Personal info

  • Name: Nevill Josiah Aylmer COGHILL
  • D.O.B: 25th Jan, 1852
  • D.O.A: 22nd Jan, 1879
  • D.O.D: 22nd Jan, 1879
  • Award: Victoria Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Lieutenant, 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot, attached as a staff officer to Colonel Glyn, Commander Central Column
  • Book: The Complete History - Volume 1
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Buffalo river, west of Isandhlwana, Zululand, South Africa 22 January 1879

22 January 1879

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On 11 January 1879, British Forces under Lieutenant General Lord Chelmsford invaded Zululand. The army comprised three sections. Colonel Evelyn Wood VC commanded a northern column and Colonel C K Pearson a coastal column. Chelmsford himself accompanied the central column, commanded by Colonel Richard Glyn, which crossed the Buffalo river at Rorke’s Drift. He was aiming for the Zulu royal kraal at Ulundi. On 20 January, after some preliminary fighting, this column reached Isandhlwana mountain, ten miles from Rorke’s Drift, and pitched camp at its base. In what proved to be a fatal miscalculation, no defences were erected round the camp. Receiving news that the Zulu army was approaching, on 21 January Chelmsford sent out Major Dartnell eastwards, in the direction of Ulundi, on reconnaissance. At dawn the following morning Chelmsford himself set out with half his force to join in the search. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pulleine was left with 1,200 men to guard the camp, mostly drawn from the 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment. Unknown to the British, the Zulus, 25,000 strong, were hidden in the Ngwebeni Valley, five and a half miles north-east of Isandhlwana. They now emerged and, despite a desperate defence by the British, overwhelmed and destroyed the camp. Most of the defenders, including Pulleine, were killed. The track back to Rorke’s Drift had been cut by the Zulu army and the few British who were able to escape were closely pursued by the Zulus and forced to take a more southerly route to the Buffalo river, five miles away, at a place now known as Fugitives’ Drift. Private S Wassall was awarded the VC for his gallantry in rescuing a drowning soldier during the retreat. Victorian Britain was shocked by the disaster at Isandhlwana but took inspiration from the actions of Lieutenants T Melvill and N J A Coghill. It was widely believed that when Colonel Pulleine realized the position was hopeless, he had ordered his Adjutant, Lieutenant Melvill, to save the Queen’s Colour of the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment. At some point Melvill was joined by Lieutenant Coghill, who had earlier been wounded in the leg. The Buffalo river was in flood. Coghill forded it but rode back in to rescue Melvill, who had lost his horse and was clinging to a rock. He succeeded but lost his own horse in the process, while the Colour itself was swept away by the river. Unfortunately, Zulus had also crossed the river and both Melvill and Coghill were killed on the far bank. On 4 February 1879 Melvill and Coghill were buried by a party under the command of Major Wilson Black, of the 2/24th. The Queen’s Colour was found in the Buffalo river and restored to the 1st Battalion. Two months later the bodies were reburied a few yards from the spot where the men had fallen. The Governor, Sir Bartle Frere, presented a memorial cross which still marks the grave today. Lord Chelmsford’s despatch containing an account of saving the Colour was published in The London Gazette of 4 April 1879. On 2 May 1879 The London Gazette contained a Memorandum entry for Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill, stating that they would have been recommended for VCs had they survived. In due course the award of a number of posthumous VCs following the Boer War of 1899-1902 prompted an official review of the six previous Memorandum cases. On 15 January 1907, King Edward VII approved the award of posthumous VCs to all six, including Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill.


 The King has been graciously pleased to approve of the Decoration of the Victoria Cross being delivered to the representatives of the undermentioned Officers and men who fell in the performance of acts of valour, and with reference to whom it was notified in the London Gazette that they would have been recommended to Her late Majesty for the Victoria Cross had they survived: - London Gazette, 2nd May, 1879. Lieutenant Teignmouth Melvill, 24th Foot. Lieutenant Nevill Josiah Aylmer Coghill, 24th Foot. “Lieutenant Melvill, of the 1st Battalion 24th Foot, on account of the gallant efforts made by him to save the Queen’s Colour of his Regiment after the disaster at Isandlwanha, and also Lieutenant Coghill, 1st Battalion 24th Foot, on account of his heroic conduct in endeavouring to save his brother officer’s life, would have been recommended to Her Majesty for the Victoria Cross had they survived.” 

The London Gazette of 15 January 1907, Numb. 27986, p. 325

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