BBC Radio 4, 7 August 2009
The defence of Rorke's Drift against the Zulus is one of those seminal
events in British military history which demonstrates why the country enjoyed
such power during the colonial era. Immortalized in the 1964 film Zulu, it was one of those
occasions where a small group of soldiers battled valiantly against impossible odds to defend a particular piece of territory.
Bearing the Cross showed what happened to a group of veterans
of this campaign, once they had returned to Britain and received the Victoria Cross for their
efforts. One of them, William Jones (Nigel Anthony) ended up in a re-enactment
performance as part of Buffalo Bill's touring Wild West stage show; the others
tried to make sense of their lives as best they could. The main action of Ken Blakeson's play took place at a military reunion in South Wales, close to where many of the soldiers grew up; ostensibly
they were due to be congratulated for their part in the defence of Rorke's Drift, but they discovered to their cost that most
of their fellow-citizens didn't want to know them any more. One landlord (Robert
Blythe) despised them as ignorant servants of an incompetent military command, who bestowed the medals on the soldiers
as a way of covering up their own mistakes. Like many so-called 'heroic' battles in the past, Rorke's
Drift could have been avoided if the British army had appointed some halfway decent generals, rather than relying on
privilege and 'good breeding.'
Director Gordon House demonstrated the seamy truth behind the campaign;
whereas the soldiers firmly believed they were fighting for queen and country, they were in reality nothing more than expendable
pawns in a disastrous military offensive (which turned into a desperate defensive mission). All three soldiers featured in this play - whose
lives were based on fact - died in desperate circumstances, disowned both by the government and the people around them:
William Jones died prematurely in 1913, his brother Robert (Sebastian Harcourt) committed suicide, while
Harry Hook (John Strickland) fell victim to tuberculosis.