The first impact was that I came to realize that horses and I were not destined to get along. At the little mission station there was an old church horse. I was told that we could take it to the local shop about a mile or so away. I had never been on a horse before, but that did not worry me since the horse was described as “docile”. It would look after me. Once mounted, the first problem surfaced. The horse had no intention of leaving the mission. I shook the reins, slapped the horse on the side, and tried to spur it on (sans spurs, of course). I imagined that I was a cowboy, as my grandfather had been in Calgary at the end of the 19th century. To no avail. Eventually an old Zulu gentleman offered to lead the horse. So a small group of us headed to the shop, probably for a cold drink. I remember that we kids took turns in riding the nag.
Shopping completed, I mounted the steed and turned it towards the distant mission station. As much as the horse had been reluctant to leave the mission, it now wanted to be back. So off it took at what seemed to me to be a full gallop – probably a mild trot. I clung for dear life to the reins, the neck, the saddle for the duration of the journey. Reaching the gate of its little paddock, the horse stopped abruptly, and, of course, I didn’t. Fortunately I was not hurt as I hit the sandy ground.
That’s enough of horses for me, I thought. Forever.
However, that was not to be the case. A couple of days later, we planned a day trip to Rorke’s Drift – the location of one of the most famous battles in British military history, where 139 men fought off a 4000-strong Zulu army (see 1964 Michael Caine movie ZULU). Eleven Victoria Crosses (the highest British award for bravery) were awarded – more than in any other battle in British military history. The horse was to accompany us, mainly to carry our picnic supplies, but also to be ridden if we wanted. As I had already experienced the pleasures of riding, I offered to hold the horse while a friend of mine mounted. The horse obviously sensed my disdain for its abilities and promptly stood on my sandled foot. It was big, and I was little. Ow. Fortunately no bones were broken.
I then understood where the term “nightmares” comes from - and that is the closest I've been to horses since.
|Cairns and memorials to British soldiers|
The second implications of this trip to Zululand was much deeper. Isandlwana was the site of the worst defeat the British Army had ever suffered at the hands of a “native” army. All around the hill we saw cairns of white stones, marking the spots where piles of bodies and bones of dead British soldiers were later found. As we kids played in the dry river courses (we call them “dongas”), we found nails from ammunition boxes, buttons from uniforms, and so on. For a boy with an active imagination it was fertile ground for countless dreams of heroism. And coming from a family most of whose roots were from Britain, I had grown up listening to stories of gallantry in battle.
So I started to read about the Zulu Wars, as they were called. It didn’t take me long to suspect that there was more than one truth. Most of our history books depicted the Zulus as aggressive warriors who threatened the White settlers, and who needed to be punished. But the more I read, the more I believed that the British were the aggressors. Not only did they annex huge tracts of land, but they were intent (in about 1876) on imposing a Canadian-like federation under British rule throughout southern Africa, including on two Boer republics and on all the native tribes.
|Memorial to Zulu dead|
So, thank you, Lord Chelmsford. Without you and your blunders I may not have learned so much about the human condition so early in life.
Stan - Thursday
Stan - Thursday