Review: Rorke’s Drift

Hooray for the ancient art of story telling.  When did you last come across someone who could use a phrase such as “that long, dark, desperate night…” and keep a wide-eyed audience enthralled for over an hour?

Rob Caskie is the protégé of the late great David Rattray, and like Rattray is becoming renowned across the continents not just for his intimate knowledge and understanding of the Anglo Zulu war, but for his passionate verbal recreations.

Last week I had the honour of hearing him, not on the battlefields themselves – his normal stamping ground – but at the Twelve Apostles Hotel south of Camps Bay.  The ages of the audience members ranged from about 8 to 80.  Without exception we were held spellbound by his vivid recounting of the events of the night of 22nd January 1879 when a small group of British soldiers held out against 4 000 of the fiercest fighting men the world has ever known.

We were transported into the dark surrounding Rorke’s Drift that night, the heat, the confusion, the smell, the noises.  We felt the gut-wrenching fear of the men voluntarily trapped in the hospital amongst the stench of their disease-ridden comrades, the vulnerability of those cowering behind their greatest defence – a wall of biscuit boxes, and the horror of the dagger that, in the onomatopoeic Zulu tongue, is known by the noise it makes as it slices into a man’s belly.

We got to know some of the men, the wonderfully named Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, Henry Albert Hook the cook and George Smith the chaplain with his big square red beard striding about handing out ammo and urging, “Don’t swear boys!  For Christ’s sake don’t swear!” and we learned some of the astounding acts of courage by the British Army that accorded the battle for Rorke’s Drift the honour of the most VCs awarded in a single night.

And we were left reeling by the astonishing feats of the Zulu warriors, many of whom ran more than 20km, massacred the troops at Isandlwana and then, heady with victory, went on to run a further 16km and swim the Tugela River before so nearly overcoming the men at Rorke’s Drift.

As Caskie came to an end and we drifted out of the conference room into the real world, I was thrilled to see the burning crescent of the new moon sinking into the sea.  It was surreal enough to give me a few more minutes of adjustment before I came back to myself and began to make inroads into the canapés.

Caskie is in demand for highlighting parallels in how businesses should be run.  He should also be in demand from governments in showing how history should be taught.  And not least by all parents, for inspiration next time they find themselves around a campfire.


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