Rorke's Drift and Zulu
Sometimes when taking part in our weekly trivia comp (which has now resumed), we have a quandary as to a correct answer, either because there is a difference of opinion or because we simply don’t know and need to guess. On the principle that one guess is as good as another, I sometimes use the phrase “A prayer is as good as a bayonet on a day like this.”
That quote comes from one of my favourite movies, the 1964 film Zulu, and it is spoken by Colour Sergeant Bourne. The film tells the true story of the gallant defenders of the mission station at Rorke’s Drift in Natal in 1879, when 150 men held out against 4,000 disciplined and courageous Zulu warriors. Eleven VC’s were awarded for this engagement, the most ever awarded in a single action.
Painting of the Battle of Rorke's Drift by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville. The battle took place in Natal during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879. De Neuville based the painting on eye witness accounts and it depicts several events of the battle occurring at once.
Lest anyone take me to task for liking a film that shows British soldiers killing black Zulus, let me say that:
- It is historical and factual.
- It does not demean the Zulus.
- In fact, it shows them in a very positive light.
- Although made in the days of apartheid, the film’s main actors insisted on the Zulu actors and actresses being treated, and depicted, positively and favourably.
I used the prayer and bayonet quote last Wednesday. The next day, whilst looking up something on YouTube, I came across a link to a scene from the film, posted by someone who nominated that particular scene as ‘the best line in the history of war films.’ The scene is where the Brit soldiers stand in dismay after they find out that there won’t be support for them as 4,000 Zulus advance, that coming after the Battle of Isandlwana 15 kilometres away where over 1,300 British troops were killed by 20,000 Zulu warriors. Colour Sergeant Bourne tells the soldiers “Alllllright then... Nobody told you to stop workin'!"
The poster explained why he thinks this is the best line:
Because its going over a few people's heads I shall explain why I nominate this as the best line:We are witnessing 100+ men lose all hope - they believed the cavalry (that is leaving them) were their one hope at surviving the Zulu attack, they see their OC pleading "Damn it, we need you!" as they're abandoned. The dread felt in the horrible silence across the 'camp' is only broken when Colour Sergeant Bourne snaps men back into action the way only a Colour Sergeant can - "Alllllright then... Nobody told you to stop workin'!" Suddenly the impending doom is completely overridden by their training/instinct to fear the NCO, and to me it just perfectly encapsulates the army and the importance of good NCOs
See the post and the scene by clicking on:
That comment and question elicited a number of other quotes as contributors posted what they thought the best line from a war film, from Zulu and from other films. I have posted some of the quotes below.
If you have not seen the film, make a point of doing so. It is available on Apple. Not a chick flick, just a good film in the Boy’s Own genre.
Some quotes from the film . . .
Pvt. Cole: Why is it us? Why us?
Colour Sergeant Bourne: Because we're here, lad. Nobody else. Just us.
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Damn the levies man... Cowardly blacks!
Adendorff: What the hell do you mean "cowardly blacks?" They died on your side, didn't they? And who the hell do you think is coming to wipe out your little command? The Grenadier Guards?
Colour Sergeant Bourne: It's a miracle.
Lieutenant John Chard: If it's a miracle, Colour Sergeant, it's a short chamber Boxer Henry point 45 caliber miracle.
Colour Sergeant Bourne: And a bayonet, sir, with some guts behind.
Lieutenant John Chard: The army doesn't like more than one disaster in a day.
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Looks bad in the newspapers and upsets civilians at their breakfast.
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Sixty! We dropped at least 60, wouldn't you say?
Adendorff: That leaves only 3,940.
Lieutenant John Chard: Well, you've fought your first action.
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Does everyone feel like this afterwards?
Lieutenant John Chard: How do you feel?
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Sick.
Lieutenant John Chard: Well, you have to feel alive to feel sick.
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: You asked me, I told you.
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: There's something else. I feel ashamed. Was that how it was for you? The first time?
Lieutenant John Chard: The first time? You think I could stand this butcher's yard more than once?
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: I didn't know.
Lieutenant John Chard: I came up here to build a bridge.
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Fire at will!
Pvt. Owen: That's very nice of him.
Pvt. 593 Jones: What's he up to, 593?
Pvt. 716 Jones: Oh, I think he wants to be hero, 716.
Cpl. Frederic Schiess, NNC: Haven't you rednecks got names instead of numbers?
Pvt. 716 Jones: 'Tis a Welsh regiment, man! Though there are some foreigners from England in it , mind. I am Jones from Bwlchgwyn, he is Jones from Builth Wells, and there are four more Joneses in C Company! Confusing, isn't it, Dutchy?
Margareta Witt: [of the Zulu] How can they let themselves be married in droves like this - young girls to... to old men?
Reverend Otto Witt: In Europe, young women accept arranged marriages with rich men. Perhaps the Zulu girls are luckier, getting a *brave* man.
Lieutenant John Chard: Mr. Witt! When I have the impertinence to climb into your pulpit to deliver a sermon, then you can tell me my duty.
Colour Sergeant Bourne: A prayer's as good as bayonet on a day like this.
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Well done, Adendorff, we'll make an Englishman of you yet!
Adendorff: No, thanks. I'm a Boer. The Zulus are the enemies of my blood. What are you doing here?
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: You don't object to our help, I hope?
Adendorff: It all depends on what you damned English want for it afterwards.
Colour Sergeant Bourne: All right, nobody told you to stop working.
Some items from the post (see above link) . . .
Do up that tunic button. Where do you think you are?
Best line in a war film got to be The Longest Day when the German sentry watching the beaches screams down the telephone. When asked how many ships are coming in the invasion. he screams “ALL OF THEM!!”
You know a movie is British made when it is riddled with cynicism, irony and above all humor. Nobody makes 'em like the Brits.
There's a wee garden in the Royal Australian Naval Dockyard, Garden Island in Sydney, where the dockyard workers gather to eat their lunch on a summer day. It's called Rorke's Drift in honour of the men of B Company, 2/24 Warwickshire Regiment of Foot.
Private Owen, listening to the Zulu war chant: "Well, they've got a very good bass section, mind. But no top tenors, that's for sure."
Persian: Our arrows will blot out the sun.
Spartan: Then we will fight in the shade.
Rev Witt: " YOURE ALL GOING TO DIE ! DIE ! ! "
Colour Sergeant Bourne: “Be quiet now, Mr Dr Witt, there's a good gentleman. You'll upset the lads ! "
My favourite line is from All Quiet on the Western Front:
''On the first day of each war, they should put all the leaders in a field and let them fight it out with clubs''
Let's not overlook the last two words in The Bridge on the River Kwai: “..Madness...Madness”
In Stanley Baker's rush to make this a Welsh story, with all due respect to the brave Welsh troops who fought (it was the 21st Warwickshire Regiment), he overlooked the true hero of the action who was retiring Commissary Dalton, the soldier of huge experience who's initiative it was to split the camp and create a redoubt. Both Chard and Bromhead refer to this in their personal written accounts of the battle which were presented to Queen Victoria.
Best line in my opinion is from Waterloo when the Earl of Uxbridge gets his leg blown off and calmly turns to the Duke of Wellington and says “By God sir, I’ve lost my leg!” And the Duke replies “By God, you have sir”.
No, best line is from a Bridge Too Far when the outnumbered Brits were approached by the commander of the Panzer group who said to the para major: “I would like to talk to about surrender,” then the Brit replied "I’m sorry old chap but we can't possibly take all of you".
Doesn't even compare with Dr Strangelove: "You can't fight in here. This is the war room!"
Nah, the best line: "They're to our right, they're to our left, they're in front of us, they're in back of us. They can't get away this time."
Actual statement by Col. Chesty Puller, USMC, when surrounded by the Chinese at the Chosin Reservoir, Korean War.
Best line of any war film---from Band of Brothers.
Lt. Rice (Jimmy Kimmel) "Y'know, if the Germans cut that last road--you guys are going to be surrounded."
Capt. Winters: We're paratroopers lieutenant; we're supposed to be surrounded."
"The Defence of Rorke's Drift" by Lady Elizabeth Butler (née Thompson). Commissioned by Queen Victoria and inspired by survivors' accounts. Not to be confused with the painting of the same name by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville.
Interesting fact #1:
Colour Sergeant Bourne was 24 during the defence of Rorke's Drift. He was the last defender of the post to die, an honorary Lieutenant Colonel, on V.E. Day, May 8, 1945, age 91.
Interesting fact #2:
Stanley Baker, who played Lieutenant John Chard in the film, owned John Chard's Victoria Cross (and other medals) from 1972 until his death in 1976. The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system and is awarded for valour "in the presence of the enemy". Originally the Victoria Cross owned by Stanley Baker was thought to be what is known as a "cast copy", but a series of tests showed that the Victoria Cross was original. Unfortunately, Baker died never knowing he had John Chard's real Victoria Cross.