Last Sleep of the Brave

Lieutenants Nevill Josiah Aylmer Coghill (aged 26) and Teignmouth Melvill (aged 36) of the 1st Battalion, 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot, were killed attempting to defend their unit’s Queen’s Colour in the aftermath of the British defeat at Isandlwana on 22 January 1879. They were caught by the Zulus as they attempted to carry the color to safety across the Buffalo River. Their bodies were found on the banks sometime later by follow-on British forces– reports range from 10 days to a fortnight– and the flag retrieved from the river.

“Last Sleep of the Brave,” Isandlwana, Zulu War, 1879. Oleograph after Alphonse de Neuville, 1881. This no-doubt much-romanticized work depicts a patrol from the 17th (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) Lancers discovering the bodies of Melvill and Coghill on the banks of the Buffalo River. The depiction of the 17th Lancers as being the unit to recover their remains is incorrect as when the bodies were retrieved the lancers had yet to leave England for South Africa. NAM Accession Number NAM. 1956-02-284-1

The two officers were buried at and interred at Fugitive’s Drift, below Itchiane Hill.

Melvill’s son, Charles, who was four years old at the time of his father’s desk, went on to become a major general in the British Army, leading NZ troops in the Great War. Coghill’s brother, the respected painter Sir Egerton Coghill, named his second son Nevill in honor of his lost brother.

As noted by the National Army Museum, “although 23 Victoria Crosses were won during the Zulu War (1879), Coghill and his fellow officer had to wait until January 1907 to receive their posthumous awards.”

Hard to give VCs in a crushing defeat, but it should be noted that their posthumous awards were some of the first for the VC. Their Crosses are displayed at the Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh in Brecon, Powys, Wales.

Cpl Andy Reid / © MoD Crown Copyright 2019

The medals, and others related to the much more touted stand at Rorke’s Drift, were reviewed by King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu Nation in 2019 on the 140th anniversary of the Anglo-Zulu War.

Of that meeting, Colonel (Retired) Tim Van-Rees, of the Friends of The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh, said: “it’s an absolute privilege to welcome him here.”

“Zulu King reveals the display of VCs held temporarily at The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh. A selection of original Victoria Cross medals dating back to the 19 Century have been put on public display for the first time. The eight original 1879 Anglo-Zulu War VCs belong to The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh, based in Brecon. The eight original VCs on display are those that were awarded to Lieutenants Teignmouth Melvill, Nevill Coghill and Gonville Bromhead, Corporal William Allen and Privates Frederick Hitch, Henry Hook, Robert Jones, and John Williams.” Cpl Andy Reid / © MoD Crown Copyright 2019

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