Personal info

  • Name: William Knox LEET
  • D.O.B: 4th Nov, 1833
  • D.O.A: 28th Mar, 1879
  • D.O.D: 29th Jun, 1898
  • Award: Victoria Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Major, 1st Battalion 13th (1st Somersetshire) (Prince Albert’s Light Infantry) Regiment of Foot
  • Book: The Complete History - Volume 1
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Sources & Acknowledgements

Hlobane Mountain, Zululand, South Africa 28 March 1879

28 March 1879

More details about:

After Isandhlwana Lord Chelmsford determined to march south-east to assist the Coastal Column at Eshowe. He suggested to Colonel Sir Evelyn Wood VC, commanding the Northern Column now camped at Khambula in the disputed territory, forty-five miles north-east of Rorke’s Drift, that it might be helpful if he undertook some diversionary manoeuvre. In response, Wood decided to attack Hlobane Mountain (spelt Inhlobane in the Citations below), a flat-topped mountain about twenty miles north-east of Khambula, one of the strongholds of the abaQulusi Zulus. He entrusted the main assault to Major R H Buller with 400 mounted troops and some irregulars, while other troops were deployed elsewhere on the mountain. At dawn on 28 March 1879 Buller’s force began to make its way up the eastern slope of Hlobane. What neither Wood nor Buller knew was that a Zulu army of 20,000 men was approaching en route for Khambula. As soon as this was sighted Buller had no option but to withdraw. By this time his path up the mountain was back in Zulu hands and he was forced to take the western route down across the aptly named Devil’s Pass. Buller and Major W K Leet distinguished themselves by rescuing men who had lost their horses in the descent from the mountain. Captain D’Arcy, one of those whom Buller assisted, had himself given up his horse to one of the wounded and had also tried to refuse Buller’s offer of assistance for fear of endangering his superior. Wood had tried to follow Buller up to the summit but had found himself on a ridge on the south-east flank of Hlobane where Zulu snipers had taken up position in caves. In clearing these, Wood’s principal staff officer, Capt Ronald Campbell, lost his life but Lieutenant H Lysons and Private E J Fowler distinguished themselves by their valour. What Wood had termed a ‘reconnaissance in strength’ had proved a disaster. The only pride salvaged from the day’s fighting was the bravery shown by the officers and men. Apart from Buller and Leet, Wood recommended that D’Arcy should be awarded a VC but as D’Arcy was a volunteer in a colonial unit, and not officially a member of the Imperial forces, this was not approved. However, D’Arcy was to be awarded a VC for an action on 3 July 1879, the day before the Battle of Ulundi. It was not until October 1881 that Wood recommended Fowler and Lysons for the VC. He would also have recommended Captain Campbell for the award had he lived. Campbell’s son was Lieutenant Colonel J V Campbell VC.


 For his gallant conduct, on the 28th March, 1879, in rescuing from the Zulus Lieutenant A. M. Smith, of the Frontier Light Horse, during the retreat from the Inhlobana. Lieutenant Smith whilst on foot, his horse having been shot, was closely pursued by the Zulus, and would have been killed had not Major Leet taken him upon his horse and rode with him, under the fire of the enemy, to a place of safety. 

The London Gazette of 17 June 1879, Numb. 24734, p. 3966

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