It is the 140th anniversary of the battle of Rorke’s Drift, a minor engagement in the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879. Contravening orders, Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande led a force of roughly 4000 Zulu warriors against a unit of 150 British soldiers led by lieutenants Chard and Bromehead, based at the mission station in Rorke’s Drift. On the 22nd and 23rd of January, the Zulu forces repeatedly attacked the British defenses, and were pushed back, in a battle pitting numbers against technology. An estimated 350 Zulu warriors were killed and 500 wounded, and 17 British soldiers died and 15 were wounded.
I first heard of Rorke’s Drift when I was ten or twelve, when I first saw the film Zulu, directed in 1964 by Cy Enfield and featuring Stanley Baker and Michael Caine. It’s still one of my favorite movies, and back in the day it made a colossal impact – the Anglo-Zulu war is not something you get in the history curriculum in Italian middle grades, and therefore the movie was, to me and my friends, first, basically an adventure story, and secondly, totally open-ended; we had no idea of how it would end, every twist and turn, every new charge was a surprise.
Zulu is a great movie (yes, I know, it is historically inaccurate, so sue me) and I guess my interest for colonial history and the British empire started there.
It was therefore only to be expected that I would do my own take on Rorke’s Drift sooner or later.
Cue to Hope & Glory.
In Hope & Glory, Rorke’s Drift never happened, of course – in 1879 the consequences of the Catastrophe were in full swing, and the northern hemisphere was smack in the middle of the Thirty Years of Winter. The European enclaves in southern Africa were cut out from the main lines of communications, and for all they knew, they were the only survivors of what had once been Western Civilization. And of course the confrontation with the Zulu Empire never happened – no Kimberly Diamonds rush, no need to get belligerent.
I wrote a story, a novella, set in the Hope & Glory universe – it’s called Number the Brave, and you can get it via DriveThruRPG if you are interested (and I hope you are!) It features a meaty appendix about tech and rules written by Umberto Pignatelli, so you’ll be able to play what’s in the story.
Number the Brave (that owes its title to an old record by a band called Wishbone Ash) is my own take on Rorke’s Drift. And because the world of Hope & Glory is upside down in many ways, Number the Braves tells the story of the defense of a small fort in the Sahara, a rag-tag assemblage of civilized people facing a horde of bloodthirsty enemies.
The story is told from the point of view of the Zulu officers that find themselves in command of the Italian Bersaglieri unit defending the fort, facing the out of control, somewhat Mad Max-ish remains of the French army that tried (unsuccessfully) to carve a new French Empire in North Africa when the ice started smothering Paris.
So yes, there’s a modicum of French-bashing in the story, but it’s done in good humor. And the plot does follow closely, if not the historical events, certainly the Zulu movie plotline – down to the singing contest. Because come on, the defenders are (mostly) Italians, and Italians always sing, right? Only, they don’t sing Men of Harlech.
So here it is, another small piece of what went into building the universe of Hope & Glory – a piece that’s been travelling in my mind for forty years before I put it on the page.