s Medal but was told it was too late’ (The Man Who Disobeyed: Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and His Enemies, refers)."

SD does not use Hamer's name in the account but he says he expected him to try to capture another horse and then return with it. Instead Hamer just rode away to safety leaving the exhausted subaltern to fend for himself. Luckily, Horace was a distance runner in school.

I wasn't aware that Hamer was involved with trying to get S-D a medal that somewhat mysteriously never materialized. (Wrong channels? An ironic excuse given that S-D quotes himself as saying, "You don't want a requisition now, do you?") I guess these things can be reconciled but it strikes me as an odd story.If S-D forgave Hamer, I would have thought he'd mention his name twice, rather than not at all.
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PostSubject: James Hamer's Letter to his father    Mon Oct 15, 2012 11:55 pm

Hi 6pdr.
From memory one of the reasons Horace S.D didnt the VC was that before he went to Sth Africa he asked to be sent , his C.O at the time refused to allow it . Horace went over his head and the rest is history . His CO when given the paperwork etc didnt act upon it as he should've . I've posted this on here a couple of years ago , it should still be on here somewhere , May I suggest you type Smith - Dorrien in the search box and it may surface !.
Cheers 90th. Salute
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:11 am

90th wrote:
Hi 6pdr.
From memory one of the reasons Horace S.D didnt the VC was that before he went to Sth Africa he asked to be sent , his C.O at the time refused to allow it . Horace went over his head and the rest is history...
Cheers 90th. Salute

HA!!! That's a d@mned good point, 90th! As a matter of fact in going over his Colonel's head he telegraphed the Secretary (Minister?) of War which was actually a civilian office, so his transgression was that much more objectionable. And Chelmsford, his natural champion, wouldn't have been of much help at that point either. I guess that can't ever be proved but it has the ring of truth alright...and maybe he was implying it in his memoirs for those with eyes to see. A double salute, sir. Salute Salute
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:32 am

90th wrote:
Hi 6pdr.
I've posted this on here a couple of years ago , it should still be on here somewhere , May I suggest you type Smith - Dorrien in the search box and it may surface !.
Cheers 90th. Salute

I did so but you only received one on topic response, that being from Saul David who wrote: "Buller supposedly recommended Duck for the VC. It was Chelmsford who refused to nominate on the grounds mentioned in 1879Grave’s post."


So that means that it was Chelmsford who refused to put his medal through?! I'm not sure what he means by the, "1879 Grave's post." But if Chelmsford was really behind depriving S-D of his gong (he went to extraordinary lengths twice to save other men's lives in extremely trying circumstances,) he just slipped a few notches lower in my estimation. Chelmsford was the one who asked S-D to come over to Natal because he needed commissary officers. Did he wish that nobody survived? Disturbing.
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Julian Whybra



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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Mon Feb 25, 2013 11:24 am

DB
I'm interested to know where you got this transcription of Hamer's letter from. It has gaps in it and there are several mistransciptions.
Julian
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Mon Feb 25, 2013 7:01 pm

Julian

Hi Julian

I copied it from the RDVC forum, i think it was the topic about his medal being sold.


Cheers
Sam
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Mon Feb 25, 2013 7:38 pm

DB. FYI

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Julian Whybra



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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 7:30 am

Thanks to both of you. I think it must have been done by a forum member which might account for the misreading of certain words and the gaps. I don't actually recall ever seeing the whole thing in print before. I have some other letters by him and shall, I think, work the thing up into an article which will make interesting reading.
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 7:38 am

hi Julian
Any word as yet on my particular interest in Mr Hamer?

Cheers
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Julian Whybra



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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 7:45 am

Hi
No, not yet, FWDJ is still in the recuperation home - it'll be another 2 months before he's out and back at home - just biding my time, twiddling my fingers, I'm afraid and busy getting volume two finished.
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 8:11 am

Thanks Julian.
Whilst your twiddling see if you can come up with an answer to this:

How do we know that Mostyn and Cavaye occupied the positions on the ridge traditionally associated with them. Who actually positioned them at that point. scratch

Regards
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Julian Whybra



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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 8:17 am

Cavaye's coy went to that position by order of Col Durnford according to Capt Essex
Mostyn's coy was ordered up in support by Co Pulleine according to Essex (separately) and Gardner (I think, I'll have to check that for you)
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 8:26 am

Its not really who ordered them to the heights, rather where did they go. The traditional placing of the line of troops has them on the curve of the ridge facing North, to the west of Mkwene Hill on the Tahelane spur. Every one from Knight to Snook places them there. But I cannot find any source material that does. Stafford etc dont really mention the position, just the line and composition.
All accounts merely say the were 'sent to the ridge'.
Is it possible they were on a different part of the ridge?

I do have specific reasoning behind this, ties in with the map Im looking for.

Regards
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Julian Whybra



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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 8:42 am

Springbok
One thing to bear in mind is that Cavaye's men were visible to those in camp. Someone describes seeing their backs and the puffs of smoke - was it Brickhill, i'm writing without checking my notes here - and someone else mentions that they moved forward to get a better field of fire - again I'd have to check who - Stafford or Vause probably.
That is going to limit the positioning of Cavaye's men (initially at any rate).
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 9:29 am

Hi Julian
Highly probable that they were visible from the camp, I do question though their position. If they were on the Tahelane Spur its improbable they would have been visible. If however they were on the ridge then sure very visible. The ridge sounds probable in any event as it would have put them defending an enemy attack from the East / North East........The actual line of attack that had developed in chasing Raw et al, not from the North. For some reason ( lots actually ) it fits and answers quite a few questions.
Not really this humble amateurs position to question 130 years of history, But its a line of question that I havent seen undertaken before.

This is actually born out of having a pik nik a few months back on the ridge and in between quaffing some ice cold chardonay trying to come to terms with the lines of attack. Interestingly as the bottle emptied the clearer things became !

Regards
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 10:38 am

I recall that the Fear was that the Zulu group seen disappearing "to the north-west" might sweep in unseen from Cavaye's left (which was why Dyson was sent 400 yds further in that direction) or sweep down into the valley behind Isandhlwana. They would need to maintain that leftward and rearward viewpoint to be fulfilling their orders.
Chardonnay! On the sacred soil of Isandhlwana! Sacre bleu! (As Pascal might say).
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 10:54 am

It really was a hot day. Rolling Eyes Went well with the cold bacon sandwiches
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 2:14 pm

How long did they remain on the ridge.
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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 2:22 pm

Some snippets from his letter.

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Julian Whybra



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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 2:28 pm

...also with mistranscriptions in the 'snippets'.
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John

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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 3:44 pm

Wonder where they originated from.
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Julian Whybra



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PostSubject: Re: James Hamer's letter to his Farther    Tue Feb 26, 2013 4:37 pm

From a misreading of the society script handwriting. Little differences like confusing 'sent' and 'send', 'even' and 'men' can alter meaning. An unfamiliarity with certain letters' appearance when written initially, medially, or finally leads to a failure to recognize the word. This transcriber has made a good attempt at reading the letter but is clearly not experienced in doing it with precision.
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