The Drummer Boy fiction

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Re: The Drummer Boy fiction

Postby jf42 » 04 Oct 2015 08:47

Goodness; three years ago or more. Thank you for that clarification. I should immediately make clear that what I wrote in 2012 was a digest of my hasty reading in order to participate in the discussion. I had just embarked on a study of certain regimental traditions and the process by which military myths are perpetuated and I found the 'Drummer Boy' stories attached to Isandlwhana an intriguing example of the subject I was studying. I made no claim to be an authority.

As I commented at the time - in the passage you have quoted- one would have expected Sweeney to be a fairly reliable witness as to casualties from among drummers and musicians.

How two 2nd Battalion men of the 24th happened to be with the 1st Battalion at Isandlwhana is an interesting question but presumably there might be a fairly routine answer to that. Various possibilities come to mind but I do not know enough about the relationship between the two battalions at that point of the campaign or how transfer of troops between battalions of a pre-1881 two-battalion regiment might be agreed or on whose authority.

It would seem the reference to the "little chap named M'Every" remains unproven. My recollection is that there were or two names that might arguably have been garbled as M'Every but that none of those men answered to the description of "little chap." I would have to check my notes, which are not to hand. The rendering of Irish and Scots names, patronymic or other, in first hand accounts, can be unreliable. Sweeney may have been describing an individual he knew of but not well, whose name he hadn't quite got clear in his mind as he wrote. {EDIT: mis-transcription of the original letter might also be a possibility}

However, it is the alleged treatment of this young soldier that lies at the heart of the 2012 discussion. Given the circumstances referred to then, it is probable that Sweeney did not himself see the body of a boy soldier suspended as described but was reporting hearsay. These rumours appear to have begun in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and may have been based in part on the actual treatment of bodies found on the scene of the fight and pursuit, which, I believe, is a matter of fact. As I understand it the likelihood of someone from the 24th being present in the destroyed camp that night, who not only saw the grim tableau described by Sweeney but was in a position to identify the individual, is not great. The discussion goes on.
Last edited by jf42 on 05 Oct 2015 10:23, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Drummer Boy fiction

Postby RobD » 05 Oct 2015 08:47

Ian Knight has written an excellent article on this subject: possibly everyone has read it, but if not:

http://www.ianknightzulu.com/gutted-she ... isandlwana

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Re: The Drummer Boy fiction

Postby jf42 » 05 Oct 2015 11:05

Thanks Rob. I hadn't seen that post. It seems a sober and pretty thorough summary of the question. He might have added that the key eyewitness account by Samuel Jones of the Newcastle Mounted Rifles was written fifty years after the event.

Not that it's of great importance but was the young soldier played by Dai Bradley in Zulu Dawn a drummer? Certainly, slight in build though he may be, he wasn't playing a boy of 11 or 12.
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Re: The Drummer Boy fiction

Postby grumpy » 05 Oct 2015 14:39

Ian Knight's article is very measured and I found little to disagree with except his illustration 3/8 which, although he describes it as a band boy, is clearly a very young DRUMMER wearing the distinctive "crown and inch" lace on sleeves, cuffs, and wings.

Unless in close-up, British line infantry bandsmen [including a bandsman serving as a drum-player] and drummers can be confused because both wore wings. The lace down the seams of the sleeves was however the prerogative of a drummer's full dress scarlet tunic. On the scarlet frock he made do with a stylised worsted drum badge.
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Re: The Drummer Boy fiction

Postby Frogsmile » 06 Oct 2015 18:22

grumpy wrote:Ian Knight's article is very measured and I found little to disagree with except his illustration 3/8 which, although he describes it as a band boy, is clearly a very young DRUMMER wearing the distinctive "crown and inch" lace on sleeves, cuffs, and wings.

Unless in close-up, British line infantry bandsmen [including a bandsman serving as a drum-player] and drummers can be confused because both wore wings. The lace down the seams of the sleeves was however the prerogative of a drummer's full dress scarlet tunic. On the scarlet frock he made do with a stylised worsted drum badge.


Whilst in general true, a large number of infantry battalions in India modified their frocks by piping the front edge, a trefoil cuff knot and 'framing' the collar with the narrow pattern of drummers lace (scarlet and white alternate plain weave).
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Re: The Drummer Boy fiction

Postby grumpy » 07 Oct 2015 13:56

Yes, I was keeping things simple. Nevertheless Ian Knight's caption is a misidentification of course as we see full drummers' lace.
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Re: The Drummer Boy fiction

Postby Frogsmile » 07 Oct 2015 14:23

grumpy wrote:Yes, I was keeping things simple. Nevertheless Ian Knight's caption is a misidentification of course as we see full drummers' lace.


Yes a lot of authors mistake drummers as bandsmen and caption them accordingly, I noticed that Westlake does that frequently, which surprised me.

I wonder if any of the battalions in the Anglo/Zulu war were wearing India frocks. I cannot recall off hand if any reinforcements were sent from India.
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