Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift, Private Frederick Hitch VC, and Jung’s theory of synchronicity

We attended a fund-raising quiz supper at out local church last night. For nearly four hours, nine tables of eight diners battled for the top prize (which consists of being given the honour of setting the questions for next year’s quiz). I “shone” in only one section – about cover versions of pop songs – but my wife was in fine form across a range of topics. How many people know that Eduardo Paolozzi designed the murals at Tottenham Court Road Underground Station and that the world’s most expensive coffee is made using beans which have passed through the digestive system of a civet? Well, Mrs. G does!

One question our table failed to answer was about a recipient of the Victoria Cross who is buried in Chiswick. Turned out to be one of the eleven men to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, the January 1879 encounter immortalised in Zulu (“Steady, lad!”). No single engagement has resulted in the award of so many VCs. Private Frederick Hitch is buried near us in the graveyard of St Nicholas’s Church, Chiswick. He’s the young man seen briefly at 5’12” emptying a canteen of water over his head in this video made up of scenes from the film:

Private Hitch and Corporal William Allen were both awarded the VC for “holding together at all costs a most dangerous post, raked in reverse by the enemy's fire from the hill.” The London Gazette of 2nd May 1879 goes on:  “…they were both severely wounded, but their determined conduct enabled the patients to be withdrawn from the hospital, and when incapacitated by their wounds from fighting, they continued, as soon as their wounds had been dressed, to serve out ammunition to their comrades during the night.”

Hitch, who fathered eight children, had a rough old time of it after being discharged from the army after the Anglo-Zulu War due to the severity of his wounds, but ended up as a cabbie, living in Chiswick. He was buried here in 1913 with full military honours. Many cabbies attended his funeral, and to this day there’s a Fred Hitch Gallantry Award for taxi-drivers.

Apart from his splendid grave, Hitch is commemorated by an English Heritage blue plaque on his old house at 62 Cranbrook Road (see above).

I was just reading about Hitch on the internet this afternoon when I noticed that E.F. Bartlam had posted a new article on his Flimsy Cups blog (read it here), about how he and his son yesterday conducted a battle between British soldiers and Zulu warriors using model soldiers. I realise that scientists generally dismiss Jung’s concept of Synchronicity – the idea of two events unrelated by cause seemingly coming together in a meaningful manner – but, then again, scientists also believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming, so what do they know?

At the very least, it’s a striking coincidence.

I don’t know if British children are allowed (or have any interest in) imagining the sort of battles that marked their nation’s colonial past, but it’s nice to learn that there’s a kid in Mississippi doing it. (By the way, the Zulus won last night – again!)

Fitch lost his medal (the circumstances are disputed) and had to buy a replacement. The original came up for auction after he died, and his sons scraped the £85 together to buy it. His Victoria Cross – and its replacement – are now in the museum of the 24th Regiment of Foot in Brecon.

Our table came a creditable second in last night's quiz. We always seem to come second. I'm beginning to suspect this may be my fault, because it certainly isn't my wife's.


  1. We had a rematch yesterday. The Boy learns quickly...he added an extra company of British regulars. His flanks were mauled but held and the Zulu's were routed.

    This all started two years ago when I got fed up with watching Toy Story 3. I forced him and his cousins to sit down and watch Zulu.

    It's an easy interest for him to indulge in our house. These are my interests but, he's taken to them with his own passion.

    1. A serving soldier who has served in Iraq and Aghanistan and who's a member of our congregation gave a talk during last week's church service and - inevitably - cited "Zulu" as a major influence on his life. I suspect that film, "The Great Escape" and "The Dambusters" have done more to shape the moral outlook of today's middle-aged British chap than all the spoutings of the wet, hand-wringing lefties who "lead" the Anglican Church put together!

      Do let us know what happens in your son's re-staging of the Anglo-Zulu War. Perhaps he'll eventually manage to reverse the result at isandlwana.


  2. ZULU (The battle of Rorke's Drift) by Alan Gray

    "Zulu's attacking, hundreds Sir" the sentry did report

    "Hundreds?" said Bromhead glass to his eye

    "Dear chap you missed off a nought !"

    So swiftly they came where none stood before

    out of the grass they appeared

    Big giant fellows muscled and lithe

    Banging hide shields with short handled spears

    Transfixed by the sight fear in our eyes

    the Sergeant cried out "fix bayonets"

    "You're British" he said "let's see some pride"

    and my heart danced a jig in my tunic

    The order "fire !" was barked in our ears

    Brave Zulu's fell like Martyrs

    Our barrels glowed with bullets expelled

    and the Boer said "that's for starters"

    Words rang true relentless they came

    engulfing the red with the brown

    The blood of the brave was spilt on that day

    like seeds on hallowed ground

    Night brought respite exhausted we lay

    nursing our wounds like sick dogs

    Zulu's had gone quick as the came

    drifting away like a fog

    Morning came like a thief in the night

    stealing our dreams as we slept

    Brave were the men who stood for the fight

    so few seemed so inept

    For as the sun crept over the hills

    and warmed us with his breath

    Ten thousand Zulu we espied swathed in silhouette

    Hearts they sank from our mouths to our boots

    as we looked on with intrepid fear

    When an old Zulu chief from afar waved his shield

    we sensed that our ending was near

    Then strange things occured, did the Lord intervene

    or was it a dream we implored

    For the Zulu's turned from the front to the rear

    leaving us lonely standing in awe

    Up went a cheer gallant men wept

    for the pure gift of life they received

    "Bloody British" the old Boer muttered

    It's heroes they've reprieved, it's heroes they've reprieved...

    Hi, I wrote this a few year ago. Hope you can use wishes, Alan

    1. Thank you very much for posting your stirring poem Alex - much appreciated.

    2. Thank you Scott, appreciated Great site by the way...Alan