It was Charlie Bridger who also gave me the song The Zulu Wars which can also be dated to a specific year.
The Zulu Wars
"How I loved to tell the story, which I've often told before,How we fought for death or glory at the blessed Zulu war.Side by side we fought like demons to keep the enemy at bay.Until Jack received a bullet wound, which made the fellow sayChorus: “Give my love to Nancy, the girl that I adore.Tell her that she'll never see her sailor any more.Say I fell in battle while fighting with those blacks,Every inch a sailor beneath the Union Jack.“At first I thought that he was jesting, knowing he liked a bit of fun,Until I saw that he was resting on the barrel of his gun.Then I knew that he was badly wounded or he never would give way,When, shaking hands, he said “Old comrade, the best of friends must part some day.”“Take this ring from off my finger and this locket from my neck,For I have but little time to linger so I hope you'll not forget.And should you ever reach old England, which you may perhaps some day,Give these relics to my mother and my orders please obey.”I said “I'll not forget to tell her. Of these words you may be sure.”For it did grieve me much severely to see the fellow rothering in his gore.The look he gave me when we parted, I'll remember to this day,And when for camp that day we started, I fancied I could hear him say"
Although the Zulu Wars lasted for the period 1838-1888, this song is actually only concerned with the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. In 1879 the wife of Sihayo, a Zulu chief, fled with her lover into British territory. Sihayo's sons crossed the frontier into Natal and killed her. The British, perceiving the growth of Zulu power as a threat to their imperial ambitions, used this as an excuse to invade Zululand on 11th January, 1879. The British force, under Lieutenant-General Frederic Thesiger, Lord Chelmsford, set out to defeat the Zulu chief Cetshwayo and his 29,000 strong army, but things didn't exactly go according to plan when, on 22nd January, the main Zulu army led by Ntshingwayo kaMahole and Mavumengwana kaNdlela finished off the British central column at Isandhlwana, killing some 1,500 British soldiers. It was, almost certainly, the greatest victory ever won by Africans against Europeans in sub-Saharan Africa. An attempt that night to capture the central column's depot at Rork's Drift was beaten off by a handful of British soldiers and, after the right column fought through an elaborate ambush as Nyezane, Chelmsford wisely decided to retire to Natal. There was some fighting in March, 1879, but it was not until May that Chelmsford launched his second invasion.
On 4th July the Zulu army was routed at Ulundi and resistance ended when Cetshwayo was captured on 1 September. The song The Zulu Wars was issued shortly after these events by the Edinburgh broadside printer Sanderson.
When I first heard Charlie sing this song, in 1984, I was at a loss to explain why a sailor should have been involved in the campaign. However, it turns out that after the British defeat at Isandlwana a Naval Brigade was formed from members of HMS Shah and HMS Boadicea and that the Brigade helped defend the British square at the Battle of Gingindlovu (2nd April, 1879) and was present at the relief of Echowe, on the following day.
It is a strange fact that some songs, which sound rather modern, are, in fact, quite old, and that some songs, which sound quite old, are actually rather recent in age. Take, for example, Ray Driscoll's song The Doughty Packman which contains quite a number of 'old' words, such as 'doughty', 'buffet', 'Shire Reeve' and 'hansled', and which, on the surface, appears to be an old song. When I first met Ray he had forgotten many of his songs and had to recall them over a period of time. Ray first told me that he had learnt this when he was a young lad in Shropshire. Some schoolboys were singing it in the schoolyard and Ray learnt the song from them, though where the schoolboys got it from is anybody's guess. However, he later said that he had learnt it from a teacher when he was a schoolboy in London. Apparently the teacher had the words written down in a note book. The more I listen to the song, the more I now feel that it is a Victorian/Edwardian piece that was written by someone who wished to 'write a folksong'.