Because we’re here lad. Nobody else. Just us.
Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne, Zulu (1964)
At the battle of Rorke’s Drift on January 22-23, 1879, some 141 men of B Company, 2 Warwickshire (24th Regiment of Foot) beat off an attack by a Zulu impi, around 4,000 men. At the time it was considered a military miracle. The officers in command had nothing in their careers before or after the battle to mark them out as in any way superior. They were typical run of the mill officers and almost all the men under their command were typical troops. The most unusual was Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne who at the battle was twenty-four years old. Two years previously he had attained the rank of Colour Sergeant, making him the youngest Colour Sergeant, the highest NCO rank in the British Army. He would rise to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during World War I, and die at 91, last survivor among the defenders of Rorke’s Drift, on V-E Day, appropriately enough, May 8, 1945. For a secular purpose the defenders of Rorke’s Drift were willing to fight with all their being, and they won against apparently overwhelming odds.
This little excursion into military history is caused by this quotation from Father Z:
O God, who raised up a fallen world by the abasement of Your Son, grant holy joy to Your faithful; so that You may cause those whom You snatched from the misfortunes of perpetual death, to enjoy delights unending.
The great L&S indicates that erigo, giving us erexisti, means “to raise up, set up, erect” and, analogously, “to arouse, excite” and “cheer up, encourage.” The verb iaceo (in the L&S find this under jaceo) has many meanings, such as “to lie” as in “lie sick or dead, fallen” and also “to be cast down, fixed on the ground” and “to be overcome, despised, idle, neglected, unemployed.” Humilitas is “lowness”. In Blaise/Dumas, humilitas has a more theological meaning in the “abasement” of the God Incarnate who took the form of a “slave” (cf. Philippians 2:7). Blaise/Dumas cites this Collect in the entry for humilitas.
Because of the Fall, the whole cosmos was put under the bondage of the Enemy, the “prince of this world” (cf. John 10:31 and 14:30). This is why when we bless certain things, and baptize people, there was an exorcism first, to rip the object or person from the grip of the world’s “prince” and give it to the King. God is liberator. He rouses us up from being prone upon the ground. He grasps us, pulling us upward out of sin and death. He directs us again toward the joys possible in this world, first, and then definitively in the next.
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.
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.
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.’ Continue reading
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. Continue reading