you are currently viewing: Discussion Forum


The Rorke's Drift VC Discussion Forum
(View Discussion Rules)


PLEASE NOTE: This forum is now inactive and is provided for reference purposes only. The live forum is available at

(Back To Topic List)

DateOriginal Topic
16th July 2003Just wondering
By John F. Sukey
Why such a big deal was made of Witt, but no mention was made of the Army Chaplain who was present for the entire battle? Or maybe thats a rhetorical question where hollywood is involved! And for the fun of it, that little inconsitency of Chard and Bromhead having revolvers that were not made until 1915!
16th July 2003Peter Ewart

Yes, the fact that Witt is portrayed but no sign appears of Smith (I take it you are referring to the film "Zulu") is just one of those decisions which Endfield or Baker made in their dramatisation of the event. As contributors to this forum frequently point out, it was one of many departures from fact which we just have to accept, and as long as we remember that the film was just that - an entertaining story and not to be confused with anything which actually happened at Rorke's Drift on that day in 1879 - we needn't worry.

Surely they missed a trick, however? What a character to leave out! All contemporary accounts testify to Smith's personality & bearing during the engagement and we rely on his own report of the affair at least as much as we do on anyone else's.

In many ways he was made for that day (and the film!) He'd already shown his mettle at Estcourt & environs back in 1873 with Durnford et al. I have researched his early life, both in England and in S Africa & now consider he was a remarkable individual and that Witt's personality just doesn't compare (altho' that's just my personal opinion - I know less about him but he doesn't seem to have been very popular with his fellow Swedes & his rapid "lecture tour" of England raised a few eyebrows!) The way Hawkins portrayed him adds more confusion, given Witt's actual role on the day, but never mind. The film was only a story and a bit of fun, after all. (A damned good one, of course). I don't suppose it departed from reality any more than any other feature film did. It's just that the Defence of RD and the film are separately analysed to death (nothing wrong with that, I hasten to add!) and we eventually come to the conclusion that there are not many similarities between the two!

17th July 2003Chris Collier
I was always under the impression that Otto Witt was never actually present at the run up to the battle of Rorke's Drift, as depicted in the film. I'm sure that I remember reading that he had vacated the premises some days before the battle, to join his wife and children in Natal. Like you I am puzzled why Padre George Smith was not featured in the film, bearing in mind his roll in the defence, and a physical appearance (huge red beard and long black frock coat) that one would have thought would have been a god-send to any casting director !
17th July 2003Peter Ewart

He'd already packed his family off to uMsinga but remained himself. He accompanied Smith & Reynolds to the Shiyane summit when the sound of gunfire (from Isandlwana) was heard. The two missionaries remained up there a long time but Reynolds had descended when mounted fugitives were seen arriving, in case medical help was required.

On their eventual descent, Witt found his mission being converted into a fortress & apparently remonstrated until appraised of the situation. Then he grabbed his horse & bolted, ostensibly (or genuinely) concerned about his family. Perhaps Smith would have done so too had his horse & groom not also apparently left.

Witt's subsequent accounts of these events were a little different and the description of what he and Smith observed of the developments between Isandlwana & the Mzinyathi are either concocted or perfectly plausible, depending on how one reads them.

His subsequent benefit from cheque book journalism and celebrity were not looked upon too well by those who had remained, nor by his missionary colleagues, at least one of whom (I forget the source but someone will have it) suggested that his control of financial affairs of one branch of the SMS were less than satisfactory.

I may be wrong, but I think the two missionaries must have been up there together for over two hours(?) & I'd be surprised if much of their conversation was not about shared mission problems, especially as it was apparently some time before they realised exactly whose approach they were observing!

Incidentally, some accounts describe his frock coat as a sort of dirty shiny green & Crealock certainly painted it green. Perhaps it was clean at R/Drift but filthy by Ulundi!!! (I doubt the army issued him with one and as money was always very short at Estcourt, including immediately prior to his temporary secondment, I also doubt that it was very new.

18th July 2003Martin Heyes
One interesting point, to follow on from Peter, is that Witt was told that his wife and children had been killed whilst escaping from RD, and his wife was later informed that he had been killed during the fighting there!

Apparently they all met up, by accident, on the outskirts of Durban some time later. Well at least the story has a happy ending!