We Saw Red
Mr S. B. Jones
The following article comes from the Natal Mercury. dated. Tuesday. 22nd January. 1929.
An interesting survivor now resident in Durban is Mr. S.B. Jones. of 23 Woodford Grove, who. in spite of having passed the allotted span of three score years and ten, is still as active as many a man-years his junior.
His memories of that history-making campaign are as fresh as if it took place only a couple instead of 50 years ago. and his narrative is full of stirring adventure.
I had just finished my time as a miller when I joined the Newcastle mounted rifles. in October. 1878, he says. My first job was rather a responsible one in the transport attached to Colonel Wood's base column at Newcastle. and although I was called up to join my regiment I was not able to do so until December. I was on the way back to Newcastle when I met my regiment, making towards the front. My brother. who was second in command. and the O. C. told me that they had fixed me up with a good job in General Wood's commissariat. and that they would advise me to stick to it. I could see that they were trying to baulk me from getting to the front and the thought rankled in my mind. But I was determined not to be beaten. so the first thing I did when I got back to Newcastle was to go to the General. He was a dear man and in his kindly way asked me what I wanted. After listening to my request he gave me the necessary permission to join my regiment. saying that although he was very sorry to be losing my services he was glad to see that I was so keen on seeing some of the fighting and that he would not bind me to his column under the circumstances.
Very pleased with the way things had turned out I made tracks for home at once to get myself fitted out. I had a pocket full of money. for General Wood had had a cheque made out for me on the spot. and I had not a care in the world when I got to the house. But my good spirits soon evaporated when I found that in order to put a further spoke in my wheel my brother had sold my horse, saddle and bridle. Horses were scarce and I was in an awful rage. The expense did not worry me, but the thing was to find someone with a horse to sell. In this unhappy frame of mind I took a walk up the street when I was hailed by an old friend. who was riding along on horseback. Looking at me he asked what the trouble was. My pent-up feelings then found expression in a torrent of words while I poured out the whole story to him. In the end he agreed to sell his mount. saddle and bridle to me, so we repaired to a shop nearby where I counted out the purchase price and took possession of it.
I rode the old nag, which was a good one, down to my home. where I gave it a rest and a jolly good feed. A couple of hours later I set off after my troop. I rode the whole night through and caught them up at Helpmakaar over 60 miles away. I reported myself. and had a few words with my brother over the sale of my horse in my absence. but things panned out all right. for I managed to buy a decent horse from a man who had two. and at the same time I disposed of my Newcastle purchase to the military. who wanted a packhorse. I then began to feel more at peace with the world. We stayed at Helpmakaar until ~he end of the month when we crossed the Buffalo River into Zululand.
The Natal Government at the time was very jealous of the lives of their volunteers and had stipulated that while they had no objection to the colonists giving their services to the military authorities. not one of us was to be taken over the border unless we signified our willingness to go. The result was that at our last parade all those who did not wish to go into Zululand were asked to stand aside. To our credit it must be mentioned that only four of our number. and one of those an officer. availed themselves of the offer.
Our O. C. then Captain Bradstreet and we were attached to a column under the command of Colonel[sic.] Dartnell, who afterwards became a General and given a well-deserved knighthood. I would like to say here that he was one of the finest soldiers the British Army ever produced and he was a man of whom it could be truly said that he was absolutely fearless.
But I am getting away from my story. The first week or so of the New Year in Zululand we spent in parleying with the Natives and in gathering up loot. thousands of cattle being brought into camp. Then on January 12 we had our first fight. I remember it so well. It was on a Sunday morning at Isesekayo. which was afterwards christened Bashee Valley by the military. The scrap lasted two hours before we captured the position. I will never forget what trouble some of the Zulus gave us with seven elephant guns they had in a cave. These they filled with all sorts of things. mainly pot-legs. and they did a lot of damage with them too. as much as any 9-pounder could do. The chaps in the cave were stubborn blighters. too. and the only way we could get them out was by collecting a lot of grass and burning it at the mouth. The smoke which rolled into the cave in dense fumes did the trick.
We then went back to our camp five miles away where we remained until January 20. We volunteers were used as vedettes until the main column reached Isandhlwana when we were called in to join it. It was a large column. too. which stretched for seven miles along the road when on trek. On the way my horse unfortunately put a foot into a hole and strained one of its front legs. I reported the occurrence as soon as we got to camp; and knowing something about the treatment of horses I got a lot of turkey red with which I bound the animal's leg. This caused a great deal of amusement, but I did not care, for I knew that it would only be a matter of days before the beast was fit again.
That day the enemy were sighted on the flats on the other side of Isandhlwana and about midnight the bugles sounded the "Fall In." We paraded in front of our tents when we were told that a certain percentage of us were wanted to go and intercept the enemy. Volunteers were told to step two paces forward. It is hardly necessary to say that nearly every one of us did so, with the result that so many men were picked from each troop. My brother thinking he had a good excuse, seeing my horse was lame, told me to get back into the ranks. But even then I was not beaten.
The first thing I did was to make my way direct to captain Bradstreet's tent to ask him whether I could have the old horse I had sold them for carrying packs. My brother then arrived on the scene and a few strong words passed between us, but in the end I had my way and was allowed to go.
Between 8 and 9 o'clock we sighted the enemy on the side of a hill, and three men were sent to parley with them, one of them was Sub-Inspector Mansell [sic], of the Natal Police. While they were on the way the impi was seen to get up and gradually draw in the horns of the crescent, so they were immediately recalled. Then a message was sent to the camp for reinforcements in the shape of two companies and two guns, but as these had not arrived by nightfall we retired to the hills overlooking Cudene. I may mention here that we had a Native Contingent, numbering about 1,000, with us, and we had the greatest difficulty in averting a panic amongst them that night, all through which we sat by our horses.
In the morning, that was on January 22, we went on to Matjaan's still without the reinforcements who were still tramping along the road. Our regiment, with the Buffalo Border Rifles [sic] and some of the Natal Mounted Police, formed the advance skirmishing line, having the Natal Carbineers in support.
I forgot to mention that Captain Bradstreet had been killed in the meantime, and the command of our regiment devolved on my brother, C.J. Jones, the father of the present Mayor of Ladysmith. Well, while we were on the march, Colonel Dartnell sent a message to my brother asking for me to be sent along as his galloper. I had the finest mount in the column and was overjoyed at the prospect for I knew that if there was any fighting to be done I would be in the thick of it as long as I was near Dartnell. And I was not disappointed either because I had hardly joined him when we rode right into the thick of the Zulus. But as I said before, the Colonel knew no fear, although they were firing point-blank at him. One Zulu nearly got him and would have done so if he had not thrown himself back when I shouted to him. After firing the shot the Native ran off, but before he had gone very far I pulled out my revolver and, aiming at his retreating figure I brought him down with a shot right between the shoulder blades. I still have that revolver; being given an order by Dartnell himself permitting me to keep it when we were handing in our equipment on discharge.
Anyway, about two o'clock that afternoon the bugle sounded, so we rushed for our horses. Then I saw the Colonel talking to young Hayhoe [sic], of Maritzburg, who had escaped from Isandhlwana and brought the news of the disaster to him. We started back immediately, meeting the oncoming reinforcements who were given orders to go straight back. We reached Isandhlwana after dark, and it was not before morning that the weary reinforcements joined us. As soon as we got there we saw what had happened. The men had been killed practically where the Zulus fell upon them, and were stripped and disembowelled, but it was not until daylight came that we really saw the awful carnage and realised the stark brutality that the Natives had been guilty of. One sight, a most gruesome one, I shall never forget. Two lads, presumably little drummer boys of the 24th Regiment, had been hung up by butcher hooks, which had been jabbed under their chins and then disembowelled; all the circumstances pointing to the fact that they had been subjected to that inhuman treatment while they were still alive. We saw red, I assure you. An awful feeling came over us. And there, too, we found my horse stretched out dead, but still with the turkey-red bandage round his leg. So, although my brother, no doubt thought that he was acting in the best interests in trying to prevent me from seeing any fighting. I consider that I had a Providential escape by going behind his back.
In the morning, too, we found that we had been literally lying in blood, for we were peeling cakes of it and mud from our mackintoshes. And the stench! It was awful, I can still smell it at times. Some things remind me of it, as for instance a sweet potato that has been cooked when it is just beginning to go bad. And when I smell such things I become quite ill.
Towards daylight we were ordered to trek back to Rorke's Drift, but before we left it was light enough to see what a terrible fight there had been. One man was identified as Sergeant Swan [Sergeant-Major A. Swan, Newcastle Mounted Rifles.] had a heap of dead Natives all round him, all of whom he had no doubt accounted for before he was overpowered. Colonel Pullien [sic] had had all the wagons inspanned and it could be seen that it was his intention to form a laager, but the Zulus had attacked the camp before that could be done and had killed all the oxen in their yokes. There is no doubt that if the original orders had been carried out and a laager made the camp would have been held until reinforcements arrived. There is nothing like the old tactics of the Boers of putting up a barricade of some sort. In proof of that we saw where some of the 24th Regiment. about 100 of them. had got behind a ridge and built up a sort of stockade of ammunition boxes. From behind that flimsy defence they had kept the Natives off until all their ammunition was finished. and there we found them with heaps of empty cartridge cases beside each body.
We got to Rorke's Drift at 7.30 in the morning passing a returning impi on the way. We passed them at a distance of a mile. On arrival at Rorke's Drift we swam our horses across while we used the punt. What saved Rorke's Drift and Natal was undoubtedly the fact that several wagonloads of mealies, ammunition and Army bread arrived there just before the attack. The mealies were in bags and were built up like a sandbag wall without which they could never have withstood the Zulu's rushes. The wall of mealies formed two sides of a square. the other two walls being the side of a high goat-kraal and the wall of the wagon house. The first thing the Natives did was to set fire to the homestead in which the sick and the wounded had been put. It was then that a Sergeant Hooke (sic) carried out five of these hospital cases and would . have gone for more had he not been stabbed in the neck and shot in the back.(?)
There were at the outside 70 men inside that little fort. and that they were hard put to defending it was seen by the way the mealies had been burned where the red-hot barrels of the rifles had rested on the bags, and the heap of cartridge cases that sloped from the top of the wall to the ground. Yeoman service was rendered to the little band by the Rev. Mr. Smith, who went round, handing out ammunition and loading rifles. Then outside it was possible to walk on the bodies of Natives from the walls of the fort for a distance of 150 yards.
We stayed there that night and then moved back to Helpmakaar. After a week or 10 days there it was decided to keep the volunteers on to patrol the borders. The Newcastle Mounted Rifles and the Buffalo Border Guard, under the command of my brother, took charge of Fort Pine, where we remained until we were relieved by reinforcements from England. Most of our time was spent in burying the dead and, although it was about three months after they had been killed, most of them were still recognisable.
After Cetewayo's capture we were disbanded and I returned home to Newcastle.
Mr. Jones saw service a couple of years later in the Boer War of 1881, and then again in the Anglo-Boer War of
1899-1902. In the former he acted as interpreter to General Colley for a time, and was then sent in charge of a convoy to relief of Potchefstroom. In 1901 he was honoured by being made a J.P. of Natal in recognition for the services he had rendered to the Colony in one capacity and another.
The Natal Mercury, Tuesday, 22nd January, 1929.
Source ‘A Z W R S Journal’ Volume 2 No 1 pages 15-19 Inc.