There seems to be some confusion here about who is debunking what.
The questions arising from ‘drummer boys’ of the 24th who died at Isandlwana are threefold: the number of boy soldiers who died and their military role, how their bodies were treated after death and the influence of those first two factors on future policy regarding boy soldiers being sent on active service.That last question seems to have been effectively dealt with already.
Obviously, to question how many boys died, and whether their bodies were mutilated, given the contradictory nature of the accounts recorded at the time, is neither myth-making nor speculation. Nor, I would suggest, is such scepticism the result of a desire to mislead; far less is it due to any lack of respect for those who fell. Surely, it is born rather of a wish to clarify the facts in the interests of historical accuracy. Military history abounds with myths and ripping yarns that may appropriate to the mess table or the campfire but which really have no place in serious historical research, the purpose of which is to establish by methodical enquiry as accurate an account of past events as the available evidence allows.
In the case of the butchered drummer boys, there seems to be a fair amount of hearsay and rumour but a lack of reliable, contemporary eye-witness evidence. I read that Lieut Maxwell of the 2/3rd NNC recorded: We fell in without sound of the bugle just as the first glimpse of daylight was showing-and were all out of camp on the road to Rorke's Drift before objects could be distinctly seen. I mention this because on the way I heard some terrible stories about mutilated bodies. These were invented for the occasion, as it was impossible for those who told the yarns to have distinguished anything in the night it being exceptionally dark
Chelmsford's force arrived at the scene of the disaster after dark and was ordered to strike camp before dawn so that the troops should not see the aftermath of the Zulu destruction of the British camp. Some troops in the rearguard must have seen the carnage but, in any case, no account specifies more than two boys whose bodies bore evidence of possible cruel treatment
T.H. Makin's journal account (quoted above), dating from May 1879, refers to three boys, one of whom is described as ‘a little drummer boy’. We know the youngest drummers who died, Reardon and Jones, were both 18 years old. Makin’s account continues: “We came across a large wooden structure like a double scaffold, where two other boys had been hung up by their hands to the hooks and as they had decomposed, their bodies had fallen to the ground where they lay.”
Makin’s report of mutilation or torture based on unburied bodies seen five months after the battle cannot be taken as conclusive evidence. His description of the dead drummer's body must be read in that context. As the bodies were all reportedly stripped, identifying remains as as those of a drummer could only be made from the proximity of a drum, as in Makin's account. Identifying remains as those of a boy would have to be made from stature alone and, again, that might be difficult when the body was skeletal. It is also possible that rumours which had been circulating from the earliest days after the defeat influenced interpretation of what was found.
Samuel Jones of the Newcastle Mounted Rifles: writing fifty years after the event, recalled seeing something similar- although differing in significant detail.: “One sight, a most gruesome one, I shall never forget. Two lads, presumably two little drummer boys of the 26th [i.e. 24th] Regiment, had been hung up by butcher hooks which had been jabbed under their chins, then they were disembowelled.”
Jones' account is echoed by Drummer W. Sweeney of the 2/24th writing on April 29th, 1879. He says: ‘Two drummers, Anderson and Holmes, and five little boys of the band about fourteen years of age. They butchered most awfully indeed. One little chap named M’Every, they hung up by the chin to a hook’
Sweeney's account may be hearsay but given that he was a Drummer himself, one might expect him to be a reliable witness as to the victims. However, neither Anderson, who had indeed trained as a drummer, or Holmes were among the 12 drummers listed killed. Moreover, no-one among the drummers of the 24th who died was named M’Every.
Drummer Adams, W. H. 2003 was aged 19 when killed
Drummer Andrews, C. 267 was aged 23 when killed
Drummer Dibden, G. 1786 was aged 22 when killed
Drummer Haynes, Jno. 542 ( Pte. on the roll) was aged 18 when killed
Drummer Osmond, C. 1226 ( G. on despatch ) was aged 31 when killed
Drummer Orlopp, J. F. 2 was aged 19 when killed
Drummer Perkins, T. 1-24/1 was aged 36 when killed
Drummer Reardon, T. 501 was aged 18 when killed
Drummer Stansfield, S. 114 was aged 22 when killed
Drummer Thompson, Jno. 1787 was aged 21 when killed
Drummer Wolfendale, A. 2004 was aged 19 when killed
Drummer Wolfendale, J. 1399 was aged 26 when killed
Our colleague,"Isandlwana" has cited the names of five Boys serving with the 24th who died on 22nd January, 1879:
Joseph S McEwan (16),
Daniel Gordon (17),
James Gurney (16).
Thomas Harrington (age unknown)
Robert Richards (age unknown).
Perhaps Drummer Sweeney was thinking of Joseph McEwan (who may have been the youngest British casualty).
We know that twelve Drummers between 18 and 36 died at Isandlwana (Four*[edited] of them under 20) together with five Boys aged between 16 and 17; none likely to be younger than 14. (We are also told of a young civilian who died, Green- the servant of Surgeon Shepherd, and Trooper Jackson (16) who was with the Natal Carbineers).
So we know there were youths, some not fully grown, in the ranks of the 24th and that at least ten of those young men died on 22nd January, 1879.
Best anecdotal evidence suggests that the bodies of two of those youths, whether drummers or boys, may have been found under circumstances that suggested at best ritual post-mortem mutilation, at worst a brutal execution.
There is nothing about those facts about which one can feel complacent but for me, however, the key question remains: what exactly is the issue here?
-That young men serving with a British Regiment of Foot were exposed to the horrors of close combat with an relentless enemy who gave no quarter to a defeated enemy and practiced ritual mutilation of the dead and dying?
-That the Zulus made no distinction between adult man and youth in the ranks of their defeated enemy?
-That some Zulus may
have singled out a handful of the youngest, arguably weakest, of the vanquished and subjected them, when defenceless, to a deliberately cruel death?
That last could have happened. It may have not.
Given the nature of the evidence, it seems proper that the possibility of the latter should be subjected to scrutiny before the former is asserted as fact.
There is an interesting discussion of the subject here:http://www.1879zuluwar.com/t3760p30-isa ... ummer+boys
and some useful points here:http://www.1879zuluwar.com/t405-isandlw ... ummer+boys