British Martini-Henry Ammunition Crate
Original Item: IMA has found two of the original movie prop ammunition boxes, and they are so well made and authentic that they are difficult to distinguish from an original. The boxes have the correct marking, a red rectangle, designating Martini-Henry ammunition as specified in the Treatise on Ammunition. For the dedicated collector.
In 1879, British forces suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Zulu Nation on a hill named Isandlwana. The battle started out well for the British, because they had overwhelming technical superiority in their new fast-firing Martini-Henry rifles. As long as the British troops kept firing, the Zulu warriors could not close on the British to get the benefit of their vastly greater numbers. An eye witness, one of only five British survivors of the battle, wrote
'After the War the Zulus . . . told us that the fire was too hot for them and they were on the verge of retreat, when suddenly the fire slackened and on they came again. The reader will ask why the fire slackened, and the answer is, alas! because, with thousands of rounds in the wagons 400 yards in rear, there was none in the firing line; all those had been used up.
. . . when I saw the whole Zulu Army advancing, [I] had collected camp stragglers . . . and had taken them to the ammunition-boxes, where we broke them open as fast as we could, and kept sending out the packets to the firing-line. (In those days the boxes were screwed down and it was a very difficult job to get them open, and it was owing to this battle that the construction of the ammunition-boxes was changed.)'
[Horace Smith-Dorian, quoted in The War Times Journal]
By the time of the conflict in the Sudan in the mid-1880s, the problem had been corrected (although it had cost the lives of over 1300 men at Isandlwana), and the new ammunition boxes featured an ?easy-open? design. It is this design that was copied when the prop makers for David Hoberman?s production of The Four Feathers, a romantic drama about the war in Sudan, was produced in 2002.
On the first versions of the new box, the sliding lid was retained by a brass screw instead of the pin and wire on our samples. In the British Treatise on Munitions 1887, the problem with just this single screw is described:
'Some of the earlier patterns had the lids fastened with a brass screw, but the unscrewing occasioned loss of time, so the split pin was adopted.
On emergency the lids secured by screws may opened by a good kick or a blow with a stone on the edge of lid furthest from the screw.'
Even the early patterns of the improved box had to be opened with blows, and it is not hard to feel the terror of soldiers who cannot get at their ammunition because of the design of the boxes while enemy troops are closing in, intent on butchering them.
IMA has found two of the original movie prop ammunition boxes, and they are so well made and authentic that they are difficult to distinguish from an original. The boxes have the correct marking, a red rectangle, designating Martini-Henry ammunition as specified in the Treatise on Ammunition. For the dedicated collector.
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