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A Lost Legionary in South Africa

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A Lost Legionary in South Africa
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Author(s): G. Hamilton-Browne (Maori Browne)
Date Published: 2012/04
Page Count: 228
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-859-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-858-3

An essential first hand account of the Anglo-Zulu War

The author of this book, sometimes known as ‘Maori Browne,’ had a long career as a colonial soldier. He left posterity with three books based either on his career or the experiences of men he knew. They focus on warfare as experienced by men like himself—tough, resourceful individuals who enjoyed fighting and were expert marksmen, horsemen and seasoned campaigners. Irrespective of who they were and where they fought Browne affectionately refers to them as the ‘Lost Legion’—those upon whose blood and toil the British Empire (in his opinion) was built but who received scant recognition, praise or reward for their sacrifices. Browne writes in the thoroughly entertaining and often amusing ‘gung-ho’ style of the Victorian Imperialist. He intends to ‘spin a good yarn’ and in that he succeeds magnificently, possibly ‘with advantages.’ Some doubt has been cast on Browne’s veracity since his own Maori War experiences as a despatch rider took place after the end of hostilities, however, to be fair to him, the principal figure in With the Lost Legion in New Zealand bears a fictional name though the contents are undoubtedly mostly factual. The anecdotal ‘yarns’ in Camp Fire Yarns of the Lost Legion are also attributed to others. There can be no doubt about Browne’s Zulu War experiences however. He writes in the first person and was present as the British invaded Zululand. As an officer of the N. N. C. Browne was present at Isandlwhana camp both before and after the battle and took an active role in the campaign making his a genuine ‘first hand’ voice of the period. For those interested in the wars of the Queen Empress all three of Browne’s books are available from Leonaur in a complementary set.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

After daybreak, to my unbounded surprise, the general, staff, four guns, the Mounted Infantry and I think six companies of the second 24th reached us.<br>
Colonel Glyn rode over to me and drawing me aside said, “In God’s name, Maori, what are you doing here?”<br>
“I answered him with a question, “In God’s name, sir, what are you doing here?”<br>
He shook his head and replied, “I am not in command.” And fine old soldier as he was, I could see he was much disturbed.<br>
As we were speaking, I received orders to get my men into line and advance into the rough ground, into which the enemy had retreated the night before. We were now going further away from the camp; but orders must be obeyed, so getting my crowd under way, we advanced.<br>
After moving forwards about two miles I found a party of the enemy in caves and behind a good cover of rocks and stunted bush. They appeared to be well supplied with firearms, and opened out on us, making fairly good practice.<br>
I was just going to try to kick a charge out of my beauties, when a mounted orderly rode up with orders for me, which were that I was at once to report myself with my battalion to the general, and that he was to guide me to the place where the general was waiting for me.<br>
Getting my men together and advising Lonsdale of my orders, I requested him to take over my skirmish, and on his relieving me with the 2nd battalion I moved down a valley and found the general and staff quietly at breakfast.<br>
Never shall I forget the sight of that peaceful picnic. Here were the staff quietly breakfasting and the whole command scattered over the country! Over there the guns unlimbered, over the hills parties of Mounted Infantry and volunteers looting the scattered kraals for grain for their horses, a company of the 24th one place, and another far away, and yet I knew that an army of from 30,000 to 40,000 of the bravest and most mobile savages in the world were within striking distance of us, and that our camp was some thirteen miles away; left with but few horsemen and only two guns to defend, and it a long straggling camp, hampered with all the wagons and impedimenta of the column.<br>
As soon as I halted my men, the general rose and kindly greeting me asked me if I had had any breakfast. I replied, “No, nor had any of my men had any,” I might have added “and no dinner or supper the night before.” Of course he understood, that as commandant, I could not eat in presence of my fasting men.<br>
I said, “Are you aware, sir, I was engaged when I received your order?”<br>
He said “No,” and turning to the C.S.O., said, “Crealock, Browne tells me he was engaged when he received the order to come here.”<br>
Colonel Crealock came to me and said, “Commandant Browne, I want you to return at once to camp and assist Colonel Pulleine to strike camp and come on here.” I nearly fell off my horse. Could these men know of the close proximity of the enemy? Were we all mad or what? However I was only a poor devil of a Colonial commandant and as a simple irregular not supposed to criticise full-blown staff officers, so I saluted and said, “If I come across the enemy?”<br>
“Oh,” said he, “just brush them aside and go on,” and with this he went on with his breakfast.<br>
So I kept on down that valley which presently opened out into a big plain, and on the far side of it, about thirteen miles off, was a queer-shaped mountain, the ground gently rising to the base of it. With my glasses I could discern a long white line which I knew to be tents. The name of that mountain was Isandlwana and the time was then 9 a.m. on the 22nd January 1879.<br>
We marched very slowly on, the day was intensely hot, and my white non-coms. who were on foot very fagged. They had had a very hard day the day before. They had had no sleep and no food, and somehow over the whole command there seemed to hover a black cloud.<br>
However push on was the word, and at 10 o’clock myself and Adjutant-Lieutenant Campbell, who were riding some distance in front, flushed two Zulus. They bolted and we rode them down. Campbell shot his one, but I captured mine and on Duncombe coming up we questioned him.<br>
He was only a boy and was frightened out of his life so that when asked where he came from, he pointed to the line of hills on the left flank of the camp saying “he had come from the King’s big army.”<br>
“What are you doing here?” we asked, to which he replied “that he and his mate had been sent by their induna to see if any white men were among the hills” we had just left, “but as they were sitting resting under the shade of a rock they did not hear the white men and were caught.”<br>
“What was the size of the army?” He answered, “There were twelve full regiments” (about 30,000 or perhaps 36,000 men).<br>
Now here was the fat in the fire with a vengeance.<br>
The big Zulu army within four miles of the left flank of the camp, Colonel Pulleine without mounted men, or only a few, only two guns, not more than 900 white men in all, the camp not laagered and the general away on a wild-goose chase, at least thirteen miles from him.<br>
I was unaware, at the time, that Colonel Durnford, R.E., had, that morning, reached Isandlwana; he had some hundreds of natives and a rocket battery with him.<br>
I at once wrote a note to the following effect:<br>
10 a.m.—I have just captured a Zulu scout who informs me the Zulu army is behind the range of hills on the left flank of the camp. Will push on as fast as possible. The ground here is good for the rapid advance of mounted men and guns.
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