Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Today is the 134th anniversary of the Battle of Rorke's Drift.  Sound familiar?  Well, let me give you a little more information.  Rorke's Drift was a mission station near the Buffalo River in the Natal Province in South Africa.  Remember it now?

The Battle of Rorke's Drift pitted just over 150 British and colonial troops against three to four thousand Zulu warriors.  And, yeah, Michael Caine was there.

Yep, this is the anniversary of the battle immemorialized in the 1964 Cy Enfield film Zulu.  What a battle.  What a film.

Lord Cararvon (the guy who helped with the federation of Canada, and financed the opening of King Tut's tomb, and who lived at Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey was filmed -- I mean, this dude was all over the map) suggested that efforts similar to those he used in Canada might be used to form a similar South African federation from the various kingdoms, tribes, and Boer republics.  In 1874, the British High Commissioner in South Africa, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, was charged with investigating such a possibility.  Like any good government official, Bartle Frere bollixed everything up by acting on his own (without government approval) and began to instigate a war with the Zulu nation.  A border dispute beteen the Zulu nation and the Boers of Transvaal had been investigated and, in 1878, a commission ruled in favor of the Zulus.  Nonetheless, Bartle Frere sent a thirteen-point ultimatum to the Zulu king Cetshwayo, making laughably impossible demands with an eventual deadline of January 11.  Cetshwayo ignored the ultimatum and instructed his army to fight only if invaded.  That January, Bartle Frere (again without government approval, sent Lord Chelmsford to invade Zululand with more than 15,000 troops.

Earlier in the day on January 22, the Anglo-Zulu was began in earnest with its first battle, the Battle of Islandlwana in which Chelmsford's British troops were soundly defeated.  Brevet Major Henry Spaulding, who had charge of Rorke's Drift, was called to Islandlwana, leaving the post (which was basically a supply depot and hospital) in the charge of Lieutenant John Chard of the Royal Engineers -- who had been sent to Rorke's Drift to repair bridge pontoons; Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead remained in charge of the garrison troops.  Two survivors of the Battle of Islandlwana managed to make it to Rorke's Drift with word that a large contingent of Zulus was heading that way.  After weighing their options, Chard and Bromhead decided that a retreat was impossible and that Rorke's Drift must then be defended.

That defense provided the basis of one of the best films of the 1960s.  With outstanding performances by Baker and Hawkins and a career-making performance by Caine, Zulu is (IMHO) a near perfect film.  Pay special attention to John Barry's score, which incorporated authentic Zuli songs and chants.


  1. It is forgotten by me since I have never seen it. I seem to have a real gap my war movie viewing.

  2. I believe it was a high school world history class that screened this one for the assembled when I was in 10th grade or so...well, it was a compelling view...

  3. One of the few times Hollywood got small unit engagements right. They made us watch it at OCS.