A Companion to the Anglo Zulu War

A Companion to the Anglo Zulu War

  • Author: Ian Knight
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword
  • Publish Date: 01/10/2008
  • ISBN: 184415801
  • Price: 19.99

Review By : A W Greaves

Ian Knight’s latest book marks a change from the narrative histories for which he is best known, but to call A Companion to the Anglo-Zulu War a reference work is to do it a serious injustice. It does certainly contain a good deal of very useful reference information which it will be nice to have to hand when reading more conventional books on the war - on the organisation, weapons and uniforms of both sides, for example, and on Zulu customs and beliefs not easily explained elsewhere - but it is in fact a series of essays on incidental aspects of the war. In his Preface Ian says he conceived it as ‘a series of footnotes’, and it certainly expands and explains many of the nagging questions which arise when studying the war. It is arranged as an A to Z - from ammunition boxes to Zibhebhu - and it ranges widely across such subjects as the famous eclipse on 22 January, the food enjoyed - or endured - by both sides, pay, religious belief, the use of rockets and signalling apparatus and contemporary photographic coverage of the war. The book reveals Ian’s enduring interest in the mythology of the war - of why its story has remained so popular to this day - and there are interesting assessments of how this came about, including the impact the novelist Rider Haggard made on the image of the Zulu people - a committed Imperialist at the time of the war, Haggard was shocked by the state he found the Zulus to be in when he visited Zululand in 1914 - and of the way the war has been treated in the cinema (the first film about Rorke’s Drift was apparently made in Florida in 1914). Inevitably, there are several entries on iSandlwana which do not so much attempt a history of the battle but which look at the debates surrounding everything from the meaning of the name to more recent re-interpretations of events and the changes which have taken place to the battlefield in the last 129 years. There is a distinct interest in the quirky revealed here, too, and the book looks at the legends and stories about treasure supposedly abandoned by the warring parties in the field (most of which it seems are untrue, sadly) and some of the eccentric characters who passed through Zululand - such as ‘Captain’ Godolphin Finney Burslem, a con-artist who fleeced wealthy widows out of their fortunes in America in the 1880s, and who claimed to have lost a leg at iSandlwana but who is revealed instead as a Gunner in the Royal Artillery, injured in an accident with a gun-carriage late in the war. A revealing section on popular Zulu attitudes to the war suggests just how much ordinary Zulus supported the resistance to the British invasion, and there are some illuminating insights into the effect of the African landscapes on British troops straight out from England - of wildlife, including snakes, and the unsettling nature of the African night and the false alarms which resulted. All in all this is a fresh, entertaining and very comprehensive look at many different aspects of the war which is a fitting tribute to more than thirty years study by the author, and it is already being hailed as the Anglo-Zulu War enthusiasts’ Bible - and rightly so. There are some previously unpublished illustrations included and a rather striking cover - and for once you can judge a book by the cover.



‘For anyone who thinks that ‘the last word’ on this most heavily studied of ‘Queen Victoria’s little wars’ must surely have been written already, Ian Knight has demonstrated that the subject can always be tackled afresh and new insights offered. This book is not, however, another general history of the war … but is, in the author’s own words, more a ‘series of footnotes’ – giving succinct summaries of the events, the opposing forces, the individuals and the issues involved. The focus is on ‘the human aspects …[including] the quirky and absurd’ … Companion to the Anglo-Zulu War is essential reading for anyone with even the remotest interest in this subject.
Andy Smith, Soldiers of the Queen; Journal of the Victorian Military Society.



‘It really is a book that is difficult to put down, as pretty much everything that is covered in these 250 pages is of interest to the inquisitive minded …He covers the main themes that one would expect to be covered, the big battles, the army organizations etc, but he splendidly indulges himself with some terrific trivia. Following close after a treatise on ‘ammunition boxes’ is a section on caves in the war. Jolly interesting it is too; as is his study of cinema, where we learn there is plenty else to view if you know where to look other than a floppy-haired Michael Caine …A great book, full of the unexpected …and a treat for those who know a great deal, but just want to know some more. Highly recommended.’
John Stallard, Wargames Illustrated


‘ … an extremely detailed and comprehensive reference work that encompasses every aspect of the short and bloody war…I have to say that this is much more than just a reference book; it is also a fascinating read.’
Major Mike Peters, Soldier Magazine.


Wednesday 21st of October 2009 12:16:59 PM