In the autumn of 1872 until January 1875, the Prince entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, as a Gentleman Cadet. He acquitted himself admirably, refusing any “princely” dispensations and passed out seventh overall.
After the disaster at Isandlwana, he obtained permission from Queen Victoria and the Duke of Cambridge, Commander-in-Chief of the British army, to come out with the British reinforcements as a “special observer”. He arrived in Cape Town on 26 March 1879, stayed for 2 days during which time he visited False Bay and Constantia and enjoyed a reception at Government House. He sailed on to Durban where he disembarked on 31 March 1879. He was attached to the staff of Lord Chelmsford as an extra aide-de-camp. He stayed in Durban for 19 days and then came up to Pietermaritzburg where he spent 6 days. He was a guest of the Governor in Government House, he attended mass in the French-missionary-built St Mary’s chapel, and he visited a local hotel which was renamed in his honour after his visit. Then, with the other soldiers, he set off from Fort Napier on 26 April 1879, for Zululand, via Ladysmith and Dundee. During the British advance into Zululand the Prince was a member of Colonel Harrison RE Acting-Quarter-Master’s forward column. A gifted reconnaissance scout, the Prince set out on the ill-fated 1 June, in a group comprising Lieutenant Carey, 6 Troopers of Bettington’s Horse and a guide, to choose the camp for the army’s march on Ulundi to engage with Cetshwayo, the Zulu king. Debate rages as to who was in charge on that day; the English officer, Brenton Jaheel Carey or the Prince Imperial who had no official military status?