Zulu Dawn

The year was 1879. The place: Ishandlwana in colonial Africa.

The British guns faced obsolete arrows and spears in the Zulu war. Each time the Zulus would charge the British lines, they were cut down in a volley of lead. The power of the modern British weaponry was awesome and it continually forced the Zulus to retreat. Nobody could understand why the Zulus kept hurling themselves in the face of raining death.

The British might was inexorable and all believed it was only a matter of time until the enemy would be vanquished.

Behind the lines lay the British munitions. Mountains of bullets, under the care of the Head of Supply, were ferried to the front by a single runner, dispatched by the Commander whenever the cache on the line became half expended.

One day a General, far away from the front, decided that too many bullets were being used.

“We are fighting backward savages,” he said, “And our troops are the best equipped, best trained men in the world. Tell the Commander to sharpen their aim. It will save ammunition that we may need for some future war.”

The General’s words were sent to the Head of Supply with a directive that the line Commander must justify each volley before receiving a fresh shipment.

The Zulu charged, and once again, the British guns cut them down.

The Commander dispatched his runner to the Head of Supply.

“Ask the Commander fill out this form to justify that Her Majesty’s munitions have been carefully spent,” said the Head of Supply.

The runner returned and the Commander, noting that his material was more than half spent, dutifully filled out the form.

The Zulu charged and the guns blazed.

“There is not enough justification,” said the Head of Supply when the runner presented him with the document. “Please ask the Commander to project more carefully when his bullets will be exhausted.”

The runner returned and the Commander, seeing that his men were now sharing bullets among themselves, dutifully wrote his prediction, noting that he had but one quarter of his total allotment remaining.

The Zulu charged and the guns blazed.

“Please tell the Commander that he has not endorsed this document with his signature,” said the Head of Supply. “It is he who is accountable for Her Majesty’s munitions.”

At this, the runner pleaded with the Head of Supply. “I have been to all corners of the line,” he said. “This last trip, I have seen men passing our few remaining bullets to those with empty belts. If we do not now replenish the ranks now, I fear all may be lost!”

“Nonsense,” said the Head of Supply. “We have the best equipped, best trained men in the world. Hurry to Commander with this document and do not be insubordinate.”

Try as he might, the Runner could not convince the Head of Supply to release one bullet, until a fully justified, fully authorized document had been duly created, inspected and endorsed.

Finally, the Runner, realizing that the Head of Supply would not relent, grabbed the well worn piece of paper and ran desperately toward the line.

The Zulu charged and the guns were silent.

Before him lay a thousand men, modern weapons at their side. They had been clubbed, beaten and hacked to death by the most primitive weaponry. It was the end of the battle of Isandlwana and the beginning of the end of British colonial influence in Africa.

The Runner cried bitter tears. He went to the General and told his story. The General flew into a rage. “Our aim should have been better. Tis the Commanders fault that his command is lost.”

The General then called the Head of Supply before him and heard his story.

And the Runner was court martialed.