Buckle the Blacksmith

After Maritzburg College, Dad joined the General Post Office as an apprentice electrician. Around 1st April 1938. Here’s a spirit level he was issued that day:

– Spirit level – Wilson Lovatt & sons Wolverhampton –

While he was still apprenticing, he tried to enlist to join the WW2 war effort, but was sent back. He was transferred to Harrismith, from where he again made his way to Durban and was sent home again, finally being allowed to join after Oupa gave his reluctant blessing. He left for ‘up north’ in 1941.

While in Harrismith ca.1940, he met old Mr Buckle the Blacksmith down in McKechnie street, near the railway station. He was from England.

He ended up with a few tools from old man Buckle: a back saw and a set square with a beautiful brass inlay and brass leading edge.

Dad stayed on a plot outside town – townlands – and bought horses, schooled them and sold them for a profit. I assumed he’d had them shod by Buckle but he corrected me. Buckle was a blacksmith, upholsterer, wheelwright and wainwright/wagon-maker. He didn’t shoe horses. That was up to Charlie Rustov, Harrismith’s only farrier.

From his plot on townlands out west of town** he would ride out to Boschetto Agricultural College for Ladies on the slopes of Platberg, the mountain that dominates the town. Boschetto was where the girls were. The first time he went he met the formidable Miss Norah Miller, the founder and principal. Luckily for him she needed something done, he was able to help and so became a firm favourite of hers from the outset.

While he was telling the story Mom remembered a story about Norah: She knocked on someone’s door. Whoever answered went back and was asked ‘Who was there?’

They said, I don’t know, but she’s got one eye, one leg and a hell of a cough! Norah had one lens of her glasses frosted out, she wore a leg brace (probably childhood polio?) and smoked like a chimney. When her leg brace buckled, Dr Frank Reitz made her a new one. A better one. He would have loved that challenge. He was a hands-on fixer.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Harrismith author Leon Strachan found some fascinating info on Norah Miller’s leg – it was not polio. His source, Isobel Kemp (Dr Frank Reitz’s receptionist for thirty years. Isobel knew everything): It was probably osteoporosis resulting in a hip fracture in 1928, only six years after she established her college. Usually this would have resulted in incapacity and excruciating pain, but Norah was in luck: she was in the right place at the right time, and knew just the right man, bold innovator and pioneering surgeon Frank Reitz, trained at Guys Hospital in London, then did surgery specialisation in Germany.

He operated and joined the femur using an ordinary screw to hold the femur ends together! This trick would only become common decades later, in the fifties. Thirty years later she was still walking – with difficulty, but still mobile, and in charge of her college. When Cedara took over Boschetto she moved there, where she died in 1959, aged 79.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Aug 2021: Ole man phoned me. He found some (one? more? maybe the one I photographed above?) old ‘tri-squares’ with handles made of ebony with brass inlay. Do I want them? I bought them in the late 40s and Buckle was already an old man, maybe eighty. So they are probably 100yrs old. Hell yes, I’d like to have them!

~~~oo0oo~~~

** Old man bought his first townlands from old Englishman Bill Mundy. On the right bank of the Wilge river downstream from town; out on the road that turns south towards Swallow Bridge after leaving the west edge of town below 42nd Hill.

Running on Women Power

A lovely post on Women in Ornithology by ornithology historian Bob Montgomerie led me to thinking about Women in – well, My Working Life.

First there was Mom. Mary Methodist. In the Platberg Bottle Store. And Annemarie Maeder, also in the bottle store with Mom. Mom ran the shop, ran the home, played the church organ, was a member of the church Women’s Auxiliary and the MOTHs MOTHWAs. Always involved and ready to help. Annemarie, too, ran her home with husband and three kids.

In the background, too, was our ‘panel of Moms’ – Moms of all your friends. Prominent ones were Jean Coleman, Joan du Plessis, Joyce Joubert, Polly Crawley, Harriet vdMerwe, Emma Morton and others.

Next were women in Apache Oklahoma – all working, all capable: Carol Crews, Joyce Swanda, Katie Patterson, Jackie Lehnertz, Virginia Darnell, Odie Mindemann, Pug Hrbacek, Janie Payne, Peggy Manar . .

When I started my first own practice in 1981 up on the seventh floor of Eagle Building in Murchies Passage between Smith and West Streets in Durban, there was Merle Oosthuizen. I walked in as owner and boss and was lucky enough to have Merle recommended to me as a ‘receptionist.’ Well, ‘receptionist’ indeed. Where’s the appointment book? she asked. Appointment book? I said. The receipt book? Receipt book? She soon twigged my capabilities and knowledge and quietly took over, becoming the Practice Manager and the Me Manager.

Where are you staying? she asked the first day, when she learned I’d just come out of the army. Oh, in a residential hotel, I said. She nodded, satisfied. Some weeks later I breezily told her I’d rented a flat. Do you have a bed? A bed? Bedclothes? Bedclothes? Um . .

Of course she could spot easily how this child masquerading as a man hadn’t a clue. She bought all the above and more for me; and she had all the stuff you need to live a bachelor existence delivered to the flat by the bed and furniture sales people. My first duvet, a kettle, a toaster. Even a fridge.

She was so organised I could say casually to anyone who asked: ‘Oh, I have it all under control. No worries,’ as she organised my practice and my life.

She ruined me. Ever since then I have had capable practice managers run my practice and my life – and I have consequently learnt very little myself. I simply do as I’m told. Later on, twenty six years with Aitch just re-inforced that pattern at home, too.

My usual response to their pointed suggestions along the lines of roer jou gat is, ‘Um, Yes of course, I was just about to do that . . ‘

~~~oo0oo~~~

roer jou gat – move your arse; pull finger

Granny Bland

The baby in the feature picture is Mary Caskie, daughter of Alexander Caskie and Mary Craig.

Her father Alexander Caskie became mayor of Harrismith. She married JFA Bland II and gave birth to JFA Bland III.

JFA Bland II

JFA III Bland, called Frank, married Annie Watson Bain, daughter of Stewart Bain, mayor of Harrismith. So much of mayors, your worships!

Part of the stone wall which surrounded Granny Bland’s home in Stuart Street, Harrismith; and the oak tree her grand-daughter Pat Bland Cowie planted.

– Granny Bland’s garden wall in 2017 –
– Pat Bland planted this oak in her Granny Bland’s garden – 13 Stuart Street Harrismith –

Bain Sisters Annie Bland and Jessie Bell lived with Granny Mary Bland after their husbands died. Annie’s daughter Mary and granddaughter Barbara Mary also lived there for a while. Barbara now has a daughter Linda Mary, who has a daughter Mary-Kate – So much of Marys !

– Annie Bain Bland, Granny Bland, Jessie Bain Bell –

The old home now has an artist family living in it and has been beautifully restored.

Apparently this was Granny Bland’s – we grew up with it in our display cabinet

– Bacchus – the God of Wine, Music and Dance – and 95 Stuart Street –

Granny Bland had a husband and five sons. She buried her husband and three of her sons in the same grave – later she was buried there. Her only surviving son Bunty later joined them all.

Mum says Barnie Neveling had a rather caustic tongue at times – it was he who told Mum that Frank Bland’s brother – either Bobby or Bertie – had “taken his own life” – he was a pharmacist and couldn’t live with his asthma any longer. Granny Bland spoke of it as an accidental overdose. Mum didn’t think it was necessary for Barnie to tell her that.

One of Granny Bland’s other sons, Alex, who was the Royal Hotel barman, played the piano. He cut his finger and it couldn’t straighten properly, so a friend offered to pay for the op to straighten it. Dr Reitz did the op and Alex died on the operating table. One of his favourite pieces was Rachmaninoff’s Prelude – Mum couldn’t remember the key – she sang a bit of it to me – looked it up and I think it was G Minor. Mum says that whenever it was played on the radio, they had to switch the radio off because it made Granny Bland too sad.

– not sure, but we think from Granny Bland’s home –
– Granny Bland’s hot water jug – then Mary Bland Swanepoel’s –
– ‘Ceylon 1902’ – we think this is from a Bland POW – Anglo-Boer War –
– Granny Bland’s silver serviette ring – which her granddaughter Mary used for years –

~~~oo0oo~~~

For those interested, here you can see the original broken daguerreotype Sheila had, and how I digitally ‘stitched’ or ‘healed’ it with FastStone Image Viewer (lovely program):

~~~oo0oo~~~

Update from Sheila on Granny Bland’s five sons:

John Francis Adam Bland III (aka Frank) our grandfather – married Annie Bain – two daughters, Pat – born 1925 died 1974 (married Bill Cowie – two daughters, Frankie and Jema) and Mary born 1928  (married Pieter Swanepoel and had 3 kids, Barbara, Koos – me – and Sheila)

Bunty Bland – married Eve Richter – one son, John (not the golfer) – he married Ethel, and they had a son James and a daughter Janine. John & Ethel divorced.  John married a girl about 40 years his junior – I bumped into them in Durban once. Ethel, James and Janine all live in NZ. Janine has two kids, James has never married and has no kids – so out of Granny Bland’s five sons, there is no Bland to carry on the name. Granny Bland buried her husband and four of her five sons – only Bunty outlived her.  They are all buried in the same grave in HS.

Albert (Bertie ) Bland never married, pharmacist, committed suicide

Robert Bobbie) Bland never married

Alec Bland - he had a crooked little finger, which he couldn't straighten - he played the piano and this finger bugged him, so Dr Frank Reitz offered to fix it for him - a friend sponsored the op (Mum knows who it was - I've just forgotten his name) and Alec died on the operating table.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Mary Frances Bland Pictorial

A Pictorial Timeline

  • Ongoing – needs work:
  • Better dates (which will fix some wrong sequences) and
  • Captions –

Annie’s Abodes

Annie was one of the seven Royal Bains in Harrismith. She was born in the cottage behind the hotel where her parents Stewart and Janet raised all the kids.

Cottage behind Royal Hotel Harrismith

Her daughter Mary says they were Ginger, Stewart, Carrie, Jessie, Annie, Hector and Bennett. They had eight cousins who were ‘Central Bains’ – children of James Bain who owned the Central Hotel.

Mom Mary says only Hector got off his bum and got a job – he went off to become a bank manager in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. The rest hung around the hotel and had fun, got married, whatever. Ginger played polo; Carrie got married and left for Australia. Stuart did a bit of work on their farm, Sarclet, not far out of town on the Jo’burg road. None of the other six felt compelled to move on, up or out. After all, the hotel had a bar, and Dad was the Lord Mayor of the metropolis and was known as The Grand Old Man of Harrismith to many townsfolk, and ‘oupa’ to his grandkids; so enjoy! Why leave!?

– His Worship the Lord Mayor of Harrismith”, known to his many grandkids as ‘Oupa“’ Bain –

When Annie married Frank Bland, she moved out to their farm Nuwejaarsvlei on the Witsieshoek road;

– I have no pictures of Frank! –

When the farm could no longer support the horseracing they moved in with Frank’s mother Granny Mary Bland, nee Caskie, now with two daughters, Pat and Mary. When Frank died aged only 49, Annie and the girls stayed on. They were joined there by her sister Jessie when her husband Arthur Bell died in Dundee, where he had been the dentist; Then later they were joined by now married daughter Mary, husband Pieter Swanepoel, and daughter Barbara when they arrived back from his work in the Post Office in Pietermaritzburg.

Some time after that – maybe when Granny Bland died? – Annie moved into Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel; She then left Harrismith for the first time in her life and went to stay with sister Jessie down in George for a few years after Jessie’s daughter Leslie had died; When Jessie died, Annie returned to Harrismith and lived in John Annandale’s Grand National Hotel. John said to Mary he was battling to cope with hosting her, so Mary moved her home. Much to Pieter’s delight. NOT.

So within a month Mary moved Annie into the Eliza Liddell old age home. Two years or so later, Mom remembers a night hosting bowling club friends to dinner when the phone rang. It was Sister Hermien Beyers from the home. “Jou Ma is nie lekker nie,” she said. Mom said I’ll be right over and drove straight there, she remembers in her red car wearing a navy blue dress. She sat with her dear Mom Annie holding her hand that night and – experienced nursing sister that she was – knew when Annie breathed her last in the wee hours.

Her visitors the next morning included Mrs Woodcock and Miss Hawkins. Mom regrets not letting Miss Hawkins in to see Annie. She should have, she says. She remembers being fifteen years old and not being allowed to see her Dad lying in Granny Bland’s home and has always been glad that she snuck in when no-one was watching and saw his body on his bed and so knew it really was true.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Granny Bland’s Home

Part of the stone wall which surrounded Granny Bland‘s home in Stuart Street, Harrismith; and the oak tree her grand-daughter Pat Bland planted.

– Granny Bland’s garden wall –
– The oak that Pat planted –

Our great-grandmother ‘Granny Bland’ was a Caskie who married a Bland who begat Frank (JFA) Bland who married Annie Watson Bain. Bain Sisters Annie Bland and Jessie Bell lived there with Granny Bland after their husbands died. Her granddaughter – Annie’s daughter – Mary and great-granddaughter Barbara also lived there for a while, some sixty five years ago. Four generations in one home!

The old home now has an artist family living in it and has been beautifully restored.

Granny Bland’s house Stuart Street – renovated again

Honeymoon Hudson

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.

Honeymoon Hudson.jpg

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.

Honeymoon bullfight cloth Lourenco Marques
– they went to a bullfight –
Honeymoon bullfight cloth Lourenco Marques 2
– detail from the signed matador cloth / scarf –

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.

Montrose Falls, Lowveld, Crocodile river
Montrose Falls in the lowveld
LM Mocambique dockside honeymoon 1951

~~~oo0oo~~~

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:

Kruger Park 1950s 3


Kruger Park 1950s 2
Kruger Park 1950s 1

~~~oo0oo~~~

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 in museum

1936 Hudson Terraplane

Hudson Terraplane 1936 interior RH Drive

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

First ‘date’

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.

Al Debbo 1949
Al Debbo around then – 1949

~~~oo0oo~~~

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!

LM Mocambique dockside honeymoon 1951 - colorised

2021 update: They hit 70yrs marriage – platinum! Well done Ma! You deserve a medal!

1963 World Premiere of the film ZULU

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. Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lie-ies.

Zulu film poster

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”!

True!

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.

rorkes drift_not_behind-the-scenes-zulu-1964

..

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

salt cerebos

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.

Rorke's Drift building
– Rorke’s Drift battle site soon after –

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

For a better depiction of why Rorkes Drift was exaggerated is told here:

~~~oo0oo~~~

The Film:

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 filmmakers

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!”

Buthelezi’s tribute

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.

Some interesting facts about the movie:

1. It was not shot at Rorke’s Drift

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.

Now Buthelezi himself has a very interesting grandchild! She sings.

—-ends—-

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;

~~~oo0oo~~~

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!

Here’s his trailer on Vimeo.