Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1879, Lieutenant Nevill Josiah Aylmer Coghill V.C. and Lieutenant Teignmouth Melvill V.C., 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot, were killed after the Battle of Isandhlwana during the Anglo-Zulu War.
Lieutenant Coghill was the eldest son of an Irish Baronet, Sir John Joscelyn Coghill, and his younger brother was Sir Egerton Coghill, the Irish painter and the 5th Baronet. He was educated at the Haileybury and Imperial Service College near Hertford, and in 1873 he joined the 24th Regiment of Foot, being posted first to Gibraltar. Three years later he sailed to the Cape with his regiment. From Drumcondra in County Dublin, he was 26 years old.
Lieutenant Melvill was the son of Philip Melvill, Secretary in the Military Department to the East India Company. He was educated at Harrow, Cheltenham College and Cambridge University, then joined the army in 1865, being gazetted three years later. He was appointed to the Staff College, and then when the Galeka War broke out in 1877 he asked for permission to rejoin his regiment. Lieutenant Melvill served as Adjutant during the Zulu War. From Marylebone in London, he was 36 years old. His son went on to become Major General in the New Zealand Military Forces.
During the Battle of Isandhlwana an overwhelming force of 20,000 Zulus killed 1,800 British soldiers in what has been referred to as “the worst military disaster ever to be inflicted on a British army by a technically inferior indigenous force”. Afterwards Lieutenant Coghill and Lieutenant Melvill were ordered to save the Queen’s Colour of the Regiment - which Lieutenant Melvill managed to do only to be swept downstream in the Buffalo River, his horse having been shot from under him by a Zulu warrior as he attempted the crossing. The Colour was torn from his grasp by the force of the water. Lieutenant Coghill made a rescue attempt, but his horse was then shot and killed – accompanied by Lieutenant Walter Higginson they managed to swim to the Natal side of the river. Lieutenant Higginson left them to go in search of more horses, and from a distance witnessed their murder by natives, believed to have been friendly, who were threatened by the Zulus into killing them. They were not buried until two weeks later, at the place where they died, then two months later they were re-buried at Fugitive’s Drift.
The Colour was found by a patrol several weeks after their deaths by a patrol - it was restored and now hangs in Brecon Cathedral. The fate of the two lieutenants was known and noted in the London Gazette due to the account of Lieutenant Higginson, with the statement that “they would have been recommended to Her Majesty for the Victoria Cross had they survived”, the award at that time only being made to living recipients. In 1907 there was an amendment to the Royal Warrant, so Lieutenant Coghill and Lieutenant Melvill were then both posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.