Here’s a stirring tale of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and my family. It also obliquely references a lockdown and social distancing. In fact a much longer lockdown than we have endured: From 13 October 1899 to 17 May 1900, the people of Mahikeng – which the Poms called Mafeking were locked down and besieged by the locals – during the Anglo-Boer War. 217 days.
In Oct 2018 I wrote: Whenever I hear Jimmy Buffet singing Pencil Thin Mustache I think of my uncle Dudley, oops, my cousin Dudley.
Dudley Bain was a character and my second cousin. I had known him over the years when he used to visit his old home town of Harrismith, but really got to know him once I started practicing optometry in Durban. He was very fond of his first cousin, my Mom Mary – and thus, by extension, of me.
Dudley worked in the Mens Department of John Orrs in downtown Durban back when there was only downtown. Anybody who was anybody worked in downtown. Anywhere else was “the sticks”. Even in 1980 I remember someone saying “Why would you want to be out there?” when optometrists De Marigny & Lello opened a practice in a little insignificant upstairs room on the Berea above a small gathering of shops called Musgrave Centre.
Dapper, hair coiffed, neatly dressed, often sporting a cravat, Dudley had a pencil thin moustache and definite opinions. He was highly chuffed he now had a pet family optometrist to look after him when I first hit downtown and then Musgrave centre.
Fitting his spectacle frame was a challenge as he got skin cancer and his surgeon lopped off ever-bigger pieces of his nose and ears until he had no ear one side and a tiny little projection on which to hook his glasses on the other side. He would hide these ala Donald Trump by combing his hair over them and spraying it carefully in place. I am glad I wasn’t his hairdresser.
He would pop into the practice frequently ‘to see my cousin’ – for me to adjust his frames by micro-millimetres to his satisfaction. He walk in and demand ‘Where’s my cousin?’ If the ladies said I was busy he’d get an imperious look, clutch his little handbag a bit tighter and state determinedly, ‘I know he’ll see me.’ They loved him and always made sure I saw him. He’d ‘only need a minute; just to adjust my frame, not to test my eyes,’ and half an hour later their knocks on the door would get ever more urgent. Then they’d ring me on the internal line, and I’d say ‘Dudley, I got to go.’
I would visit him occasionally at their lovely old double-storey home in Sherwood – on a panhandle off Browns Grove. Then they moved to an A-frame-shaped double-storey home out Hillcrest way, in West Riding.
We had long chats while I was his pet optometrist and I wish I could remember more of them. I’ll add as they come floating back. I’m trying to remember his favourite car. One thing he often mentioned was the sound of the doves in his youth. How that was his background noise that epitomised Harrismith for him. The Cape Turtle Dove . .
Dudley married the redoubtable Ethne, Girl Guides maven. I found this website, a tribute to Lady Baden-Powell, World Chief Guide – so that’s what me link this post tenuously to our lockdown:
Olave St. Clair Soames, Lady Baden-Powell, G.B.E., World Chief Guide, died in 1977. In 1987 her daughter and granddaughter, Betty Clay and Patience Baden-Powell, invited readers to send in their memories of the Chief Guide to The Guider magazine.
They wrote:- Everyone who knew Olave Baden-Powell would have a different story to tell, but if all the stories were gathered together, we would find certain threads which ran through them all, the characteristics which made her beloved. Here are a few of the remembrances that people have of her, and if these spark off similar memories for you, will you please tell us?
Here’s Ethne’s contribution: 3 West Riding Rd., Hillcrest, Natal 3610, South Africa When I was a newly-qualified teacher and warranted Brownie Guider in Kenya in 1941, our Colony Commissioner – Lady Baden-Powell – paid a visit to the Kitale Brownie Pack. Due to an epidemic of mumps, the school closed early and Lady B-P was not able to see the children, but she took the trouble to find me and had a chat across the driveway (quarantine distance) for a short time.
A year later at a big Guide Rally at Government House in Nairobi, the Guides and Brownies were on parade, and after inspection Lady B-P greeted us all individually, and without hesitation recognized me as the Guider who had mumps at Kitale. Each time we met in the future, she joked about the mumps.
My next encounter was some twenty years later, on a return visit to Kenya, in 1963, with my husband (that’s our Dudley!), our Guide daughter D. (Diana) and our Scout son P (Peter). We stayed at the Outspan Hotel at Nyeri where the B-Ps had their second home Paxtu. We soon discovered that Lady B-P was at home, but the Hotel staff were much against us disturbing their distinguished resident. However, we knew that if she knew that a South African Scout/Guide family were at hand she would hastily call us in. A note was written – “A S.A. Scout, Guide and Guider greet you.” Diana followed the messenger to her bungalow but waited a short distance away. As lady B-P took the note she glanced up and saw our daughter. We, of course, were not far behind. Immediately she waved and beckoned us to come, and for half-an-hour we chatted and were shown round the bungalow, still cherished and cared for as it had been in 1940-41.
It was easy to understand her great longing to keep returning to this beautiful peaceful place, facing the magnificent peaks of Mount Kenya with such special memories of the last four years of B-P’s life. From her little trinket-box, Lady B-P gave me a World Badge as a memento of this visit which unfortunately was lost in London some years later. Before leaving Nyeri we visited the beautiful cedar-wood Church and B-P’s grave facing his beloved mountain.
My most valued association with Lady B-P was the privilege and honour of leading the organization for the last week of her Visit to South Africa in March 1970. Each function had a lighter side and sometimes humorous disruption by our guest of honour. The magnificent Cavalcade held at King’s Park, PieterMaritzBurg deviated from schedule at the end when Lady B-P called the Guides and Brownies of all race groups to come off the stand to her side; they were too far away. A surge of young humanity made for the small platform in the centre of the field where she stood with one Commissioner, a Guide and three Guiders. Without hesitation, Gervas Clay (her son-in-law) leapt down from the grandstand two steps at a time and just made Lady B-P’s side before the avalanche of children knocked her over. Anxious Guide officials wondered how they were going to get rid of them all again. The Chief Guide said to them, “When I say SHOO, go back to your places, you will disappear.” Lo, and behold, when she said “SHOO, GO back!” they all turned round and went back. You could hear the Guiders’ sighs of relief.
Steve Reed wrote: Hilarious – I reckon every family worth its salt should have had an uncle like that. Something for the kids to giggle about in secret at the family gatherings while the adult dads make grim poker faced humorous comments under their breath while turning the chops on the braai. And for the mums to adore the company of. Good value.
And funny Steve should mention that!
Sheila remembers: “After Annie’s funeral, in our lounge in Harrismith, Dudley was pontificating about something and John Taylor muttered to me under his breath ‘Still an old windgat.‘”
Family tree: (Sheila to check): Dudley Bain was the eldest son of Ginger Bain, eldest son of Stewart Bain who came out to Harrismith from Scotland in 1878. My gran Annie Bain Bland was Ginger’s sister, so Mom Mary Bland Swanepoel and Dudley Bain were first cousins.
Here’s his Funeral notice. He would have loved the picture on it – maybe he had requested it?
Me and Sarah. When one of my favourite comedians Sarah Silverman wrote her autobiography she compared herself to Ernest Hemingway and Fyodor Dostoevsky, classing herself as a brilliant and serious writer . . that’s Sarah. Bashful.
And also bashfully, her book’s ‘afterword’ is by God. He – yes, HIM – writes about Silverman in the year 2063, on the occasion of her death at 93, with the epitaph “She loved dogs, New York, television, children, friendship, sex, laughing, heartbreaking songs, marijuana, farts, and cuddling.”
In the book she tells how at age two she would make her father laugh by saying “fuck”; She admits to avidly smoking marijuana; and she tells how she wet the bed until age sixteen. It was an important enough part of her childhood that she titled the book after that fact. That’s what I love most about Sarah: Her honesty.
Well . . I wet my bed until I was eleven or twelve or thirteen, too. So I am glad to find out other good people did as well. I also love the leveling effect: You know the boy who was so clever and in the first rugby team? Teachers’ favourite? You envied him? Well, he wet his bed. My message (and I think Sarah’s)? – You’re OK.
Nocturnal enuresis, also called bedwetting, is involuntary urination while asleep after the age at which bladder control usually occurs. Bedwetting in children and adults can result in emotional stress. Can and did!
Bedwetting is the most common childhood complaint. Most girls achieve bladder control by ages 4–7 and most boys by ages 4–6. By ten years old, 95% of children are dry at night. I was a five-percenter.
Most bedwetting is a developmental delay – not an emotional problem or physical illness, so most treatment plans aim to protect or improve improve self-esteem – and my Mom certainly did that. At first she’d help and reassure, but as I grew older, I would kick almost automatically into a procedure Mom gave me: I would wake up horrified, jump up, roll up the wet sheets, soak them in the bath, wash, put on dry piejams and go back to sleep. The mattress would be protected by the plastic sheet we put under the bottom sheet. Usually only me and Mom would know. Thanks to her, here I am, relatively unscathed!!
Hi Koos. What make were our bikes? Something with an R. Ruttludge? Rudling?
I answered, ‘Rudge’. The same Rudge ridden by the English King.
Sheila’s and Barbara’s were red, mine was blue. Given to us by Mom and Dad around 1960 to 1965, I’d guess. We were certainly in the Kleinspan School and Barbara would have started there in 1958 or 1959, Sheila in 1961 or 1962 and me in-between those dates. They made the less-than-one-mile trip to school and back a breeze. We’d park them under cover at school in special bike parks with a slot in the concrete for the front wheel to go in and metal hoops to hold them upright.
Ours were WAY more basic than the one above though. Only a back brake, no gears, no cables, no light. They did have a little L-shaped attachment in front of the handle-bar where we could attach a battery-powered square silver torchlight.
The company Rudge-Whitworth Ltd. Coventry, England
Certainly one of the prominent makers of the classic British era … Eventually bought by Raleigh in 1943, the Rudge name takes a rightfully prominent spot in England’s cycling history.
Dan Rudge built the first Rudge high bicycles in 1870. In 1894 Rudge merged with the Whitworth Cycle Co to form Rudge-Whitworth. They made an excellent reputation for themselves over the next twenty years for producing a full range of beautifully made machines with many clever and unique features. They were ridden by King George V and family. See? There it is! Royal bums sat on seats just like ours!
The name was finally killed sometime in the early 1960s in Britain but may well have been used in export markets later.
Later on, in high school, I got a bigger black ‘dikwiel’ bike – a ‘balloon tyre bike’ – tougher more adventurous! Somewhat like these:
I asked Pierre: Can you remember what we called our dikwiel bikes? Each one had a nickname. His reply:
Bolts, Schlump and Arrii
Recall the first mountain bike race now known as MBR’s down Queens hill and Tuffy whipping out the barbed wire fence.
My first recollections are of life on the plot outside Harrismith, playing with Enoch and Casaia, childhood companions, kids of Lena Mazibuko, who looked after us as Mom and Dad worked in town. The plot was was in the shadow of Platberg, and was called Birdhaven, as Dad kept big aviaries. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!
I was there from when I was carried home from the maternity home to when I was about five years old, when we moved into town.
I remember suddenly “knowing” it was lunchtime and looking up at the dirt road above the farmyard that led to town. Sure enough, right about then a cloud of dust would appear and Mom and Dad would arrive for their lunch and siesta, having locked up the Platberg bottle store at 1pm sharp. I could see them coming along the road and then sweeping down the long driveway to park near the rondavel at the back near the kitchen door. They would eat lunch, have a short lie-down and leave in time to re-open at 2pm. I now know the trip was exactly 3km door-to-door, thanks to google maps.
Every day I “just knew” they were coming. I wonder if I actually heard their approach and then “knew”? Or was it an inner clock? Here’s an old 8mm movie of the old green and black Ford Prefect on the Birdhaven circular driveway – four seconds of action – (most likely Barbara waving out the window):
1. Ruins of our house; 2. Dougie Wright, Gould & Ruth Dominy’s place; 3. Jack Levick’s house; 4. The meandering Kak Spruit. None of those houses on the left were there back then.
Back then they would buzz around in Mom’s Ford Prefect or Dad’s beige Morris Isis.
Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that mimic’d a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who could mimic a bit more. A tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl would visit at night. Our next neighbours, nearer to the mountain, were Ruth and Gould Dominy and Ruth’s son Dougie Wright on Glen Khyber. They were about 500m further down the road towards the mountain, across the Kak Spruit over a little bridge. Doug’s cottage was on the left next to the spruit that came down from Khyber Pass and flowed into the bigger spruit; The big house with its sunny glassed-in stoep was a bit further on the right. Ruth and a flock of small dogs would serve Gould his tea in a teacup the size of a big deep soup bowl.
Judas Thabete lived on the property and looked after the garden. I remember him as old, small and bearded. He lived in a hovel of a hut across a donga and a small ploughed field to the west of our house. He had some sort of cart – animal-drawn? self-drawn? Self-drawn, I think.
Other things I remember are driving out and seeing white storks in the dead bluegum trees outside the gate – those and the eagle owl being the first wild birds I ‘spotted’ in my still-ongoing birding life; I remember the snake outside the kitchen door;
I don’t remember but have been told, that my mate Donald Coleman, two years older, would walk the kilometre from his home on the edge of town to Birdhaven to visit me. Apparently his Mom Jean would phone my Mom Mary on the party line and ask “Do you have a little person out there?” if she couldn’t find him. He was a discoverer and a wanderer and a thinker, my mate Donald.
Bruno the doberman came from Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek pass down the Drakensberg into Natal. Leo and Heather Hilcovitz owned and ran it – “very well” according to Dad. Leo came into town once with a few pups in the back of his bakkie. Dobermans. Dad said I Want One! and gave him a pocket of potatoes in exchange for our Bruno. He lived to good age and died at 95 Stuart Street after we’d moved to town.
rondavel – circular building with a conical roof, often thatched;
spruit – stream; kak spruit: shit stream; maybe it was used as a sewer downstream in town in earlier days?
stoep – veranda
donga – dry, eroded watercourse; gulch, arroyo; scene of much play in our youth;
Our Ford Prefect was somewhere between a 1938 and a 1948 – the ‘sit up and beg’ look, before sedans went flat. They were powered by a 4 cylinder engine displacing 1172cc, producing 30 hp. The engine had no water pump or oil filter. Drive was through a 3-speed gearbox, synchromesh in 2nd and 3rd. Top speed nearly 60mph.
Chris Greeff is one of the most connected people I know. He mentioned that John Lee is a parabat. I said: My two schoolmates did parabats in 1971 (Pierre du Plessis) and around 1975 I’d guess (Tuffy Joubert). He asked: Tuffy Joubert – that became a Recce – and raced Rubber Ducks with Maddies?
I said Yep. He’s a Harrismith boykie. So Chris sent me a pdf file: Read page 10, he said.
Interview – Major Peter Schofield by Mike Cadman 21 August 2007
Reconnaissance Regiment – Project Missing Voices
Schofield on arrival at Recce base on the Bluff in Durban:
Then I had lunch and went looking for the climbing course. Now, it wasn’t a very long walk but I walked along the length of the camp where there was a helicopter hovering at about a hundred feet. And I stopped on the edge of the hockey field where this was taking place and watched this, and out came a couple of ropes and a couple of guys came whizzing down in sort of abseil fashion. And a couple more came whizzing down sort of abseil fashion. And a couple more.
Then one came out, and came into free fall. And he literally, he got hold of the rope a little bit, but he just fell a hundred feet flat on his back wearing a rucksack and a rifle. And I didn’t even bother to walk over to him, I thought, He’s Dead. He can’t fall that far and not be.
And obviously the ropes were cast off and the chopper landed. They whipped him into the chopper and flew away. I didn’t know where to, but it was in fact to Addington Hospital, which is about three minutes flight away. And, I thought well this must be quite something of a unit, because basically they carried on with the rest of the course as though nothing had happened.
I thought, Well, I better introduce myself to the senior people here and see what’s going on. So I walked over and met the senior members of the course, and it was being run by a bunch of senior NCOs and I was impressed by the lack of concern that anybody showed for the fact that the guy had just fallen a hundred feet from a helicopter. A guy called (Tuffie?) Joubert. And Tuffie is still alive and kicking and serving in Baghdad right now.
And I said, What the hell are you doing? How did he fall over there? They said, Well nobody’s ever done it before. I said, OK, show me what you’re doing. And they were actually tying the abseil ropes direct to the gearbox of the rotor box in the roof, I think it was, in the Puma. Which gets to about a thousand degrees in no time flat. So if they had gone on long enough, they’d have broken at least one if not all four of the ropes with people on them. I said, Well let’s change that. And anyway you’re not abseiling properly so let’s send the helicopter away and let’s do some theory on abseiling and then we’ll go and do it off a building or something that stands still for a while before we progress to helicopters.
Then I went back to report to the commanding officer, John Moore, that I wasn’t really terribly satisfied with the way things were proceeding on this climbing course. He said, Oh well, have you done it before? I said Yes, I’ve done a hell of a lot of it, I was a rock climbing instructor apart from anything else. And he said, OK, well take over, run the climbing course. So I did just that. And again I was so impressed with the fairly laid back attitude of everything.
I told Tuffy and he replied in his laid-back Recce way:
Good morning Koos,
Trust to find you well; This side of the coast we are all well and we think we have everything under control.
Maj Peter Schofield was a Brit, he was part of the Red Devils if I recall correctly; came to South Africa and joined the Recces. His first day at work on the Bluff he had to take over the Mountaineering Course that included abseiling. As he walked out to see what was going on, “Yes, I fell out of the helicopter”. He was not impressed.
He lived in Harrismith for a few years after retiring, Pierre knew him. He passed away a few years ago here in Cape Town.
No I have not heard or seen his talk.
Lekker dag verder, enjoy and go for gold – Groetnis – Tuffy.
Mom & Dad went to Lourenco Marques in Mocambique for their honeymoon in 1951.
With cars being very scarce after the war, Dad looked around for anything he could afford. He found a Mr Smith selling a fifteen year old Hudson Terraplane 4-door for £100. It came with a spare engine in the boot – and the feeling that it would probably be needed.
But it made it to LM – and back. Mom had to put her feet on the seat – the floor got too hot, even with shoes on. While in Lourenco Marques the Hudson started missing so Dad took it to a garage but the Portuguese owners couldn’t understand him. He tried Italian, which he’d learnt in the war. “Candela?” – Ah! Candela! Yes, they had sparkplugs and they could sort him out.
They stayed in a boarding house a couple blocks back from the seafront. ‘It was cheaper than a hotel’. While there they met with Frank Cabral a big game hunter married to some relative of Mom’s. They swam – Mom remembers the huge beach and the shallow sea with only tiny waves. They had fish for breakfast one morning – a whole fish whose eye gazed balefully at Mom, spoiling her appetite.
Outside the zoo Dad bought six parakeets or lovebirds with red faces. He made a cage for them and as they approached the border he hid it behind the large Hudson cubbyhole – there was plenty of space under the dashboard. So he’s a smuggler.
On the way back they went through Kruger Park and Mom distinctly recalls feeling very uncomfortable at how flimsy the reed walls of the park huts at Skukuza seemed when she thought of the wild animals outside! They went to visit an old friend of Dad’s, Rosemary Dyke-Wells, an old Boschetto agricultural college girl who was married to a game ranger there. He was the son of the famous Harry Wolhuter.
The Kruger Park was opened to tourism in 1927 and after a slow start – only three cars entered the Reserve in that ﬁrst year – soon turned into a popular destination. Within a decade, 3600 kilometres of roads had been built and several camps established. In 1935, some 26,000 people passed through the gates. By 1950 a research station and rest camp had been developed at Skukuza, transforming Stevenson-Hamilton’s base into the “capital” of Kruger.
Some Kruger Park pics from the later fifties – 1956 to 1958:
Later back in Harrismith when the clutch packed up Dad found out the Hudson had a cork clutch. He bought dozens of cork medicine bottle tops from the chemist and hammered them into the angled holes set in concentric circles in the clutchplate, then cut the protruding parts off as level as he could and it worked again.
When it came time to sell it he can’t remember who he sold it to and for how much, but he does remember Pye von During would pay £25 for them and convert them into horse carts.
Years later they came across one at a vintage car show. Dunno when this was, but this year they’ll be married 67 years (2018).
1936 Hudson Terraplane
Soon after this the Post Office moved Dad back to Pietermaritzburg following a back injury. They stayed in the Creamery Hotel – ‘a dive, but cheap’. They moved to the slightly better (but ‘very hot in the afternoon’ – Mom) Windsor Hotel. Mom took a sewing course at ‘the tech’ while pregnant and then, just before first child Barbara was born they moved in with Ouma Swanepoel in Bourke Street in downtown PMB. Mom gave birth at Greys Hospital in mid-summer, 7th January, then came home to Ouma. Mom remembers the Bourke street home being beautifully cool.
Somewhere before or after, they stayed in Howick, in The Falls Hotel.
Annie came to Mom and said ‘Peter Swanepoel has tickets to the Al Debbo concert in the Town Hall, would you like to go?’ He sat between Mom and Annie in the upstairs stalls, and ‘that was the beginning of their romance’ says Mom.
An old LM citizen spotted this post and used the pic of Mom & Dad sitting on the seawall in his blog here – but first he deftly tidied it and colorised it. It looks terrific! Thanks Antonio!
The film ZULU starring Stanley Baker, Michael Caine and Jack Hawkins was one of the biggest box-office hits of all time in England. It premiered in 1964 and for the next twelve years it remained in constant cinema circulation before making its first appearance on television. It has since become a Bank holiday television perennial, and remains beloved by the British public. Some pommies watch it every Christmas, year after year.
The film premiered on 22 January 1964, 85 years to the day after the event it commemorates – the battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879. Very few people know though, that it had its REAL WORLD PREMIERE in our lounge in 95 Stuart Street, Harrismith. In late 1963.
Count yourself as one of a very tiny privileged minority who’s “in the know”!
Back in late 1963 my old man showed us an 8mm movie he had filmed with his state-of-the-art Eumig camera.
Whirr whirrr whirr – those of you who watched them will remember the noise of the projector. Also maybe Thuk! Oh shit! Eina! as the film broke and had to be re-threaded in the projector with its super-hot bulb.
Super 8 Sound Projector Eumig Mark S810
He and Mom had been to Royal Natal National Park down Oliviershoek Pass to film the filming of the film ZULU.
What I remember seeing was a lot of dust and a lot of be-feathered Zulu warriors charging at some umLungus in funny red coats, falling down in a cloud of dust and then getting up laughing, walking back and doing it all over again. Mom and Dad remember being asked to stop filming, and then once they saw it was a tiny 8mm camera, just to move out of the way as they continued filming.
Thanks to the huge success of the film – which was longer than the two minutes we saw – the Battle of Rorke’s Drift has entered British folklore. A New Film is being shot this year (2019/2020) which might just include some of Dad’s 8mm footage! See all about that here.
Remember, though, to take their version of the battle with a large pinch of cerebos.
The background story of the film Zulu, 54 years on
The Real History – lesson: always take ‘official’ histories with a pinch of salt:
On 22 January 1879, at a remote mission station in Natal, South Africa, 157 men, mainly British soldiers (the number is usually downplayed, sometimes “under 100”) held off wave after wave of attacks by some 3,000 Zulu warriors (the number is certainly exaggerated – your son’s rugby opposition was always MUCH bigger than your boys, right?). Remember who wrote about the battle – jingoist reporters for jingoist newspapers.
Although the Zulus had some old-fashioned muskets and a few modern rifles, most of their warriors were only armed with shields and spears. The Battle of Rorke’s Drift lasted 10 hours (often stated as ‘over 12’), from late afternoon till just before dawn the following morning. By the end of the fighting, around 365 men lay dead, 15 (or 17) British inside the barricaded buildings they had defended, and around 350 Zulu outside them. Plus many wounded men, most of whom were murdered after the battle!!
The defences are most always characterised as ‘biscuit boxes and bags’ and paintings show the British defenders hugely exposed and vulnerable. A photo taken soon after the battle looks very different to the descriptions and the paintings: I haven’t seen a painting showing soldiers firing through holes in a stone wall.
Historically the battle was a minor incident which had little influence on the course of the Anglo-Zulu War. It might have remained a footnote in the history books or an anecdote told at regimental dinners had it not been for:
It being hailed as a victory – and then an EPIC victory, although it was actually simply a NON-DEFEAT after the truly epic defeat at Isandlwana the same day;
The number of Victoria Crosses and other awards that were dished out for the battle – probably because of the prior defeat? Not all the true heroes got VC’s and some who should not have, did. In fact the truth of the battle was probably FAR more sordid than the glorious accounts a desperate British government wanted to portray. The image of valour and nobility in the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 turned to shame when documents were uncovered which show that Rorke’s Drift was the scene of an atrocity – a war crime, in today’s language – which Britain covered up. In the hours after the battle senior officers and enlisted men of a force sent to relieve the garrison are said to have killed hundreds of wounded Zulu prisoners. Some were bayoneted, some hanged and others buried alive in mass graves. More Zulus are estimated to have died in this way than in combat, but the executions were hushed up to preserve Rorke’s Drift’s image as a bloody but clean fight between two forces which saluted the other’s courage. The Zulu salute in the film was FAKE;
AND then, and especially, for a film – ZULU – which dramatised the story and has kept it in the public mind ever since.
The story behind the film’s making is almost as remarkable as the battle it depicts(most of this account taken from talks by Sheldon Hall, Sr Lecturer, Stage and Screen Studies Sheffield Hallam University)
The principal artists responsible for Zulu were hardly Establishment figures. Screenwriter John Prebble was a former Communist Party member who had volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War. His co-writer, the American director Cy Endfield, had fled Hollywood in the early 1950s after he was named as a Communist during the McCarthyite witch-hunts. Endfield’s production partner and the film’s main star was Stanley Baker, a life-long supporter of the Labour Party.
All three were committed to progressive causes, but their motives in making Zulu were not political. It is not an anti-imperial diatribe any more than it is a celebration of colonial conquest. Its main purpose was frankly commercial, but Baker also saw the story as an chance to pay tribute to his Welsh homeland. This certainly explains the strong emphasis on the Welshness of the private soldiers – one of the many fictionalised elements of Zulu that have created a myth around the battle.
Filming under Apartheid
The producers had to keep their political views in check when they made the decision to shoot the film in South Africa, then in the grip of Apartheid. There were strict, legally enforced guidelines regarding the degree of freedom permitted to the cast and crew. It was impressed upon the 60-odd British visitors that sexual relations with people of other races would result in possible imprisonment, deportation or worse. Warned that miscegenation was a flogging offence, Baker is reported to have asked – in glorious Pom tradition – if he could have the lashes while ‘doing it’. The authorities were not amused.
The main filming location was in the spectacular Drakensberg Mountains in the Royal Natal National Park, a popular tourist spot distant from any large township. But a number of incidents brought home the realities of the oppressive regime. Chatting to John Marcus, one of several professional black stuntmen employed on the film, assistant editor Jennifer Bates invited him for a drink in the bar/canteen that had been built on site for the crew. Marcus pointed out that he was forbidden by law to mix socially with whites and could not enter.
In his autobiography, Michael Caine recalls an incident in which a black labourer was reprimanded by an Afrikaans foreman with a punch in the face. Baker sacked the foreman on the spot and made clear that such behaviour would not be tolerated. Caine swore never to make another film in South Africa while Apartheid was in force, and kept to his word.
Introducing Michael Caine
Keeping watch over the tightly budgeted film was production supervisor Colin Lesslie. “I am very glad to be able to tell you,” he wrote at one point to the Embassy Pictures’ chief in London, “that in my opinion and from the little he has done so far, Michael Caine as ‘Bromhead’ is very good indeed. When he was cast for the part I couldn’t see it but I think (and hope) I was wrong.” This must have been a common reaction.
Not quite an unknown, the 30-year-old Caine was already making a name for himself on television but was becoming type-cast in working-class Cockney parts. Casting him as a blue-blooded officer in his first major film role represented a considerable risk, but it was one that paid off.
Thousands of ’em?
The soldiers were played by real soldiers – eighty national servicemen borrowed from the South African National Defence Force. And most of the Zulus were real Zulus. A mere 240 Zulu extras were employed for the battle scenes, bussed in from their tribal homes over 100 miles away. Around 1,000 additional tribesmen were filmed by the second unit in Zululand, but most of these scenes hit the cutting-room floor.
Living in remote rural areas, few if any Zulus had visited a cinema and television had not reached Natal. The crew rigged up a projector and outdoor screen, and the Zulus’ first sight of a motion picture was a Western. From then on, the “warriors” had a better idea of what they were being asked to do. Responsible for training and rehearsing them were stunt arrangers John Sullivan and Joe Powell. “The Zulus were initially suspicious of us in case we were taking the mickey,” says Powell, now 91. “After a couple of days they realised we weren’t and got into it. After that you couldn’t hold them back.”
Contrary to stories the Zulus were not paid with gifts of cattle or wristwatches but received wages in Rand. The main corps was paid the equivalent of nine shillings per day each, additional extras eight shillings, and the female dancers slightly less again. Associate producer Basil Keys remarked: “There is no equality of pay for women in the Zulu nation!”
For the opening sequence depicting a mass Zulu wedding, 600 additional background artists were brought in, including nightclub performers from Johannesburg, to play the principal dancers. During breaks in filming, they twisted and jived to modern pop records played over Tannoys, with director Cy Endfield among the crew members joining them.
The small but key role of King Cetshwayo was given to his direct descendant, the present-day Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. The wedding dance was choreographed by Buthelezi’s mother, a tribal historian, and supervised by stuntman Simon Sabela, who later became South Africa’s first black film director.
History and politics
Like all films, Zulu is of its time and captures the mood of its time more profoundly than is often realised. A conservative view would see it as a hymn to gung-ho heroism, to flag-waving patriotism and the glory days of the British Empire. In fact, by 1964 the sun was already setting on the empire and undoubtedly Zulu stirred a lot of nostalgia for it. For some, that explains its appeal.
But look again. The knowledge that colonialism was in its dying fall is there in the film. The script is filled with a sense that the soldiers are in a place they don’t belong and don’t want to be. The indigenous people are not disorganised savages but a disciplined army. And the young lieutenant, played by Caine, who had earlier dismissed the enemy as “fuzzies” and the levies on his own side as “cowardly blacks”, now declares himself ashamed at the “butcher’s yard” he has brought about.
A modern awareness of racial representation means that Zulu has undoubtedly “dated”. If the film were to be remade today, as internet rumours continually suggest, it would certainly be done differently. But the absence of individuated black characters doesn’t make it racist. Though told from the British point of view, it shows that viewpoint change from dismissive contempt and naked fear to respect and even admiration. The famous (and entirely fictional) salute the departing Zulu army pays to the garrison survivors is returned with their – and our – gaze of awe and wonder.
Adapted from an article in Cinema Retro No 28 (c) Sheldon Hall 2014
Sheldon Hall is a Senior Lecturer in Stage and Screen Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. See an expanded second edition of his book ‘Zulu: With Some Guts Behind It – The Making of the Epic Movie’ – Tomahawk Press.
Cy Endfield’s epic military marathon about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift was actually shot 90 miles south-west of Rorke’s Drift in the Royal Natal National Park in the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa. It had the far more mountainous and picturesque Drakensberg Amphitheatre as backdrop, rather than the low hills like the Oscarberg at the real site of the battle.
Below see the movie backdrop, the Drakensberg Amphitheatre (left) – and the real backdrop, the Oscarberg (right):
2.Many of the Zulu extras had never seen a motion picture
Many of the Zulus who were hired as extras for the film had never seen a motion picture prior to filming and were unsure what to expect. With this in mind, director Cy Endfield and Stanley Baker, who played Lieutenant John Chard, set up a projector in order for them to watch a western, starring Gene Autry. Then the Zulus probably said “Ah, so its all bulldust?” and acted accordingly.
3. The real Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead was extremely deaf…
Played expertly by Michael Caine, this snobbish character was described by Lieutenant Henry Curling, who fought alongside Bromhead at Rorke’s Drift, as “a stupid old fellow, as deaf as a post.” Major Francis Clery, who spent time with Bromhead after Rorke’s Drift, described him as “a capital fellow at everything except soldiering”, while his commanding officer said in private that Bromhead was “hopeless”. Still, political face-saving at the time saw Bromhead awarded the Victoria Cross.
4. Michael Caine initially auditioned for the role of Private Henry Hook
This was Michael Caine’s first major film role and, although he eventually put in an exceptional performance as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, he was crippled by nerves and beaten to the role he initially auditioned for, that of Private Henry Hook, by James Booth. Interestingly, Caine was also unable to ride a horse so a member of the filming crew took his place in the scene where he crosses the stream on horseback at the beginning of the film. This explains why the camera pans down on to the horse.
5. Private Henry Hook was badly portrayed in the film
In the film, Private Henry Hook (James Booth) is placed under arrest for insubordination. He is seen lounging around in the shade and trying to pilfer free booze as his comrades prepare for battle in the stifling heat. In reality, Private Hook was an exemplary soldier and teetotal, who was also awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry. Hook’s daughter walked out of the film’s premiere in disgust at this inaccurate portrayal.
6. Eleven British soldiers were given a Victoria Cross; Twelve had been nominated
Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne (played by Nigel Green in the film), requested a commission rather than the Victoria Cross. He was duly granted this wish and went on to become a Lieutenant Colonel. When he died in 1945, he was the last surviving British soldier from the battle.
7. Mangosuthu Buthelezi played his great grandfather Zulu King Cetshwayo kaMpande in the movie
Mangosuthu Buthelezi was the chieftain of the Buthelezi tribe when he played the role of Zulu King Cetshwayo kaMpande in 1964. Buthelezi went on to found the Inkatha Freedom Party and was the leader of the former KwaZulu bantustan. He has also held positions in the new, legitimate SA government and parliament.
EUMIG was an Austrian company producing audio and video equipment that existed from 1919. The name is an acronym for Elektrizitäts und Metallwaren Industrie Gesellschaft – “Electricity and Metalware Industry Company” – In 1982 EUMIG went bankrupt – punishment for choosing such a boring name? Its patent for the macro system in lenses was sold to the Japanese company Canon.
Thuk! Oh shit! Eina! – gosh;
umLungus – paleface; speak with forked tongue; in Africa as well as America;
I’ll add a link to the 8mm movie footage the old man took on the film set in the ‘berg as soon as I can. A new movie about the making of the film is in the offing and we have offered this seven minutes of behind-the-scenes footage to Henry Coleman the film-maker. As we have undertaken not to use the footage till after his premiere, we have forfeited a chance to repeat our 1963 scoop!! Darn!
Off they’d go in Mary’s pale blue VW Beetle OHS 155. Off to Durbs-by-the-Sea, the Lonsdale Hotel or the Four Seasons for a whole week!
Might that be Mary’s VW outside the Lonsdale in this picture? Three cars behind the Borgward?
The cost of their stay: R2.95 each per day including meals. Mom thinks Randolph Stiller may have owned the Four Seasons. He and Bebe certainly owned the Central Hotel in Harrismith where Annie stayed, one block away from her Caltex garage in Warden Street. Only the Deborah Retief gardens between her hotel room and her office, but she drove there in her great big old beige Chev Fleetline; one block up to the garage. Mom – ever kind – says her legs were too sore to walk.
In Durban Mom and Annie would visit Annie’s sister Jessie (Bain Bell) and her daughter Lesley (Malcolm-Smith ) in their flat in Finsbury Court in West Street. Lesley worked at Daytons – a supermarket, Mom thinks.
They would all hop into Mom’s car and head off on a drive – to the beach, to the Japanese Gardens; and – always – to visit Annie’s bridesmaid Maggie McPherson who lived in a ‘posh flat up on the Berea. Looked like a bit of Olde England’.
Many years later – 1980’s – we would go and listen to Joe Parker in the Lonsdale. Beer-soaked, we hosed ourselves, but I don’t think Mom and Annie would have approved!
While we’re getting nostalgic, some names to remember: Gillespie Street; The Italian restaurant Villa d’Este; The Four Seasons Hotel, with its Pink Panther steakhouse; Palm Beach Hotel; Millionaires’ Club; Lonsdale Hotel; The El Castilian nightclub (remember The Bats?); The Killarney Hotel, where the Monks Inn used to be (with the words “Steak, Eggs and Strips” posted prominently outside); Thatcher’s Bar at the former Parkview Hotel.
Original message from Etienne Joubert in 2014 – (translation below)
Good morning all you Harrismith followers!
Who was Paul de Witt . . ?? . . Skande gemaak vir Harrismith se mense.
KAAPSTAD – ’n Predikant en bekende restaurateur in Hentiesbaai is Maandag in die vroeë oggendure deur doeanebeamptes met sowat 11 400 witmossels en 20 kg calamari in sy besit by die Vioolsdrift-grenspos vasgetrek.
Ds. Paul de Witt (63) het die twee spesies, wat albei beskerm word, sonder vervoerpermitte in sy Nissan X-Trail van Kaapstad na Hentiesbaai vervoer.
De Witt is omstreeks 01:30 deur die polisie voorgekeer en sy voertuig is deursoek. Verskeie sakke vol mossels met ’n geskatte waarde van R11 400, en ’n sak met 20 kg calamari is agter in sy voertuig gevind.
De Witt is deur die eenheid teen georganiseerde misdaad in hegtenis geneem en daar is beslag gelê op sy voertuig, sowel as die sakke seekos.
De Witt is ’n boorling van Harrismith.
I immediately contacted my mate Steph de Witt:
Hey Steph – I vaguely remember a Paul de Witt. Who and what was he op Herries? He got caught with his hand in the cookie jar! Cheers – Koos
On 2014/07/08 Steph de Witt replied:
Koos! Dis my bloedfamilie, my own cousin !!
Me:Fokkit I can still live with the witmossel-steel part, but the DOMINEE part? THAT’s the skande!
Eina! and Skande! – ouch! and scandal!
A Harrismith old boy who became a preacherman was caught smuggling protected seafood – mussels and calamari – from South Africa into Namibia.
He was an interesting character: My sister remembers him as one of a gang of ‘naughty / rude’ boys as a teenager. As does happen with some naughty / rude boys, he became a preacher. But as less often happens, a preacher who operated a pub. He sold salvation on Sundays and booze from Mondays to Saturdays! Like, ‘create your own sinners.’
His pub obviously needed seafood so he ‘fetched’ some from across the border – illegally. And got caught.
Sadly, he died in a car wreck soon after!
Steph: Poor fella died in a motoraccident on Friday afternoon, can you believe it ?!
Me: No!! That's very sad! Dammitall. Jammer ou Steph - do you know his vrou and family?
Steph: Ja, had a sad but interesting innings, will keep you posted.
Subject: Paul de Witt
Hey Et – Steph has just informed me that Paul died in a car accident on Friday.
Dammitall. From sudden fame / notoriety to tragic end.
Yo ....that's sad, my condolences if you make
contact again. But at least we know he's gone
to Paradise, where there's lots of white & black
muscles & of course, calamari .........!!
Cheers - Et
Vraagtekens oor kroegdominee se storie
Tragically, Steph never did keep me posted. Our dear friend Steph also died in a car accident ten months later!
I just read a book (this was in 2014) The Traveling Rabbi by Moshe Silberhaft. It was loaned to me by Pauline Shapiro, Montclair character of note. We got chatting – instead of doing her eyeballs – about how Durban had lost most of its Jews and Harrismith had lost all of its Jews.
Rabbi Moshe went around the country from 1995 to small dorps where the ever-diminishing number of Jews allowed them to live in peace and eat whatever they wanted till he came to give them a skrik and some guilt feelings. He tells me in his book that Bethlehem comes from Beit Lechem, which means House of Bread. His book has three pages on Bethlehem and the main talk is about Rabbi Altshuler, who died in 1983, and the de-consecration of the synagogue, which was converted into offices by attorney Gerald Meyerowitz. Then converted again: car parts shop. That’s pretty hefty de-consecration! That’s like being smote!
With the closing down of the Bethlehem shul Rabbi Silberhaft did the rabbi stuff: “The three Sifrei Torah were removed from the Ark and carried out of the shul by Syd Goldberg, Saville Jankelowitz and Sam Jankelowitz, then aged 90, assisted by Dr Harold Tobias, who had a bad back, in a very solemn procession.”
Shockingly, Moshe didn’t mention my mate Steve Reed as an honorary Jew! Obviously he hadn’t heard Stefanus spin his yiddish. Even more shockingly, he leaves out my whole town! He writes of Parys, Brandfort, the metropolis of Phillipolis, Bloemfontein, Bothaville, the ‘Hem, Sasolburg, Marquard, Marseilles (Marseilles?!), Heilbron, Winburg, Senekal, Ficksburg, Kroonstad, and other no-name-brand towns, but no mention of that jewel of the Eastern Free State – Harrismith!
Amazing. He writes about all those flat dusty nothing-dorps and he omits the one shining-light green-oasis in the Vrystaat!
I suspect Harrismith “died” before the others? We grew up with the Chodos’, the Cohens, the Shadfords, Mrs Schwartz, Fanny Glick, the Longbottoms, Randolf & Bebe Stiller and others whose faces I can see but names . . my Mom and Dad and Sheila will remember . .
But by 1972 we were dancing to Creedence Clearwater Revival at discos put on by Round Table in the already de-commissioned synagogue – at least fifteen years before Bethlehem’s was closed. So Harrismith’s shul got elevated – unlike Beflehem’s descent into ignominy!
Sigh! But once again Harrismith got smoked by Bethlehem in the fame stakes. Something to remember: A possible cause: Harrismith was a big verraaier-dorp in the Anglo-Boer War: Its citizens that did so well for themselves (my ancestors included) in an independent Republic, WELCOMED and aided and abetted the invaders!! Not good. One of my ancestors was principled and was sent to Ceylon as a POW. The others benefited even more after the war from money the British army spent in the town. ‘War is hell, I’m not to blame’ –
The book has plenty amusing snippets. As the last few Jews die in the dorps, Silberhaft buries them, sometimes in cemeteries that haven’t had burials in them for yonks and decades. “Gave the cemetery a new lease on life” he says . . .
One oke’s Dad was scared of flying and specified: “Don’t you dare send me in a coffin in an airplane hold”, so his son rented a kombi and drove the body to West Park cemetery in Joburg. Silberhaft then buried him and wrote to the son “I know your Dad liked to jol, so I buried him near the fence in case he wants to get out and hit the town.”
Some okes had long given up the faith, so when he tried to visit them in their little dorp some skrikked and quickly – and maybe briefly? – became kosher again! Others were way past all that and “voetsekked” him! Sent him packing.
Seems Silberhaft had a big thing about strict kosher living and – especially – eating. He would make a big thing if people were kosher and a bigger scene if they had slipped off the strict and narrow – and slippery! – path. Even though to stay kosher meant you had to have your meat brought in from outside, or have a kosher slaughterer come to you to slit your animals! He would take kosher meat in his boot to give to people – which suggests that in between his visits they probably ate pragmatically? Hey! Bacon. Some things are forgivable. Pigs have no chance of amnesty cos of bacon; I even have a best man who will occasionally wobble off the straight and narrow and into a bacon sandwich and that’s what forgiveness is for.
Pictures of the Bethlehem shul by Jono David at jewishphotolibrary.wordpress.com. It’s now a car parts shop, but check the lovely pressed-steel ceiling and the chandelier.
Bethlehem cemetery picture is also Jono David’s. He’s also at
Steve Reed, Bethlehem Boy, wrote:
Thanks Koos, interesting stuff. We lived across the road from the Bethlehem shul. In a flat which was the subject of great intrigue to my school friends, all of whom had huge family homes in Oxford street and Cambridge street. The Tobias residence was in an even fancier part of town, along with the Meyerowitz residence, the Goldberg residence and others, high on the hill. Here you found swimming pools and things called “rumpus rooms”. I was an adopted member of the Tobias family, yes. From the wrong side of town, near Kraay’s Bakery. The Mann brothers, the paint magnates who lived even higher on the hill, referred to them as ‘Kraay the Beloved Baker.’ Once again, the bread connection!
Les Tobias’s bar mitzvah, I pitched up in my school (shul?) uniform
as there was no way we could afford a suit. Having been a St. Andrews
boy before moving to Bethlehem, this was an OK thing to do –
presumably with the Saints fees, it was understood there was no money
for suits. Must have got a few tongues wagging. Surprised we didn’t
start getting food parcels from the Jewish community after that.
Brauer wrote: The travelling rabbi’s old man is my mom’s neighbour in JAFFA – the Pretoria Jewish old age home.
skrik – frighten them; put the fear of G_d into them; see that? I wrote the Jewish god G_d
dorp – village; dusty; not Harrismith
voetsek – bugger off; voetsak’d – sent packing
verraaier – traitor
Me: Wrote a little blog post about that book on Bethlehem where they battled to find three wise men.
Brauer: So the shul is a car parts shop? They probably sold the shofar as a much sought-after retro hooter (or horn).
Me: Couldn’t there be a market for a mobile Jewish wedding car – with removable roof and twin shofars, with a floor to dance and smash things on? I have to think of something to make cash post-optometry. Could I be the rabbi, or would I have to use a rent-a-rabbi?
Brauer: Conditional. We’ll let you be the rabbi if you have the snip.
Me: Eish!! It just shrank and retreated to only eleven inches in the shade at the very thought. What the rabbis don’t know is my definition of minor surgery: Minor surgery is Surgery On Someone Else.
I’ll have to stick to driving the mobile wedding car – or, being the shofar . .
Here’s a lovely old picture taken inside the Harrismith synagogue!