Saturday, January 4, AD 2014

A prayer’s as good as a bayonet on a day like this.

Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne, Zulu



Tony Rennell at the Daily Mail Online has a grand salute to one of the greatest war flicks:  Zulu:

Yet Zulu thankfully avoids taking sides in this moral morass. It doesn’t play on manufactured guilt, or lecture and hector us from some anachronistic ethical high ground. It avoids self-righteous, self-serving politics and pays pure and simple tribute to human endeavour.

The moment that, for me, elevates it into a different dimension is when a young British soldier stares open-mouthed at the huge enemy  army encircling Rorke’s Drift. The situation looks hopeless, and death — skewered agonisingly in the dust — a certainty.

‘Why does it have to be us?’ he wails. ‘Why us?’

The handlebar-moustachioed colour sergeant next to him, erect and unflinching, could have replied with windy patriotic zeal and flag-waving imperialist grandeur.

Instead, this paragon of British backbone — played incomparably by Nigel Green — says calmly: ‘Because we’re here, lad. Just us. Nobody else.’

His is the authentic voice of  soldiering through the centuries — as true today for our troops in Afghanistan as it was for Queen Victoria’s footsoldiers. Men doing their duty, facing death because that’s their job. No hint of glory. No pleasure in killing.

British grit holds out against  hopeless odds, and defeat is turned to triumph of a sort. But war, we   conclude, is always terrible, an evil — if sometimes a necessary one.

And there is a price to pay for the victors as well as the defeated. As the smoke of guns disperses over the final battle scene, the British  soldiers stare in horror at the piled-up bodies of Zulu around their  sand-bagged last redoubt.

They are not triumphant but appalled at the ‘butcher’s yard’ — as Lt Chard  (Stanley Baker) puts it — which they have inflicted. ‘I feel sick,’ says Lt Bromhead (Caine), ‘and ashamed.’

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4 Responses to Zulu!

  • To read Lt Chard’s account, we find that the movie very accurately conveys the sense that they were better off than they might have first thought with the desertions that occurred before the Zulus engaged.
    Fine movie!
    Good advice for all in these difficult times, from the Colour Sergeant:
    “Look to your front!”
    and “Nobody told you to stop working.”

  • “Look to your front!”
    and “Nobody told you to stop working.”

    Words to live by!

  • Dieu et mon droit. Things are rarely as bad as they seem nor as good.

    Despair is a sin against Hope.

    “An’ a Zulu impi dished us up in style:” from “Fuzzy Wuzzy” (in the Sudan Fuzzy Wuzzy broke a British square!) by Rudyad Kipling.

    Less than 24 hours before the Rourke’s Drift fight, a main column of Brit regulars and auxilliaries were massacred at Isandlhwana. The reports show that the regulars were spread too thin and could not be sufficiently supplied with cartidges to keep at bay the cold steel wielded by (relatively) huge numbers of brave athletes.

    That was worse than the Litte Big Horn.

    I have the excellent book, The Washing of the Spears, which details the war.

    The generals finally figured out how to beat the Zulu mobile assegai men. Years later, the Boers (“The Boers knocked us silly at a mile,” again Kipling) similarly roughed up the vaunted sassenach regulars.

    “The Three Feathers ” is also a good Brit (Khartoum/Omdurman) war movie.

  • The uniforms are wrong. The soldiers are dressed as if for a parade and Chard and Bromhead look as if they have just stepped out of a military tailor’s circa 1900. Rank badges were different in 1879, and worn on the collar. On campaign the sun helmets were stained brown with tea and had no plate, and the soldiers would be wearing a red serge “frock”. Most were bearded – a photograph of Chard shows him looking like an Old Testament prophet. Officers tended to wear blue patrol jackets, but at Rorke’s Drift Chard was wearing a short RE shell jacket and Bromhead an ordinary soldier’s tunic.

    Some 1960s sentiments and assumptions strike a false note. The soldiers would not have been horrified by the slaughter, in fact they went out after the battle and cheerfully despatched the wounded Zulus with bullet or bayonet. Surgeon Reynolds’s outburst: “Damn you Chard! Damn all you butchers!” would not have been uttered in that or any other war. Both Chard and Bromhead were regarded as mediocre officers; the latter was almost totally deaf and was described as “a capital fellow in everything except soldiering”. The real hero of Rorke’s Drift was Acting Assistant Commissary James Dalton, aged 45 in 1879. It was he who persuaded Chard not to abandon the post and who organized the defence. He was, incidentally, a Catholic.

    There are similarities between Isandhlwana and Little Big Horn. Both Chelmsford and Custer underestimated the number of their opponents; both divided their forces. However, the greatest defeat inflicted on a European army by native troops was at Adowa in 1896 where a large Italian force was routed by the Ethiopians. Italian casualties were 11,500 (including 7,000 killed). By the way, Mr Shaw, the Scots and Irish who made up a large part of the British regular army would not have appreciated being referred to as “sassenachs”.

The ‘Eathen

Friday, May 6, AD 2011

The fourth in my ongoing examinations of the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.  The other posts in the series may be read here, here and here.  Kipling was a passionate man in his likes and dislikes, and always wore his heart firmly attached to his sleeve.  Throughout his career he championed the rankers and non-commissioned officers in the British Army.  He rightly thought that the men who were at the sharp end of the stick in battle often got the short end of the stick outside of battle.  Kipling never forgot about them, and he made certain his readers never forgot about them, making them the subject of many of his poems, books and short stories, and constantly reminding the British that their nation and empire relied upon the raw courage of men too often regarded as scum by civilians.  Kipling didn’t romanticize them, he knew them too well for that, but he did recognize their virtues as well as their vices, and honored them for the courage and good humor with which most of them went about their dangerous tasks.  One of my favorite poems of Kipling is The ‘Eathen, written by Kipling in 1895, which is Kipling’s salute to the British non-com, and a searching look at how a slum recruit becomes a good one.

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5 Responses to The ‘Eathen

  • “Ye may talk o’ gin and beer
    When yer quartered safe out ‘ere.
    And, yer sent ta penny fights and Aldershot it.

    But when it comes ta slaughter
    Ye’ll do yer work on water
    And lick the bloomin’ boots of ‘im what’s got it.”

  • Pingback: The 'Eathen | The American Catholic - Christian IBD
  • From Piet – Homage to Boer ‘Soldiers’”
    (Regular of the Line)

    “I DO not love my Empire’s foes,
    Nor call ’em angels; still,?
    What is the sense of ’atin’ those
    ’Oom you are paid to kill??
    So, barrin’ all that foreign lot
    Which only joined for spite,?
    Myself, I’d just as soon as not
    Respect the man I fight.”

    From “Fuzzy Wuzzy”

    “‘E rushes at the smoke when we let drive,
    An’, before we know, ‘e’s ‘ackin’ at our ‘ead;
    ‘E’s all ‘ot sand an’ ginger when alive,
    An’ ‘e’s generally shammin’ when ‘e’s dead.
    ‘E’s a daisy, ‘e’s a ducky, ‘e’s a lamb!
    ‘E’s a injia-rubber idiot on the spree,
    ‘E’s the on’y thing that doesn’t give a damn
    For a Regiment o’ British Infantree!
    So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;
    You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;
    An’ ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your ‘ayrick ‘ead of ‘air —
    You big black boundin’ beggar — for you broke a British square!”

  • Don

    Reading Gunga Din, I could here are Vietnam veteran sergeants saying in effect

    Now in Nam’s sunny clime,
    Where I used to spend my time
    A-servin’ Lyndon Johnson,

    Undoubtedly his lyrics cleaned up for family hour but they are the authentic voice.

    Last December was \Kipling’s 150th Birthday.

  • Hank, for those on the sharp end of the stick the military experience tends to resonate the same in many ways, no matter the time and place. When I was in Army ROTC in the Seventies, I heard many a war story about Vietnam from a Major who had served with the Rangers over there. He married a Vietnamese lady and fell in love with the people and their culture.