I received a barrage of questions on the 7th several members have e-mailed me if I would be willing to respond. So this is in the main for the benefit of the other participants in this thread who’ve made contributions to the discussion. I’ll take teach point in the order in which it appears on the 7th.
1) The question was asked why did not more persons mention the Boys’ deaths. This was asked on the basis that only 3 out of 250-450 possible survivors, 20/2473 from LC’s Reconnaissance, and 9/200 burial party members were eye-witnesses to the event. It’s important to answer because the question casts doubt over the veracity of almost 3 dozen primary sources.
The whole premise of this argument is a false one. Let me explain why.
The 3 survivors were among the last to leave her camp (perhaps even THE last). They left AFTER Gardner and they seem to have taken the same route viz. around and behind the 1st bn. tents then up on to the saddle (this in itself says something about the direction/area from which Zulu pressure was coming). We suspect that it was in that area that the Boys were killed. The very nature of the Boys’ killing suggests it happened at an advanced stage of the battle such that the Zulus were ALREADY in the rear of the camp. Thus most people who were going to get out alive had already done so. That is, only a very few would have been able to witness (albeit fleetingly) the Boys’ deaths at that particular place at that particular moment. It is not possible that 250-450 might have witnessed the event. It is impossible to say how many did witness it. Of those that did almost all would not have lived to tell the tale given the circumstances. Personally I’m amazed that even three did.
The 20 from LC’s Reconnaissance who witnessed the Boys’ bodies in situ in the camp were members either of the Rearguard or had been into the camp with lanterns or lights during the night / early morning. 3 of the 20 were officers.
When Frederic and I were doing the research for The Wrecked Camp essay (Studies vol IV) to find out exactly how much was visible at dawn on the 23rd, Fred searched through hundreds of newspapers looking for letters home (by no means did he cover them all) and came across the 20 which described the Boys’ bodies. To be honest, they quite floored us at the time as we had been up to this point sceptical about the matter. They didn’t fall within the subject matter of The Wrecked Camp and we put them to one side. It was only when Fred found the Granger account which mentioned his seeing the same thing that we realized we could use them and began to search for more. The result was the Granger essay in Studies vol V which published them all. The research was mine and Frederic’s so it only right that we defend it.
As to the question why only 20 out of 2,473 recorded seeing what they did. The answer is obvious. Not all 2,473 went through the camp with lanterns in the pitch dark in the middle of the night and not all of them were in the rearguard and positioned such that they could see the rear of the 1st bn. tents.
Then there is also the one Zulu account which John young mentioned in his post of the 7th at 5.59pm
Finally 9 burial party members witnessed the Boys’ bodies in May. Why only 9 out of 200? I can only surmise that once found by the initial party, the bodies were quickly and carefully taken down for burial. Not all 200 were in that particular location at that particular time and it’s to be expected that officer present would not have left the poor souls hanging there for everyone to gawp at. The suggestion was also made that the burial party’s testimonies cannot be used as evidence because the bodies might have been placed on the hooks between late January and mid-May. Taken by itself it would be a credible argument but as part of a body of evidence it can be safely discounted. Using it alone becomes a poor attempt to discount the whole. It is a little like clutching at straws.
If one further considers that not all men could read and write let alone sent letters home; not all would write of such things in letters home to their mothers; not all letters were sent ot he newspapers; and not all letters were chosen for publication by editors, then it is a miracle that today we have any letters at all.
All the above-mentioned accounts appear in our Granger essay (vol V pp. 98-102). I should mention that we discounted all hearsay accounts by those who were not there as lacking any historical value and included not one. Use of a piece of hearsay evidence as an attempt to undermine our argument is underhand: a cheap trick.
We knew the essay would be controversial and we would come in for criticism but a good historian shouldn’t shy away from the truth no matter how unpalatable.
2) The question was also asked why on Earth would Zulus commit such an act when it was not part of their tradition? At no point in our essay did we suggest that the Zulus had done so. We did suggest that it was an isolated act of sadism, perhaps the product of a single warped mind (or two). All armies are not exempt from having a sadist among its ranks. Recent British events endorse this. I have certainly met two sadists in my brief flirtation with the military in the early 70s (one subaltern and one NCO).
A sub-question was why would the Zulus want to torture someone in this way? There were better ways. We never suggested this was inflicted as a torture. It was simply done, I suggest now, as a macabre expression of a disturbed mind.
3) Gavin affirmed, using his medical knowledge, the impossibility of suspending a body via a hook through the lower jaw or chin and correctly so. I replied that from a ‘basic physics and anatomy’ point of view it was perfectly possible to hang a body from a butcher’s hook under the ear and examples of such are historically documented at Buchenwald, citing:[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
This was at first misunderstood and commented upon based on a “brief read through”; subsequently on closer reading it was understood and amended such that suspension by a hook under the ear was confirmed anatomically possible.
An attempt was then made to discount this form of suspension based on the assumption that “the drummer boy claim is both graphic and precise…strung up with a meat hook under his chin (so under the jaw, through the mouth, tongue, etc.)”
However, this is not so. Anyone who has read the literature knows this. The witnesses refer to the Boys being “hung up by the neck”, “hung up by the hooks”, “hung up on/by hooks”, “stuck under their chins”, “hung up”, “hanging by their chins on the meat hooks”, “hung up alive”, “stuck on the camp meat hooks”, “hung up by a chin to a hook”, “hung up by butcher hooks which had been jabbed under their chins”, “hanging the little drummer boys with butchers’ hooks up to the waggons.” These are all taken from the survivors’ and Reconnaissance’s letters.
The vast majority do not refer specifically to a hook though the jaw, only a very few do and then obliquely. Given the fleeting, distant, or lantern-lit glimpse these men had, a hook under the ear into the base of the skull can easily be misconstrued as “under the chin.”
At no time was Gavin’s medical expertise queried or disparaged and all claims that it was are patently untrue.
It was further claimed that “every leading academic and historian surrounding the AZW has with all the evidence we all have access to and x decades of experience decided to rubbished [sic] the poor drummer boy claim.” Again this is not so. It is mere persuader-language. The writer has clearly not spoken to every leading academic and historian of the AZW. Had he done so, he would have found a variety of responses.
4) It was asserted that it didn’t really matter that we used the correct term ‘Boys’; we all knew what was meant by ‘drummer boys’.
I’m afraid it matters very much. Using the correct terminology means not only are we all on the same page but any visitor to the forum will not be misled. I read an AZW book a few years ago which consistently referred to ‘Lieut. Melville’. This was the first time I had read anything by this author and it was very annoying. If the basic facts can’t be got right how was I to have any faith in anything else the author wrote? How could any detail or name be taken as correct? In fact there were more such errors and it marred the few interesting things the book contained.
We all KNOW what is the correct term and we should all use it.
The rhetorical question was then asked “why then did the soldiers of the day who wrote these reports about mutilated ‘drummer boys’ use the term? Could it have been…to tug at the heartstrings…and emphasize how diabolical and savage the Zulu people were?”
The answer is they didn’t use this term. The overwhelming majority of the above-mentioned letter-writers used ‘band boys’, ‘boys’, ‘little boys’, ‘little band boys’, little trumpeter’.
5) The question was then asked about other witnesses who saw the ‘wooden contraption’ on which Makin said he saw the bodies. Anyone who has read the evidence FOR the argument will already know this. The fact that it is not known shows that detractors are answering blind i.e. they have not read the literature or rather they have only read the literature they want to believe. Empty vessels make most noise.
So for the record apart from Makin here are the other witnesses: Symons, Kelly, and John. Hillier and Keeling refer only vaguely to the contraption being affixed to a waggon.
6) It was further suggested that the topic under discussion was about “singling out young soldiers…capturing them and then torturing them.” Nowhere has it been suggested that the Boys were captured with the intention of torturing them. This is a statement created by the detractor’s own mind so that it can then be refuted. It was stated that even to suggest such a thing was “bizarre.” It’s worth noting that so was Buchenwald – and that wasn’t done by a crazed individual in the heat of battle.
It is understandable that revisionist historians will not want to credit the ‘noble savage’ with any atrocities. As regards that particular oxymoronic, rose-tinted concept, it has long since been put to bed by serious historians. Furthermore it is difficult for those working in RSA to show any sign of supporting the manner of the Boys’ deaths and saying the unfashionable involves the risk of cancel culture and all that entails but there is not a nation on Earth which has not at some time engaged in atrocities (think, Russians and Palestinians today) or does not contain those with sadistic tendencies. The Zulus are no exception.