A picture in the Queen’s collection celebrating the Battle of Rorke’s Drift — one of the proudest moments in British military history — has been given a trigger warning following a Black Lives Matter style review.
For the last 140 years, the painting by Lady Butler, The Defence of Rorke’s Drift, has been left to speak for itself. It shows red-coated, pith-helmeted soldiers heroically defending their mission station redoubt as vast hordes of Zulu warriors — off-screen — threaten to overrun them and disembowel them with their assegais.
But now, at the insistence of the Royal collection’s governing Trust, the painting has been relabelled to warn viewers of its potentially offensive connotations: “connected to colonialism and Imperialism”.
According to the Telegraph:
A spokesman for the Royal Collection said the governing Trust “has an ongoing programme of activities to research, display, loan and publish detailed records of objects in the Royal Collection, in order for a wide range of audiences to learn about the Collection and its history”.
Presumably the governing Trust has an extremely low opinion of the intelligence of its audience. In what possible way could a battle fought by British soldiers against Zulu warriors in Southern Africa in 1879 not be “connected to colonialism and Imperialism”?
And how does this trigger warning add anything to the viewers’ understanding of the incident?
The Battle of Rorke’s Drift has quite understandably imprinted itself in the British national consciousness because — a bit like Crecy and Agincourt — it symbolises the triumph of British pluck, verve, and sang froid against seemingly insuperable odds.
Around 150 British and colonial troops — mostly from the 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot — held off between 3,000 and 4,000 Zulus in one of the most unlikely victories in British military history.
No fewer than 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded to the defenders — the largest ever for a single engagement. Cynics have since suggested that this was largely a damage limitation exercise, designed to persuade the British public to support the military campaign after a near-unmitigated disaster.
Before the Rorke’s Drift encounter, a British force of 1,300 had been wiped out by the Zulus at Isandlwana — a particularly shaming loss given the British were armed with modern Martini-Henry rifles, two 7-pounder field guns, and a rocket battery, while the Zulus were armed mainly with iron spears (assegais) and old muskets.
But that shouldn’t be allowed to detract from the extraordinary heroism and pluck shown by the garrison at Rorke’s Drift, many of whom were already sick or wounded before the battle began.
Their courage was celebrated in one of the all-time great British war movies, Zulu, with the two British commanding officers, John Chard of the Royal Engineers and Stanley Bromhead, played by Stanley Baker and Michael Caine.
Its dialogue has since entered the national vernacular, such as the exchange — shortly before the battle — between the bewhiskered Colour Sgt Bourne and a nervous private:
Mr Witt [drunken missionary about the leave the compound]: Death awaits you! You have made a covenant with death and with Hell you are in agreement! You’re all going to die! Don’t you realise? Can’t you see? You’re all going to die! DIE! Death awaits you all! You’re all going to die!
Private Cole: He’s right. Why is it us? Why us?
Colour Sgt. Bourne: Because we’re here, lad. Nobody else. Just us.
Which is more likely to inspire the next generation of young Britons to achieve great things: that inspirational painting and that magnificent dialogue? Or some cowed, politically correct, box-ticking museum curator kowtowing to a race-baiting Marxist thug outfit with some tedious wibble about “colonialism and imperialism”?