Like Wolves on the Fold

Like Wolves on the Fold

  • Author: Lt Col Mike Snook
  • Publisher: Greenhill Books
  • Publish Date: 01/02/2006
  • ISBN: 1-85367-659-4

Review By : Dr Adrian Greaves

As someone who has spent considerable time preparing notes on the subject of Rorke’s Drift, I keenly awaited Col. Snook’s new book. It looked spectacular as I unpacked it and I enthusiastically settled down to learn more about the battle. The book is very well illustrated with numerous clear maps and attractive pictures, and portraits we have all seen before, though I was somewhat taken aback to see his publishers needed to use the two main cover pictures from my own recent books on the subject, as well as the previously agreed pictures from my private collection. But Col. Snook and I obviously share a taste in fine artwork, and I can’t fault him for that.

His text reads well and the battle flows excitingly, though I repeatedly felt that by having read so much about the battle elsewhere, it was rather like watching ZULU for the nth time, I instinctively knew what was coming next. As I moved through the book, I was eagerly waiting for some new material which I and other authors had missed - and I eventually found something new. I was intrigued to learn that, before the battle, C/Sgt Bourne had walked up the hill overlooking Rorke’s Drift to see what was going on. I had previously believed what Bourne had written, that he had also been detailed to take a skirmishing party out of camp to slow the advancing Zulus. Col. Snook obviously has new information on this, I would dearly like to know where it came from; he doesn’t tell us.

 He also alludes to some of the long standing mysteries of Rorke’s Drift, but leaves us still guessing. I would love to know more about….. the Martini-Henry ammunition cases he says were found above the Oskarsberg terraces, unless he is referring to those I found there (and left there) when researching my own book. Some of the Zulu farmers had examples in their huts and, given an hour or so, were able to find more in the topsoil of their vegetable patches; so there is probably much more to this aspect of the story. The poor British dead seem to have been mercifully killed by one shot, which rules out Zulu blunderbusses, so what killed them if not Martini-Henry rounds? And what about the discrepancy of numbers of Zulu dead? The comments by those present indicate most were killed by the bayonet, how could this be? And the treatment of the Zulu wounded and prisoners after the battle needs further investigation, a subject that has been recently raised and needs resolution. And what of the official archaeology conducted at Rorke’s Drift? Why have no more than a handful of Martini-Henry cases ever been found at the Rorke’s Drift battle site? Did the British tidy up afterwards while anticipating a fresh Zulu attack, and in the pouring rain? And why did the archaeologists find no evidence of a battle? Of course we all know there was a battle, so, again, why no mention of this mystery? And where is the analysis of the post battle enquiry? And then there is the matter of the authenticity of Chard’s report, which the author quotes repeatedly. And so on.

 About half way through the book he goes on for page after page about Col. Durnford at Isandlwana, and then I confess to having lost interest. He confusingly states that material on the Zulu side of the war is hard to come by. It’s in the libraries of KwaZulu Natal, the universities of Zululand, Pietermaritzburg and Durban, and the Killie Campbell Museum in Durban. There are also many research manuscripts written by a number of academics on the subject; their papers, references and bibliographies are all readily available from the Anglo Zulu War Historical Society.

 So, my overall impression? This is difficult as I know that any book takes well over a year to prepare and so I want to be kind.  Col. Snook has a fine style and as an editor of such material, I’m delighted for someone else to join the long list of RD authors – but not to retell us the same story.  So, regretfully, I wouldn’t recommend this book purely because it’s a ‘retell’.

 Fresh new books about the Zulu War do regularly appear and two recent works that met my expectations were from Col. Rodney Ashworth (also Royal Regiment of Wales, retd.) who wrote about the Heaton diary– what an interesting and fresh study. And then there is the book by Dr Sheldon Hall about the making of the film ZULU – what a remarkable publication; both are well researched and presented. 

Tuesday 07th of February 2006 09:33:41 AM

Review By : Elizabeth Hogan

As readers of this review site may know, I didn’t exactly go overboard for Lieutenant Colonel Snook’s recent book about Isandlwana – and I’m not enthused by his latest book, Like the Wolves on the Fold – The defence of Rorke’s Drift 

 Lieutenant Colonel Snook is from the distinguished Royal Regiment of Wales, the regiment descended from the 2nd Battalion 24th Regiment (2nd Warwickshires) which fought at Rorke’s Drift. But he never mentions the English regiment actually involved in the battle. Is this to perpetuate the long-standing myth that the battle was fought by a Welsh regiment? I believe the Welsh flag now flies at both Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana, not the flag of St. George or the Union flag under which the actual regiment fought.

 The first clue to the quality of the book’s content is given away by the word ‘retold’. The front cover credit, written by the highly respected Professor Richard Holmes states; ‘The Zulu attack on Rorke’s Drift thrillingly retold’. Holmes is spot on; Lieutenant Colonel Snook has retold the story – and I genuinely can’t find anything in LTWOTF that hasn’t been repeatedly retold, and retold better elsewhere. As for the illustrations, apart from his own location shots, all the pictures have been published before, many in currently available works. I notice, for example, Lieutenant Colonel Snook has copied two pictures first seen on the front covers of Dr Greaves’ two recent books published by Cassell, his best selling Rorke’s Drift  and Crossing the Buffalo. I agree the two pictures in question are magnificent but they are still very fresh in our memories. I would have thought Lieutenant Colonel Snook could have found something original.

 I found it irritating that Lieutenant Colonel Snook keeps referring back to his own earlier book (How can man die better?). He also continues to make statements that lack evidence, or fly in the face of it, and he gives his readers few meaningful references, a repeat of the serious failing of his earlier book.

  A few examples;

  1. p.23 ‘Colour Sergeant Bourne decided to walk to the top of Shiyane’.  Bourne wrote that at lunchtime he went onto a small hill with some sergeants to look at Isandlwana, but was this Shiyane? Later on, as the Zulus approached Rorke’s Drift, Bourne was sent out from Rorke’s Drift with a skirmishing party to slow down the advancing Zulus. Has the detachment of Bourne and the skirmishers been overlooked?
  2. P.28. ‘Bourne had thirty-four boxes of cartridges’ . This statement begs some questions; about the efficacy of the ammunition, rates of fire, determination and frequency of Zulu attacks - which other authors have tackled but Lieutenant Colonel Snook leaves unanswered.
  3. p.50. He writes that ‘our grasp on the Zulu side of the story is tenuous’. Is it? He could have taken a little time to read the works of, for example, Ian Knight or Prof. John Laband. The evidence is there - it’s called ‘research’.
  4. p.78. Lieutenant Colonel Snook tells us that, with the battle some two hours underway, the Zulus had already ‘taken dreadful punishment’ with ‘scores of dead’. To any reader this is curious; if they had been firing for some two hours at close range how can over one hundred well-trained soldiers, capable of firing five aimed shots per minute, only account for ‘scores of dead’?  As it then got dark, were most of the counted 351 dead Zulus killed after dark – if so how? No one would dream of suggesting this low count was due to poor leadership, defective weapons or poorly trained soldiers so, why are we not told what happened? Surely one controlled volley or a few minutes of ‘fire at will’ would have substantially contributed to this tally?
  5. P 237. Lieutenant Colonel Snook incorrectly tells us about the wreath of Immortelles. A moment’s research would reveal that the original wreath was initially placed on the colour by the ladies of Durban – and replaced in England by Queen Victoria when the originals wilted.

 On the question of Etiquette, like many South Africans, I deplore the use of the word ‘kraal’ to denote a human homestead, unless used in a contemporary quotation. A kraal is for cattle not people, the careless use of the term has long been offensive to most people. Also, King Cetshwayo of the Zulus should always be King Cetshwayo, not just Cetshwayo. If Queen Victoria and Prince Dabulamanzi can be correctly designated, why not King Cetshwayo?

 The second half of the book threw me completely. Lieutenant Colonel Snook suddenly goes off on an oblique tangent and devotes 20 pages, one tenth of the text devoted to Rorke’s Drift, by reviewing Colonel Durnford’s role at the battle of Isandlwana. Should this section not have been published in his recent Isandlwana book?

 Thankfully, there are some really good books on the subject of Rorke’s Drift.  Some are reviewed on this site.


Tuesday 07th of February 2006 07:29:13 AM