Richard Walford Stevens and Isandlwana

Richard Walford Stevens as a young man and an old man with his medals and the battlefield at Isandlwana.

My father had a Mills Cigarette tin in which he kept some medals. His medals from WWII and two medals from his grandfather, Richard Walford Stevens. One for the Anglo Zulu War of 1879 and the other for WWI. There was no back story about Richard Walford except that he had taken part in the Battle of Isandlwana and had survived. This was always a bit romantic because even as a child I knew that the Zulu warriors had destroyed the British force at Isandlwana and only very few had escaped.

Isandlwana was a seminal event in South African history. He was there so I wanted to know how that came to be, what part he played in the battle, and what happened to him afterwards. Apart from the medals and a fob watch chain, the only information I had about him was sketchy family anecdotes. There were no pictures or documents. After some twenty years of slow and steady gathering of snippets here and snippets there, there is now enough information to paint a picture of his life.

I have built the narrative around the letters which Richard Walford wrote home from Helmekaar after the battle. I have sought to provide context to his rather laconic comments and to illuminate them through the more expansive comments of others who were there and an examination of the histories of the event. Who were the people he mentions? What did they do? What was he involved in that he didn’t mention? How did his little piece of the battle fit into the whole thing? What was the “ditch” he defended? This is not an historical analysis of the battle. It is just an examination of the bits that directly impacted him with sufficient background on the geopolitics of the time to assist those, mainly family, who live outside South Africa and have not been exposed to its history.

I have bookended this expansion of his narrative with, firstly, a description of his family background and his move to Natal and, secondly, an analysis of his life after the war such as could be obtained from public records and newspaper mentions.

I have been greatly helped in my research by two groups of Anglo Zulu War historians and enthusiasts who can be found online at and at Ian Knight’s Anglo-Zulu History Group on Facebook. They have kindly provided me with information, photographs and copies of documents and newspaper articles. I must also acknowledge direct assistance from Ian Knight, Gary Richardson, Cam Simpson, and Michael Denigan. Thank you all.

The article has a number of references and endnotes. References are presented in the format (Name Date, Page). Endnotes are presented as 1  and are used to present extra information and explanations. Clicking on a reference or endnote will open a separate window that will show the reference with links to the underlying documents where available. Clicking the  button will close the window and take you back to the article. Some browsers might block this, in which case, simply close the window yourself. Some text is ‘hot linked’. These links will take you directly to reference material available on the web. For instance, many place names are hot linked and will take you to a map showing that location. Most pictures will expand in a separate window if you click on them – and can then be magnified further if needed. This is important for many of the maps and the panoramic photographs which need to be expanded in order to appreciate their content.

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Before Isandlwana

Richard Walford’s early life in England and move to Natal.

Isandlwana: Richard Walford’s view

Transcripts of his letters to his family telling what he had seen and experienced.

Starting the War

The excuse for war; the preparation for war; the invasion. “It took two or three days for all of our column to cross over the river. There was not a Zulu to be seen for some distance.”


The move from Rorke’s Drift to Isandlwana and the encampment there. “We were ordered to move the camp further up into the country, so we went 10 or 12 miles and pitched camp again.” “Early the next morning the General took out most of the column with him, leaving in camp about 800 white men and several native contingents. This was the morning of the 22nd.”

Isandlwana 22 January 1879

“We saw the hill black with them coming on in swarms.” “Never has such a disaster happened to the English army.” “There will be an awful row at home about this.”

The Escape

“The way we escaped was something marvellous.” “I just got through the enemy … by the skin of my teeth.”

Back to Policing

Helping with the end of this war; then with some other wars; while playing cricket.

After the Police

Richard Walford’s career highlights and lowlights until his death in 1942.

The man and his medals

His medals and a summary of his life.


Endnotes and list of references.

©Alun Stevens 2023

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