For those of us who have had the pleasure to see it, the 1964 movie 'Zulu' starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker encapsulates all of our thoughts about the battle. The only thing is that, as usual, the movie version of a historical event is not really historical. Although to be honest, this movie stays closer to the truth than many others. The real story of Rorke's drift does have all of the makings for a movie blockbuster. You have cowardice, bravery, and a desperate defense of about twenty to one odds or better.
The book starts with the actual history of Rorke's drift and why it was there and it's various uses before that fateful day. It started out as a trading post owned by Jim Rorke at a crossing place of the Buffalo River. Strangely enough its next incarnation was as a missionary post and chapel owned by the Church of Sweden, no less. The British negotiated the rental of it for their invasion of the Zulu's lands. It was used by the British as a supply depot at this time. The fact that it was stuffed with supplies for the army was an extremely good stroke of luck for the British soldiers stationed there. The tons of mealie bags and biscuit boxes that were stored, were the makings of their impromptu walls and fortifications besides the little bit that the Drift had to offer itself.
The Drift was awash with escapees from the massacre at iSandlwana before the battle. Almost 500 African allies and British soldiers were there. The appearance of the Undi regiment caused a panic and only 155 soldiers, mostly of B company of the 2/24th regiment, stayed to defend the Drift.
The book goes into minute details of the actual defenses that the soldiers built, and who was where at what time during the battle. The exploits of John Chard and Gonville Bromhead, and all of the other heroes of the battle are described in detail. For more than 10 hours, the 3,000+ Zulus attacked the Drift and its 155 defenders. A lot of the time the fighting was down to bayonet against assegai. The defenders and attackers had nothing to say about their enemies, except to mention their bravery.
The book first sets the scene and then goes into the battle itself. It then goes on to describe the battle's aftermath. Next it goes into a long list of the 'Gallantry Recipients' with a short biography and the stated reasons for their awards. To many, the book's part of 'Unjust Criticism' will be the most interesting. Apparently many, including the new area commander Sir Garnet Wolsley, did not think much of the heroes of the Drift, and didn't even think some of them deserved their medals!
The stirring epic of the defense of Rorke's Drift certainly needed this book to separate fact from fiction. Hopefully the author is at work on a book about the battle of iSandlwana with this much detail.
Book: Rorke's Drift A new Perspective
Author: Neil Thornton
Publisher: Fonthill Media
Distributor: Casemate Publishers