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 called Birdhaven – Dad kept big aviaries – and was in the shadow of Platberg. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!
What I remember is suddenly “knowing” it was lunchtime and looking up at the dirt road above the farmyard that led to town. Sure enough, right then a cloud of dust would appear and Mom & Dad would arrive for their lunch and siesta, having locked up the Platberg bottle store at 1pm sharp. I could see them on the road and then sweeping down the long driveway to park near the rondawel 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. The trip was exactly 3km door-to-door.
Every day I “just knew” they were coming. Wonder if I sub-consciously heard their approach and then “knew”? Or was it an inner clock?
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 were probably buzzing home in the tiny green and black Ford Prefect or the beige Morris Isis, not yet the little powder-blue Beetle.
Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that said a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who said more. And a tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl that would visit at night. Next neighbours 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 K 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 K 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.
Me and Jacko outside the rondawel on the plot with Platberg in the background. Judas Thabethe 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? I can’t recall.
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; 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 1.1km 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.
The film ZULU starring Stanley Baker and Michael Caine 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 pommy poephols 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 Stuart Street. 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 had been to Royal Natal National Park down Oliviershoek Pass to film the filming of the film ZULU.
What we saw 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. And again.
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.
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 – take everything 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, 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.
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. 11 British soldiers were given a Victoria Cross; 12 were 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. Now Buthelezi has a very interesting grandchild!
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. Its patent for the macro system in lenses was sold to the Japanese company Canon. Pics by Pantoine
In 1969 a bunch of us were taken to Durban to watch a rugby test match Springboks against the Australian Wallabies. “Our” Tommy Bedford was captain of the ‘Boks. We didn’t know it, but it was to be his last game.
Schoolboy “seats” were flat on your bum on the grass in front of the main stand at Kings Park. Looking around we spotted old Ella Bedford, – “Mis Betfit” as her pupils called her – Harrismith English teacher and the captain’s Mom – hence our feeling like special guests! – up in the stands. Sitting next to her was a really spunky blonde so we whistled and hooted and waved until she returned the wave.
Back at school the next week ‘Mis Betfit’ told us how her daughter-in-law had turned to her and said: “Ooh look, those boys are waving at me!” And she replied (and some of you will hear her tone of voice in your mind’s ear): “No they’re not! They’re my boys. They’re waving at me!”
We just smiled, thinking ‘So, Mis Betfit isn’t always right’. Here’s Jane. We did NOT mistake her for Mis Betfit.
Mrs Bedford taught English as second language. Apparently anything you got wrong had to be fixed below your work under the heading “corrections”. Anything you got wrong in your corrections had to be fixed under the heading “corrections of corrections”. Mistakes in those would be “corrections of corrections of corrections”. And so on, ad infinitum! She never gave up. You WOULD get it all right eventually!
In matric the rugby season started and I suddenly thought: Why’m I playing rugby? I’m playing because people think I have to play rugby! I don’t.
So I didn’t.
It caused a mild little stir, especially for ou Vis, mnr Alberts in the primary school. He came up from the laerskool specially to voice his dismay. Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Beford wees! he protested. That was optimistic. I had played some good rugby when I shot up and became the tallest in the team, not because of real talent for the game – as I went on to prove.
Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Beford wees! – Don’t give up rugby. You should become our ‘second Tommy Bedford’
My great grandfather got a letter from a seed and plant merchant in Uitenhage in July 1901. I know cos I found the envelope on an online auction site. It was sent to Harrismith, Orange River Colony (ORC).
It was stamped ‘Passed by the wartime Press Censor’ as the wicked Poms were trying to steal our diamonds and gold at the time and were waging the Anglo-Boer War.
Yes, I would think it was JFA Bland II who was our Grandad Frank’s father. He came to Harrismith by oxwagon with his father JFA Bland I and they settled near Witzieshoek.
JFA Bland I is buried in Senekal apparently – I made contact with someone in Senekal who offered to go looking for his grave, but she’s never come back to me – so if you ever find yourself in Senekal with nothing to do …….
The eastern-most pass up Harrismith’s Platberg is the fabled Donkey Pass. We called it Flat Rock Pass. Mountain Passes South Africa says it’s the sixth highest above sea level, and the second steepest pass in South Africa.
The road traverses a nature reserve and you need a permit to drive up. The steep parts – with sections as steep as 1:3 – are concrete stripped to aid traction. 4X4 and low range is essential for a safe and – especially – non-destructive ascent.
For those that do get to drive this amazing pass, you will be one of a select few to have done so.
On top you’ll find Gibson Dam, built by British soldiers soon after the Boer War.
Other passes on Platberg’s south side – the side facing the town – are Khyber Pass, ZigZag Pass and One Man’s Pass. They’re all footpaths only though.
Hopefully Platberg’s custodians limit the number of vehicles they allow on top to keep the mountain top as undamaged as possible. Sensitive wetlands!
On the 16 April 1917, the crimson killer Manfred Von Richthofen shot down his 45th Allied aircraft, which included 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Seymour Andrews, the son of Thomas Frederick and Louisa G. Andrews, of Warden Street, Harrismith, in the Orange Free State, South Africa.
Andrews was born in 1889, and was educated at Merchiston College, Pietermaritzburg and – even better – at school in Harrismith. Like many of his countrymen Andrews made the trek to England to volunteer his services in the ‘Great War’. Approximately 10, 000 South Africans and Rhodesians served in the British Armed forces during World War 1, around 3, 000 of them in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC).
Andrews joined the RFC and initially served in the ranks with No 1 Squadron, before being commissioned and gazetted as 2nd Lieutenant to the General List in March 1917. He was then posted to No 53 Squadron where he was to meet his pilot, Lieutenant Alphonso Pascoe, who hailed from Cornwall. Andrews and Pascoe were subsequently transferred, in tandem, to No 13 Squadron on the 18 March 1917, the squadron helping to pioneer formation bombing during the war.
April 1917 has gone down in British history as ‘Bloody April’ as the RFC was to suffer a disproportionate amount of casualties in relation to German losses, estimated to have been three times as many as the latter. Since September 1916, the Germans had held the upper hand in the contest for air supremacy on the Western Front, with the Albatros DII and DIII outclassing the British and French fighters charged with protecting their exceptionally vulnerable two-seater reconnaissance and bomber machines.
On the 9 April 1917 the Battle of Arras began with the concomitant RFC support, and subsequent engagements with the German air-force, the British losing roughly 245 aircraft, and 211 aircrew killed or missing, with a further 108 taken prisoner, during this catastrophic period of RFC history.
Andrews’s squadron was equipped with the Royal Aircraft Factory Bleriot Experimental 2 single engine two-seat biplane, the BE2. Approximately 3,500 were built during the war and used as fighters, interceptors, light bombers, trainers and reconnaissance aircraft. The BE2 was not a popular aircraft with the British airmen, being seriously underpowered and unreliable – even by the standards of the time.
There had been few combats on the 16 April due to bad weather, rain and low clouds, but at 14:50 hours, Pascoe and Andrews were dispatched in their BE2e aircraft No. 3156 on an Artillery Observation sortie. According to Von Richthofen, flying his red DIII, No. 2253/17, he approached Pacsoe and Andrews from approximately 1,000 metres. The two ‘British’ pilots were flying at an altitude of 800 metres, and were supposedly totally unaware of the enemy. Von Richtofen promptly attacked, whereupon Pascoe’s aircraft lost control and began smoking. The pilot regained control, but in the end the plane plummeted from approximately 100 meters to the ground below, coming down between Bailleul and Gavrelle. It was the Baron’s 45th victory in total.
Pascoe was lucky, he survived and was sent home to England to recover from his wounds, but his ‘Springbok’ observer was not so fortunate. Andrews, desperately wounded, was lifted from the smashed wreckage and passed through a series of casualty stations until he finally reached Le Tocquet Hospital, where he was to die thirteen days later, on the 29 April 1917.
Lieutenant Andrews lies buried in Etaples Cemetery, France. He was twenty eight years old at the time of his death.
How short and hurried life can be in war.
Andrews lasted barely a month in combat. Von Richthofen’s spell was much longer, but still pitifully short.
Von Richthofen earned his pilot’s license in June 1915. After honing his skills flying combat missions over France and Russia, he met the famed German flying ace Oswald Boelcke, who enlisted him in a new fighter squadron called Jasta 2.
Under Boelcke’s tutelage, Richthofen grew into a seasoned fighter pilot. He recorded his first confirmed aerial victory in September 1916 by shooting down a British aircraft over France. He soon racked up four more kills to earn the title of “flying ace.”
He had his Albatros D.III fighter plane painted blood red. The distinctive paint scheme gave rise to the immortal nickname ‘The Red Baron’.
In June 1917 Richthofen was promoted to leader of his own four-squadron fighter wing and was outfitted with the Fokker Dr.1 – Dreidecker = triplane – the distinctive three-winged machine that would become his most famous aircraft.
The Red Baron’s final flight took place on April 21 1918, when pilots from his Flying Circus engaged a group of British planes over Vaux-sur-Somme, France. As Richthofen swooped low in pursuit of an enemy fighter, he came under attack from Australian machine gunners on the ground and a plane piloted by Canadian ace Arthur Roy Brown.
During the exchange of fire, Richthofen was struck in the torso by a bullet and died after crash-landing in a field. Brown got official credit for the victory, but it seems it was probably the Australian infantrymen who fired the fatal shot.
Allied troops recovered Manfred von Richthofen’s body and buried him with full military honors. The 25-year-old had only prowled the skies for a little over two years, but his 80 confirmed aerial victories proved to be the most of any pilot in World War 1.
song: The Royal Guardsmen – Snoopy vs The Red Baron
Mom Mary in the cosmos outside Witsieshoek back ca. 1970:
Sheila years later at the foot of the eastern tip of Platberg – some call it Bobbejaankop:
Sheila sent a 2018 pic of Brenda Sharratt in the cosmos behind Platberg:
Apparently cosmos got here in horsefeed imported from Argentina during the Boer War for the Poms’ horses. Hopefully only the seed, as the greenery must have tasted foul! It has a pungent smell.
wikipedia: Cosmos is native to scrub and meadowland in Mexico where most of the species occur, as well as the USA, Central America and South America as far south as Paraguay. One mainly Mexican species, Cosmos bipinnatus, is naturalized and widespread over the high eastern plains of South Africa. It has also spread to the West Indies, Italy, Australia and Asia.