posted on Sep, 30 2012 @ 09:59 AM
Zulu is a superb British film that tells of the events of the the Twenty Seventh of January Eighteen Seventy Nine at Rourke's Drift, Natal Province,
South Africa. Regarded as one of the most august actions ever fought in British military history also having the distinction of the highest ever
number of V.C.s (The Victoria Cross, the highest distinction awarded for gallantry) awarded in one day. Eleven V.C.s plus many other distinctions for
bravery have ingrained the defence of the Mission Station at Rourke's Drift as the embodyment of the indominable fighting spirit of the British army
where just over a hundred men many sick and wounded successfully held against an estimated three thousand enemy combatants. The old media adage of
"never let the truth get in the way of a good story" has been reversed in this instance because the use of artistic licence to tell a good story has
regrettably obfuscated an even better truthful account.
Although many members of the posted guard at the hospital, and stores at the drift would have been Welsh it was not a regiment of Wales, it was in
fact a detachment from B Company, 24th of Foot 2nd Battalion Shropshire Light Infantry under the temporary command of Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead.
The Mission Station was a staging post for Chelmsford's invasion column's route into Zululand and the requirement of a bridge across the border
river brought Lieutenant John Rouse Merriot Chard (Royal Engineers) to Rourke's Drift were he would in the face of the oncoming enemy assume de-facto
command of the British forces there.
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead 24th of Foot (2nd Battalion Shropshire Light Infantry), and Lieutenant John Rouse Merriot Chard (Royal Engineers)
portrayed in the film by Michael Caine, and Stanley Baker are shown to have compared their respective dates of commissioning, and agreed to co-operate
in the hurried fortification, and command of the situation shortly after gallopers arrive with the news of the crushing defeat, and massacre of Column
One at Isandlwana what actually happened was both deferred to Commissary William Dalton, and his previous experience, the effete character Dalton is
shown to be in the film could be no further from the truth. This fine soldier worked his way up through the ranks to Warrant Officer, left the Army,
and Subsequently joined the Army Commissariat Department where he was noted for his intelligence, attention to detail, and his physical, and mental
Surgeon Major Reynolds was indeed brave, and operated very calmly under extreme conditions, he was not however an ill tempered belligerant, but a
compasionate, and caring Surgeon who took the welfare of those under his care very personally.
The role of Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne was played by Nigel Green who was much older than the actual character who at the tender age of Twenty Four
was the youngest man to reach the rank of Colour Sergeant earning him the nickname "the kid". Bourne served his entire life in the army, saw active
service in various theaters up to and including the First World War eventually retiring with the rank of Honorary Lieutenant Colonel, dying at the age
of Ninety Two on V.E. Day Nineteen Forty Five, and is buried in his home parish church at Hove, East Sussex.
Corporal William Allen had recently been demoted from Sergeant for drunkenness, and in many ways represents the abrasive, hard drinking stereotype of
the British N.C.O. Private Fred Hitch was under arrest for theft, and was malingering in the station hospital at the time of the attack, and seems to
have been a pretty unpleasant individual. It has been suggested that after he left the army he sold his Victoria Cross, and then claimed that it was
stolen this has to date not been proved. Hitch also has the curious distinction being London's first motorised cabbie, and London Cabbies have
enshrined his memory in the their own Fred Hitch Benevolent Society. Private Henry Hook is without doubt the most misrepresented of all of the V.C.
Hook was posted to the hospital as cook, and was not swinging the lead as an inmate, he did not attack Sergeant Maxfield but in fact risked his own
life to trying to save this very sick man. He was not a habitual thief, and was not from London, but Gloucester, nor did he steal the brandy from the
medicine cabinet. He did fight very bravely providing cover with his rifle,and bayonet while others made holes in partition walls allowing many of
the sick, and wounded to escape the hospital, and rejoin the fight at the redoubt. Henry Hook finished his army career as a Sergeant Instructor and
was not the "barrack room lawyer" portrayed by James Booth, the reason for this celluloid injustice was that producers felt the film needed an
anti-hero. Sergeant Hook's daughters unsurprisingly walked out in protest, and disgust at the films premier screening.
No battlefield singing contest took place between the opposing forces, and when the massed Zulu hoards sing from the hilltop at the end of the film,
they were not saluting the warrior prowess of the Soldiers, but in accordance with their beliefs that they had already killed everyone at post, and
were acknowledging the defenders subsequent reincarnation. This is just one example of Hollywood's bastardisation of true events into something that
suits producers, and box offices, but I have to conclude that in this instance a more truthful account would have made for a better film.