Podcasting Material Culture! Our MA History Students Get to Grips with Historical Items in the Archives

Episode Three: Charlie Olsen looks back on ‘The Land of My Fathers’: The Queen’s Colour and Welsh History

In the next instalment of our podcast series for the Historical Skills and Resources Module, MA student Charlie Olsen reflects on the historical significance of ‘The Queen’s Colour’ in Wales, particularly the people behind the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War represented on the flag.

“Through his enthusiasm for the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War, my Dad introduced me to the story of the Queen’s Colour of the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot. My ambition recording this podcast was to showcase a lesser-known piece of British and Welsh histories and emphasise its position today as a tangible link between past and present.” – Charlie Olsen, MA History Student

Image obtained from the Royal Welsh Museum: <https://royalwelshmuseum.wales/portfolio-item/queens-colour&gt; (accessed 2022)

Listen to Charlie’s podcast below, or read on for his report on the material culture of ‘The Queen’s Colour’ in Welsh history!

The ‘Land of my Fathers’ podcast explores the history of a different piece of Welsh national iconography, with as much attention paid to the objects in the nation’s material culture that are niche as those that are famous. The first instalment, ‘The Queen’s Colour’ (today laid up in Brecon Cathedral) is the most unique for although the Colour is famous and admired by the nation, the flag is cherished because it represents the bravery of Welsh soldiers who fought for the British Army in the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War. The Queen’s Colour recovered from the 1879 Battle of Isandlwana is displayed as testament to the heroism of two lieutenants who gave up their lives to preserve the honour of their battalion and nation by ensuring their standard was never captured by the Zulu ‘impi’, whereas Welsh national iconography usually juxtaposes that of its British equivalent. For example, ‘Y Ddraig Goch’ (the Welsh dragon), substitutes the Union Flag, and daffodils substitute for the rose or thistle, and nonconformist chapels for Anglican parishes.

However, this instalment is of interest to anyone from Wales with an interest in the past, regardless of their opinion on Wales’ part in British military history. Drawing upon the extensive research of Chris Peers’ ‘Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana’ (2021), the ‘Land of My Fathers’ makes no attempt to tease out the political subtext behind the Colour’s preservation and physical appearance. Instead, the podcast only explains how it came to be so ragged and torn by retracing the steps of two lieutenants, Teignmouth Melvill and Nevil Coghill, who carried the Colour safely to the Zululand-Natal border at the uMzinyathi (Buffalo) River, only for the officers to lose their standard as they crossed the river and their lives on the opposite bank, an episode immortalised as an act of self-sacrifice and patriotic heroism for which the two soldiers have been immortalised ever since.

After briefly discussing what a Queen’s Colour is, exactly, the podcast moves onto the events that have given the flag its famously tattered appearance. With both officers at the centre of the latter half of the narrative, the podcast contextualises what they were doing on their journey at specific points, and how it has been immortalised through the flag’s materiality. The final third of the podcast has been dedicated to asking, what does this flag mean to Wales today?

Recollecting this story on the ‘Land of My Fathers’, the podcast joins the military-epic ‘Zulu Dawn’ (1979), the sequel to its critically acclaimed predecessor, ‘Zulu’ (1964), and Chris Peers’ aforementioned book, in dramatizing the events of that fateful day. Unlike the anachronistic ‘Zulu Dawn’, this podcast has put historical accuracy before creative liberty and seeks to accurately portray the plight of the lieutenants as it really happened. Therefore, the ‘Land of My Fathers’ compliments Peers’ work and is particularly aimed at anyone arriving at this site having watched the film and looking to disseminate the facts from dramatization. – Charlie Olsen

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