Tag Archives: British Army

January 22nd – The British are defeated at the Battle of Isandlwana

The Battle of Isandlwana, as depicted by Charles Edwin Fripp.

The Battle of Isandlwana, as depicted by Charles Edwin Fripp.

On this day in 1879, the British Army was defeated by the Zulus at the Battle of Isandlwana. The loss at Isandlwana marked the worst military defeat sustained by the British Armed Forces against a technologically inferior indigenous force, with the Zulu forces outnumbering the British almost 10 to 1.

In an effort to consolidate its rule over southern Africa, the British committed to war against the Zulu Kingdom on January 11, 1879. Taking place during the “Scramble for Africa”, where various European powers sought control over unclaimed lands of Africa, Victorian Britain believed that the war against the Zulus would be easy work and a matter of putting down token tribal resistance. The British commander-in-chief in South Africa, Lord Chelmsford, had much experience in dealing with wars on the African continent, and it was believed he would be able to satisfactorily win victory for the British yet again. This was not to be the case, however.

On January 20th, a column of the British force made camp on Isandlwana Hill, and using other columns, Chelmsford sought to scout out the locations of the Zulu army. Chelmsford was unable to locate the Zulu force, which had snuck around Chelmsford on its way to attack the British at Isandlwana, until it was too late. Though the Zulu were only armed with spears and shields (though it should be noted they did have muskets, however were ill-equipped and trained to operate these weapons) and the British with their top-of-the-line Martini-Henry breech-loading rifles and artillery, on January 22nd, 1879, the British were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Zulu soldiers at Isandlwana and defeated.

Upon returning to Isandlwana after the battle, Chelmsford was devastated. The defeat at Isandlwana damaged the psyche of the British military and nation, with vows to avenge the loss in Zululand. More resources and attention were consequently placed by the British into the Anglo-Zulu War, resulting in British victory later on in July.

The following are some British links that may be of interest for further reading:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1193666/Remains-British-soldier-died-battle-Zulu-war-identified-130-years–tunic-button.html – Remains of British soldier who died in first battle of Zulu war identified after 130 years.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/zulu_01.shtml – A nice write-up of the events of the Anglo-Zulu War and the controversy behind Lord Chelmsford.

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December 24th – Christmas Truce on the Western Front begins

A football (soccer) game played between British (from Chester) and German soldiers (from Saxony), 1914. Supposedly the  final score was 3-2 for Germany.

A football (soccer) game played between British (from Chester) and German soldiers (from Saxony), Christmas 1914. Supposedly the final score was 3-2 for Germany.

On this day in 1914, the guns fell silent in certain sections of the Western Front, on the eve of Christmas. German and Allied soldiers put down their weapons and met in no-man’s land to collect the dead, exchange gifts and mingle with their fellow brothers-in-arms.

No official truce existed between the Germans and the Allies during the holiday season, however spontaneous truces broke out throughout the Western Front. One should note that a truce was not observed everywhere, as some sections of the front continued to fight through Christmas. The first reported truce occurred near the Belgian town of Ypres, where German troops lit up Christmas trees with candles and started singing Christmas carols (no doubt O Tannenbaum and Stille Nacht were in the repertoire). Hearing the Germans singing from across no-man’s land, British troops began singing themselves. Soon enough, both German and British soldiers emerged from their trenches and met in no-man’s land, exchanging gifts such as food, cigarettes and liquor. The lull in the fighting also gave the chance for both sides to collect the dead and hold burial services, sometimes jointly between the Germans and Allies. This unofficial ceasefire occurred throughout the Western Front and lasted through Christmas night, and in some cases, till New Year’s Day. Truces of this nature were also seen between the French and the Germans, and between the Austrians and Russians.

Future Christmas truces rarely happened after 1914. Military leaders were largely aghast at the demonstration of fraternization and camaraderie exhibited between the two sides during the 1914 Christmas truce, and officially discouraged future holiday truces. Consequently, artillery bombardments were ordered throughout Christmas Eve to ensure a ceasefire did not occur. Troop units were also rotated through the front to avoid units from becoming too acquainted with the enemy. Nevertheless, in 1914 the First World War failed to get in the way of troops on both sides from putting down their weapons, even if only for a day, to express their Christmas spirit.

One of the more famous stories from the Christmas truce of 1914 were the impromptu football (soccer) matches that broke out. A well-known account of a football match is that between the Cheshire Regiment and a Saxon Regiment, after a British soldier pulled out a leather ball from the trenches and began kicking it around. Germans joined along with the British soldiers, and using helmets as goal posts, a game started (final score was apparently 3-2 for the Germans). In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War next year, football organizations from both nations have began organizing to re-enact these football matches at the battlefields of France and Belgium next year.

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