The Local Hero of Rorke’s Drift
Did you see Stanley Baker, Michael Caine, Richard Burton and Jack Hawkins in the 1964 film Zulu? The Battle of Rorke’s Drift, 1879, happened during the Anglo-Zulu War. Britain had invaded Zululand because the Zulu nation wouldn’t supply labour for the British mines. The number of troops on each side were about equal but the British had the cannons, the breech-loading rifles and the Gatling guns. The Zulus were defending an unprovoked attack on their territory by an invader with superior weaponry, but the press claimed underdog status for the British in this one battle, when 150 British soldiers held off 4,000 Zulu warriors. That gave us the hero, John Rouse Merriott Chard VC, played by Stanley Baker. And he had very local connections (Chard not Baker).
Shortly after Chard’s ship berthed in Portsmouth, the Commander-in Chief, H.R.H.The Duke of Cambridge, arrived to greet him, with Prince Edward of Saxe Weimar. A telegram from H.M.Queen Victoria was delivered to Major Chard, welcoming him home and asking him to visit her at Balmoral. But before that he had many other engagements. The Taunton Courier & Western Advertiser takes up the story:
“RETURN OF MAJOR CHARD. On Friday Major J. R. M. Chard, the “hero of Rorke’s Drift,” arrived at Taunton on the express from Paddington. Major Chard landed at Portsmouth on Thursday from the troopship Egypt, and in company with his brother-in-law, Major Barrett, North Curry, he proceeded at once to London, where he reported himself at the War Office.
"As soon as it was known that the gallant officer would pass through Taunton a special meeting of the Town Council was convened, and it was resolved that the Mayor and Corporation should present an address of welcome to the distinguished visitor on behalf of the inhabitants of the borough. On the platform was the gallant major’s sister, Mrs Barrett, and other members of the family. Hearty cheers burst forth and continued while the illustrious visitor greeted in the most affectionate manner his most intimate relations; again three cheers were given, and then a way was made to the carriage in waiting to convey the visitor Moredon. Between Taunton and North Curry the gallant hero of the day was frequently greeted with signs of welcome. At Blackbrook a party was assembled and several bouquets were thrown into the carriage. At the foot of Mattocks-tree hill a simple arch of evergreens and flags was extended across the road, and a little crowd of country folks gave a hearty cheer as the carriage passed. The school children at Thorne were also waiting to cheer the hero; and so on from point to point of the journey. At Burrow-post the crossways to Knapp and Wrantage, the scene became animated; some thousands of people had assembled including two or three score of Horsemen. and the occupants of many carriages. Across the road floated lines of streamers, and a well-made arch bore the inscription ‘Welcome to North Curry.’ The band struck the air ‘See the conquering hero comes,’ and rounds of cheers arose on all sides. As soon as silence was partially obtained the Rev, R. C. L. Browne, vicar of the parish who was well mounted, came forward and read an elaborately prepared address of welcome which evoked still more cheers.”
Among the numerous messages of sympathy and floral tributes at Chard’s funeral was a wreath of laurel leaves sent by the Queen, who had remained in contact with Chard and frequently enquired about his health. The wreath bore the handwritten inscription "A mark of admiration and regard for a brave soldier from his sovereign".
Postscript: In May of this year it was reported that Zulu, along with Four Feathers, The Great Escape & Dam Busters, has been named as films that could ‘encourage far-right sympathies’ by the Research Information and Communications Unit, run as part of Prevent, the government’s counter-terror operation.
A Date For Your Diary
On Tuesday 10th October 2023 Dave Evans will be giving a presentation on Local History to the members of Stoke Women's Institute at the village hall. This meeting, which starts at 7 pm, has been made an 'Open Meeting', which means that anyone is able to attend - female or male. There will be a £4 entrance fee for non-members.
This will be a photographic trip around the village, looking at a few of the old characters and where they lived and worked. If you are 'local' come along and enjoy your heritage (and put Dave right where he's wrong!). If you are, like me, a 'comer in', join us and take a peek at the back story of this amazing village