Amateur Fiction: "Zulu" Pastiche
Webmistress's Note: The following short story was taken from "The Voice of Youth" website in 2001 (and has since disappeared). The story is obviously based directly on "Zulu" and its main character, a married thief who has a boil and fights at Rorke's Drift, is obviously modeled directly on Hooky. But the author identifies so strongly with this character that he cannot resist the temptation to turn him into a bit of a saint . (He steals food for needy children? Yeah, right.) Then, suddenly and rather gratuitously, the author kills him off in battle with a blow to the head. The heroism, the defiant brandy-drinking, and the vandalism are all amputated, and in place of an affirmative conquering hero we have a pathetic suffering hero. I wish to thank the author, wherever he may be, for sharing this "Zulu" pastiche. I too wrote a long thing that was slavishly derivative of "Zulu" when I was a kid, but the manuscript has been lost. This is my only surviving example of what I believe to be a children's folk genre.
The Battle of Rorke's Drift
. . .by Randol VV. Hooper
As he sat, half asleep in the searing South African sun. Private First Class Henry Davids of B company, 2/24th regiment was awakened by rifle fire. He jumped up, quickly manned his rifle, and looked sharply and slowly around. Davids, his black hair plastered to his skull from sweat, breathed a sigh of relief as he saw a soldier clad in red firing out into the desert. "Probably hunting for a decent dinner, not that he would get anything." he thought to himself. Henry settled back into sleep, dreaming of how he had come to this bug infested inferno.
His enlistment had been a punishment for stealing nearly one hundred pounds worth of silver from a shop in Somersetshire. He hadn't been able to keep from stealing, for he was born into a home devoid of fatherly influence and support. His mother, a cook for a wealthy regent, made barely enough to keep him in school and alive. As soon as he was old enough to realize his dilemma, he dropped out of school and set out on his own. He had barely been out on the streets when he was caught stealing an apple from a local grocer and sent to an orphanage to live. Living in the orphanage was not really very bad. He had a roof over his head and a halfway decent meal, though he had to work very hard for it. Instead of being adopted, he was released at the age of eighteen and sent to work in one of the factories, packaging food products. With his meager wages, Henry was able to get a rather small apartment and marry at the age of twenty-three. Later, he lost his job because he had been caught stealing some of the tinned food. It wasn't that he needed the food, he just often gave the food to the dirty children he saw on the street or others who would beg for money as he made his way home. Once he lost his job, Henry returned to the only life he had ever known, that of stealing and begging. It was during this time that he was caught for stealing the silver, tried and found guilty, and this is what had sentenced to him to this fate.
Henry managed well in the forces. He sent his regular pay, though meager, to his wife who had remained by his side even through his many problems. At least she will have money to do well for herself, he thought, for he felt she deserved much better than he.
South Africa was a far cry from his home back in southern England. He was sent to Africa to help keep the peace between the rival tribes, and to keep them from uniting against the British Empire. He had seen combat in the ninth Kaffir war, and had been promoted to PFC for the time he had spent in service, though he could not be commissioned as an officer unless he re-enlisted at the end of his twenty year term. He had served ten years of that term, and would be out when he was forty-five.
Suddenly, Henry was reawakened by the Surgeon-Major, J.H. Reynolds. "What is it this time, Davy, another boil?" The Major said. "Yes sir, how did you know?" Henry replied, removing his tunic.
"For every bullet wound I treat, I expect to lance at least three boils. Now hold still."
For a brief instant, Henry felt pain, then the cool pressing of a small dressing on the wound. He put his tunic back on and headed back to the barracks for a little rest.
When he got to the barracks, there were a number of people there, all talking at once. He headed to his bunk and sat down to rest a little. All of a sudden, the door was flung open to reveal a red-clad officer. Henry jumped down from his bunk, standing at attention.
"At ease, men," the officer said. "I am Lieutenant Granville Bromhead, your new commander here. For those of you who don't know, a column of Zulu warriors recently destroyed the entire second battalion, consisting of 1.500 soldiers, officers, and support staff. There were no survivors." This caused a stir among the troops. "We have received warning that they are moving this way, with about 4000 of their soldiers. We cannot escape, for they would catch us in the open where we would stand no chance. If we stay here with the ammunition we have we should be able to hold; but if we lose, it will allow the Zulu warriors to enter the colonies and massacre the citizens. Your orders are to build a wall out of the mealy bags and biscuit tins that are in the warehouse. They will be here by dawn, gentlemen. Good day," he said and left.
At once the soldiers began to move and in a few minutes you could see the bags begin to pile up. Two wagons were overturned to build part of the wall, which then was reinforced with a layer of mealy bags. By nightfall the wall was finished. It stood four feet high in most places, and was three feet thick from a layer of bags, biscuit tins, and another layer of bags. Some men from the Royal Engineer Corps who were working in the valley came up to report sighting the Zulu army's advance of the drift. Some civilians and natives fled leaving about 137 soldiers and officers to man the defense against 4000 Zulu warriors. Few of the soldiers slept that night as they reflected on their desperate situation.
The reveille sounded at about four A.M., and the soldiers began to pour out into the darkness, groping for their uniforms, their Martini-Henry rifles and their replenished cartridge boxes. The dawn came early that day. revealing the soldiers of B company, 2/24th regiment to the Zulu warriors. There was a Sergeant standing in the background, shouting orders.
"Present rifle," the Sergeant shouted, and the ground thudded with the stocks of rifles being slammed against the ground.
"Affix bayonet" came another shout, followed by the metallic "clack" of the bayonets being locked into place.
"Load cartridge!," the Sergeant shouted again, followed by a loud "click shack" of the bolt being opened and closed.
"Shoulder arms!" the final order came - the only one followed by silence.
The soldiers didn't have to wait long for the Zulu forces to show themselves. Roughly one hundred of them began to sneak up to the fortifications, not fifty yard from the soldiers. The Zulu stood there, chanting, and banging the ends of their iXwa. or spears against their shields, waving their knobkerrie, clubs in the air. The British began to fire in orderly volleys, but soon the order came to fire at will.
Henry stood firing his rifle at the enemy who were just standing there chanting. As the familiar smell of gun smoke filled his nostrils, he thought that it must be some sort of pre-battle prayer for the Zulu weren't this stupid. He was right. They pulled back leaving the bodies of their comrades behind. There seemed to be sixty, maybe a hundred bodies out there. A cheer erupted, which was quickly silenced by the officers. Not one of the Zulu soldiers was visible in the tall grass surrounding the fortifications, and the movement of Zulu troops towards the fort for the first assault came unnoticed.
Suddenly, the air was filled with chanting and the loud bang of a iXwa spear against a cowhide shield. The warrior stood up out of rifle range. They chanted in conjunction with their leader who was somewhere on one of the ridges surrounding the fortifications. Then, the chanting stopped. Loud, guttural sounds echoed. The Zulu warriors began to move forward, gaining speed.
"At one hundred yards, volley fire," the order went up.
Henry fired his rifle with the rest, managing to get off about ten shots before the fighting turned hand to hand. His commanding officer was somehow cut off from his comrades in the confusion, surrounded by Zulu. Henry rushed them, and he shot one, while catching another on the edge of his bayonet. The Zulu spears were too short, so he began to hack his way out of the mess toward his commanding officer. Then a Zulu carrying a knobkerrie managed to get past the gauntlet of fire and behind Henry. The Zulu raised the heavy club, and brought it down on Henry's unprotected skull; his helmet had been knocked off during the heavy fighting. The blow was fatal, the club imbedded in Henry's skull. The Zulu warrior who had felled him was shot by the Lieutenant, who managed to escape from the remaining Zulu. Henry was dragged off to a bush which shaded him and protected him from further injury. He lay there, unconscious, but was soon carted away to a nearby makeshift hospital where he later died.
For Private First Class Henry Davids, the battle was over. But for the rest of the soldiers of B company, 2/24th regiment the battle would rage on against hopeless odds for twelve more grueling hours. Wave after wave of Zulu warriors surged over the mealy bag ramparts to be struck down by the more than 200,000 rifle cartridges expended that day. As night fell the brave Zulu retreated into the darkness having left behind corpses of 370 of their comrades. The British won the battle, with odds 40 to 1 against them, spelling the final doom for the Zulu empire . Eleven Victoria Crosses, the British award for highest valor, were given to honor those in the battle. No other battle in history has equaled this number. PFC Henry Davids was among the recipients.