Just Us?

Wednesday, April 13, AD 2016



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:

I’ve had a tough few days.  How ’bout you?

Conversations with friends and priests suggest that the Devil is working really hard right now to demoralize the Team.

And there is Amoris laetitia with its Infamous Footnote 351 (et al.) and the fallout which is on going.   So many people are frustrated, confused, beaten down.

This morning for Mass I read again the prayer for the 2nd Sunday after Easter in the traditional Roman Rite, a very ancient prayer:

Deus, qui Filii tui humilitate iacentem mundum erexisti: fidelibus tuis sanctam concede laetitiam; ut, quos perpetuae mortis eripuisti casibus, gaudiis facias perfrui sempiternis.


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.

Our Collect views us, views material creation, as an enervated body, wounded, weakened by sin, lying near death in the dust whence it came.

Beaten down.  Demoralized.  Confused.  Frustrated.

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.

We must get back to our feet: rise again.

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9 Responses to Just Us?

  • Sinn Féin Amháin (Gaelic) – Ourselves Alone. They cannot take your Faith, Hope and Love; nor your fortitude, justice, prudence, and temperance. .

  • This is precisely how I feel, Don. Our shepherds may be cowering under the desks in their chancelries (sorry, “pastoral centers”), but the laity are beginning to roar. I’m seeing more than ever a determination to call out the strategic ambiguities written into modern Church documents, and to tie it all back to the Council, where this orthodox-but-with-qualifications strategy first took hold. True, we’re still a small minority among Catholics, but we make up for it with fervor and plain speaking. Thanks be to God, the battle lines are now drawn up clearly for anyone with eyes to see.

  • The periodical, “Military History”, has had a well-documented analysis of Rorke’s Drift and the prior-day’s disaster, the Battle of Isandlwana, in the course of which about 1300 brave British regimental soldiers and their colonial allies were annihilated (22 Jan 1879).

    Rorke’s Drift is a lesson of course in which a few, focused, disciplined soldiers successfully repelled an assault, the likes of which liquidated a much larger, better equipped, but disastrously-led, force the prior day. Some of the errors are instructive today: Lord Chelmsford, the over-all leader, divided his forces and went on, leaving behind a force with a poorly-situated, really indefensible site, but especially leaving behind a man who was an administrator with little or no battle-knowledge, let alone experience. The forces, though ordered to entrench, for some unfathomable reason, did not do so. “Military History” states that Pulleine (the administrator-commander at the Battle of Isandlwana site, refused to have opened and distributed to the troops ample wood cases of over 400,000 rounds of state-of-the-art Martini-Henry easily-reloadable breech-loading rifles, even by that morning when it was obvious that large Zulu groups were moving about in surrounding distance. It was inevitable, the outcome, say the historian-experts.

    Analogy to today? Our Undefense-Department, being self-dismantled (but oh-so-politically correct). Civilian or entirely untested administrator leaders. Large forces moving about the camp in the distance, accurately reported by the scouts. And the outcome?

    By the way, even for its “era”, this is a great fillm. Thank you, DMcC.

  • Good post. Heartening.

  • Don

    In real life that company was left behind as a bridge guard because the lieutenant in command was medically deaf.

    God is not looking for super heroes just faithful ones,

    “If God is with us who can be against us?”

  • Yes, Hank, I understand “Rorke’s Drift” — a “drift” being the Brit equivalent at that time of a ford in the river– was a year-round river and therefore water source, as well as marking the boundary between British Natal and Zululand.

    My understanding, derived only from “Military History” and a few other periodicals that have studied this famous “last stand”, is that the “Buffalo River”, the river of the “drift”, is a fairly major watercourse—British engineers had set up a makeshift “pont” ferry which could accommodate supply train wagons— and Chelmsford’s main force could otherwise be trapped if the trading post site and the ford were not controlled.

    Another fact worth noting: according to a native Natal driver who had fled and hid in one of the caves of the bluff overlooking the trading post, the Brit fire, amply supplied with ammunition deployed freely to the soldiers, was “devastating”.

    One looks by contrast at Islandwana the prior day, where the incompetent officer in charge refused well prior to the battle, when there was time to do so, to distribute and immediately smash open (it took an axe) the wood boxes of thousands and thousands of rounds of Martini-Henry ammunition and distribute them amply to the perimeters of the encampment—hard to do, even if you have an axe first of all, but especially when you need the rounds and you are under threat of being overwhelmed by sheer numbers of Zulu. Martini-Henry rifles were single-shot breech-loaders: very efficient, but you have to literally have rounds at hand NOW. A true nightmare. Over 400,000 rounds of rifle ammunition was said to have fallen into the hands of the Zulu.

  • Murray saida
    “the laity are beginning to roar. I’m seeing more than ever a determination to call out the strategic ambiguities written into modern Church documents, and to tie it all back to the Council, where this orthodox-but-with-qualifications strategy first took hold. … Thanks be to God, the battle lines are now drawn up clearly for anyone with eyes to see.”
    What a tumult is going on! What can we expect to happen now I wonder

  • Steve

    Thank you.

    At Roark’s drift the British infantry had a situation where did what it does best – stand and fire volleys.

    As I remember there are several plausible scenarios as to what happened at Islandawana which put the British in more favorable light, or it might have been as bad as you say or worse. Unfortunately there was no one left to explain. But I forget where my source books are.

  • Here is another sidelight to “Zulu”: Lord Chelmsford, Frederic Thesiger, played by Peter O’Toole in the film “Zulu”, captures the arrogance that precipitated the disaster at Islandawana and the near-annihilation of the contingent at Rorke’s Drift.

    I guess because I have a late family member who commented on the problem of “insider-ism” in established military units, whether British or US, the “Pointers” (West Point) types vs the ROTC or battle-promoted general-ship—anyway, Lord Chelmsford, who had a previously successful career in suppressing the Xhosa revolt in S Africa, had a low opinion of Africans as fighters, and brought that fatal baggage to the Zulu conflict. No matter, he was well rewarded after his Islandawana defeat with a series of higher and higher offices—while Bourne and Chard and others who saved 140 plus souls drifted into virtual non-history.

    Not new. The lead commander at Chosin Reservoir (Korean War), Maj. Gen Edward Almond (actually a VMI grad, but he obtained early acquaintance with Army bigwigs by working at GHQ’s for many years) had a history of incompetent leadership and disdain for forces who were not “white” (he called the PROC forces in N Korea facing a real hero and battle-commander, Maj Gen Oliver Smith, “Chinese laundrymen”, and castigated Smith for not swiftly dispatching the enemy), even blaming his own inept leadership in the Italian Campaign of WW2 on the alleged poor quality of African American troops, the 92nd Infantry Division, the famed “Buffalo Soldiers”, in 1944-1945 (He even recommended that black troops never be allowed to be in combat forces). Perhaps in part because of people like Almond, at least 2 Medal of Honor recipients were not awarded their honor until 1997, 50 plus years after.

    But, as with Chelmsford, Almond was a favorite of MacArthur’s and went on and was eventually promoted to Lt. Generalship—if ever a man was not deserving of it—and is buried now in Arlington Natl Cemetery, along with Ted Kennedy. Well, I guess that is a demotion, in the end.


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.”

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  • 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.