The following is an excerpt from my next book, Kismet Quick: a travelogue/guide/ramble/rant through 40 of Norfolk’s towns and villages (I’ve visited each via public transport). Kismet Quick is now available to buy here. Check this site for regular updates & follow the journey in photographs here
We went through a village called Docking: the birthplace of George Smith. An absolute beast of a man, Smith came in at just under seven foot. He weighed eighteen stone and sported a mighty red beard. He was on missionary work in South Africa in the latter half of the 19th century when he found himself stationed at the scenic Rorke’s Drift.
Had George Smith been at Rorke’s Drift at any other time in human history, he would have had a splendid time of it. He could have brought a picnic and maybe even stopped to rustle up a tasteful watercolour for above the mantelpiece. As it was, however, Smith arrived at the mission post just in time to see it kitted out for some sort of defensive action.
It had transpired that the Zulu community weren’t too keen on the British setting up shop in the middle of one of their most cherished drifts. They made their displeasure known by getting a sizeable clique together and making their way towards the mission post en masse. Their numbers totalled four thousand. The British, on the other hand, barely had enough men to stage a decent sized musical.
The obvious solution was to run. As with most obvious solutions, there was a snag. Along with the hundred or so troops stationed in the drift, there were also around three hundred civilians, many of whom were patients in the on-site hospital. The thought of running away whilst trying to carry people on stretchers was a little too Chucklevision-esque for the army’s liking. They decided to stay and defend their keep.
When the Zulus arrived, Docking’s own George Smith walked up and down the rows of British artillerymen handing out bullets. He became known as George ‘Ammunition’ Smith: mainly because time was too pressing to come up with something wittier. Other suggestions for his nickname were George ‘Bullet Handing Man’ Smith and George ‘Oi, you, get me some fucking bullets! The fuckers are ten feet away!’ Smith. Neither of which caught on.
Not forgetting his religious duty, Smith shouted motivational quotes from the bible throughout (presumably avoiding the ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ part, which can dampen the mood at such events). He was also heard to shout, ‘Don’t swear boys, just shoot.’ To which the soldiers muttered under their breath that it was ‘easy for that prick to say.’
In all, eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the men who famously defended Rorke’s Drift. Smith was denied one on the grounds that he was an assistant chaplain and therefore a civilian, not a soldier. Instead, he was awarded a full-time job as an army chaplain, which was clearly just as good. Nor was he represented in the 1964 masterpiece, Zulu. The casting director possibly couldn’t find an actor large enough to portray him, what with Brian Blessed being, at the time of filming, only half complete.
That’s all for now, folks.