Bearing the Cross by Ken Blakeson

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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.