Skip to comments.Wales: Campaign to improve Rorke's Drift hero's grave [1964 Movie Zulu Men of Harlech]
Posted on 06/29/2014 7:34:22 AM PDT by bd476
June 29, 2014 06:00
By Robin Turner
His role in the battle of Rorkes Drift was immortalised in the 1964 movie Zulu, yet James Owens grave is marked with just a few rotten pieces of wood bearing his name.
Now a campaign is underway to re-dedicate and refurbish the overgrown cemetery plot in South Wales, which is the last resting place of this hero of yesteryear.
Private Owen was portrayed by singer Ivor Emmanuel in the Stanley Baker produced movie about the 1879 battle in South Africa. There, some 150 British soldiers a number of whom were Welsh successfully held off a force of 4,000 Zulu warriors.
In the film, Emmanuel, as Pte Owen, leads the weary British soldiers in singing to raise their morale and to match the spiritual songs of the Zulu forces. At the end, he leads the stirring singing of Men of Harlech.
Pte Owen survived the battle and died in Swansea aged 87 in 1938 while living with his son in Kemble Street, Brynmill.
His grave is now in Bethel Cemetery in the citys Sketty area. Royal Marines bugler Sgt Tim Needham, who has worked to restore a number of graves of Rorkes Drift survivors, wants Pte Owens last resting spot to be given greater attention.
He said: Im hoping to bring some attention to the fact a few rotten fragments of a fallen wooden cross bearing the name James Owen are all that remains to mark the plot, and that given his part in such a legendary action there should surely be something a little more fitting to mark this soldiers final resting place.
Im sure most people will be familiar with the legendary battle which took place during the Zulu War of 1879 and resulted in the award of 11 Victoria Crosses and later depicted in Zulu.
Given the increased interest in marking Rorkes Drift graves in the past few years, it would be fantastic to stir some local interest in finally resolving this sad situation.
Born in Swansea and initially a tin worker, James Owen used the alias David Lewis on joining the British Army for reasons that are not clear but it was not unusual for men to give false names when joining the army at that time.
He signed on with 25 Brigade at Brecon and was posted to 2nd Battalion 24th Foot in 1877.
He served for two years and eight months, including a year and eight months in South Africa and was discharged in August 1879.
An Injury Assessment Board held at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, in the same year confirmed he was suffering from Valvular Disease of the Heart caused by being under canvas for six months and constantly exposed to climatic vicissitudes.
He was awarded a pension of six pence per day for six months and was eventually buried with military honours.
At the time a wreath was sent by former comrades at Rorkes Drift, including Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne, portrayed in Zulu by Nigel Green.
Deborah Owen-Smith, who lives in Snowdonia, is the great great great granddaughter of James Owen.
She said: Over the years our family has spread far and wide but a number of family members know of the role James Owen played at Rorkes Drift.
We hope to re-dedicate the grave and raise more attention for his last resting place and hope to raise some money to restore it.
It would be nice to get a headstone to ensure his bravery at Rorkes Drift is not forgotten.
150 exhausted British Soldiers, including the many Welsh soldiers who had been recruited from Southeast Wales, had to somehow defend themselves against an onslaught of 4,000 Zulu warriors
Despite being denied reinforcements, being greatly outnumbered, low on morale and low on supplies, the British Regiment prevailed.
Thirteen Victoria Crosses were awarded after the Battle of Rorke's Drift, including one to Private James Owen.
The Battle of Rorke's Drift was the subject of the 1964 movie Zulu. Richard Burton narrated. The movie also was Michael Caine's first film role. At first, Caine had lost his chance at the role due to what he described as a terrible audition.
When the actor who had been given the role, fell ill, the director offered the role to Michael Caine on the night before the cast was due to fly to South Africa to film.
Zulu 7 minute clip featuring Richard Burton narrating the list of men who after valiantly defending Rorke's Drift, received the Victoria Cross.
Zulu 13 minute clip
The seven years long Siege of Harlech in 1460 was the original inspiration for the song Men of Harlech written in 1861. The filmmakers then revised the lyrics for the 1964 movie Zulu.
"Just who were the Men of Harlech and how did they come to be associated with a bloody battle in Africa? The answer is to be sought through the mists of time and the story starts in the year 1283 when King Edward I ordered a mighty castle to be built at Harlech on the coast of Merionethshire in north Wales.
This was just one of a ring of great castles designed to prevent the Welsh from challenging the sovereignty of England. The task of designing and building the castle was given to the Master of the King's Work in Wales, James of St. George.
This man, one of the great military engineers of history, built a castle of the concentric type defended at the back by the sea and at the front by massive towers and walls up to twelve feet thick.
The defences of Harlech Castle were first tested in 1294 when a 37 strong garrison fought off Welsh besiegers led by Madog.
In the next century the castle became neglected but was repaired before the occasion of the revolt led by Owain Glyndwr.
After a long and grim siege Harlech was captured by Owain in 1404. The revolt could not be sustained, however, and the castle was recovered for the crown in 1408.
A period of comparative peace was brought to an end by the Wars of the Roses. In 1460 the castle was held by Lancastrian forces and endured a siege which is said to have lasted seven years.
The constable, Dafydd ap Ieuan, and his garrison held out long after other Lancastrian commanders in England and Wales had surrendered to the Yorkist faction and Alan Reid (in The Castles of Wales, 1973, ISBN 0 85097 185 3) tells us the following story.
"Dafydd ... widened his fame by replying to one summons to surrender with the boast that he had once held a castle in France so long against siege that all the old women of Wales talked of it; and now he would hold a castle in Wales until all the old women of France talked of it."Eventually famine forced surrender and Dafydd handed the castle to Lord Herbert and his brother Sir Richard Herbert on honourable terms.
King Edward IV at first refused to honour the terms of the settlement but Sir Richard Herbert, out of respect for the bravery of the defenders, is said to have offered his own life in exchange for Dafydd's rather than see his promise broken. These defenders were the Men of Harlech commemorated in the song.
Men of Harlech from Data Wales
As “The Washing of the Spears” notes, there were 150 men at Roarke’s Drift, but only 80 trained riflemen. The rest were in the infirmary, cooks, supply guys, and even of the 80, they were all primarily engineers, not riflemen. It makes their defense all the more astounding.
Stanley Baker, a great actor, died too young. He also was a socialist if I recall correctly.
Yes, it sure does. That's incredible! Thank you, LS!
I have studied the battle of Rorke’s Drift extensively throughout the years. It’s simply incredible that there were any survivors, especially since these same Zulu warriers had slaughtered so many British troops just days before.
I understand that's one reason for the successful defense of Rorke's Drift: those Zulus had outrun their supply line and had to pull back.
Yes, along with being a successful actor and director, he was also a very wealthy socialist. Apparently he received much criticism for it, too.
I dare not post on this thread because the last time I did - to praise the wonderful movie “Zulu” - I had a nutty freeper ream me out because Stanley Baker was a socialist commie! He still made a good movie, though.
It is true that the 4,000 Zulus at Rorke’s Drift were a phalanx of the 20,000 Zulu army that defeated and killed 1,300 British troops at the Battle of Isandlwana in January, but I’ve never read anywhere that they retreated from lack of supplies.
Yes, Stanley Baker was probably my favorite movie actor during the period he was making movies. A great presence and a fine actor.
Two of my favorite movies. ZULU and ZULU DAWN.
Thank you Ancient Man. More Victoria Crosses were awarded for Rorke's Drift than any battle ever. The men proved their courage and valor that day. Each man who received the Victoria Cross deserves the greatest respect.
I just now found a very clear audio of Sir Richard Burton reading off the names of the men who received the Victoria Cross in The Battle of Rorke's Drift:
Zulu 07. The V.C. Roll and Men Of Harlech
Including narration by Richard Burton (tracks 1 & 7), this is the original version of the very brief but effective score by John Barry for the 1964 movie. Listen for the strings behind all that brass and percussion.
I might add that the primary Zulu warrior’s weapon was the assegai iron spear, and while they did possess a few rifles, they weren’t technically trained to use them. Thus, I don’t know what kind of supplies they might have outrun. As Nepalese natives, I’m sure they could have lived off the land, as they had done for centuries.
Martin Scorcese several years ago hosted film night at Radio City Music Hall. He chose “Zulu” as his opening night movie. To see those credits across that giant screen and to hear that amazing score was to die for!
My mother took me to see this when it first came out because her grandfather had fought in Africa under Lord Kitchener. We saw all of these movies including “Khartoum.”
Thanks, bd476. That’s a great part of the movie!
Burton’s narration is a thing of beauty in that film. Oh, if he had only sustained his greatness and not gone for the dirty lucre!
Zulus are natives of Nepal? But seriously, whatever source it was said their supplies were ground grain, beer, and water. They would be resupplied by women from their villages. The men of the impi could carry several days’ worth, but this group had run out.
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