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Wednesday 19 October 2011

Rorke's Drift Dinner

For my Birthday, my thoughtful daughter in New Zealand (I have two thoughtful daughters, one here, one there) booked for me, two places at 'An Audience with Rob Caskie' at Ellenborough Park, near Southam. That's the Southam near Prestbury, by the way, not the one on the Chipping Norton road.

As my wife felt that the second ticket might be better used by someone who had an actual interest in military affairs, I took along Chris Stott, a good friend to all of us in the shop.

The building itself is is quite a sight as you can see on their web site and we were greeted by the highly efficient, Laura. Unfortunately there was a minor hiccough when a member of staff decided that Stott was pronounced Stoat and passed the word round so that everyone continued to call him Mr Stoat, all evening. I got away with Keats rather than Cats or possibly Coats.

There was a pay bar and the arrangement was for Chris to buy the first drink. When the young barman told Chris that the two glasses of orange juice that he was to pay for was priced at the very convenient round figure sum of £10.00, Chris paled, tottered a bit, but managed to stay upright. 'After all', he said later, 'We are to hear of the magnificent courage of the men of the 24th Foot surrounded by 4000 Zulu warriors. I could hardly turn tail at the sight of a £5.00 glass of orange juice.'

Rob Caskie, could be described as the South African version of Brian Blessed without the beard though he is almost certainly closer to sanity. He has a big booming voice and was soon entrancing the audience with details of the incredible courage of the men who fought against overwhelming odds for eight hours winning 11 VCs in the process. We learned, not only the story of the battle, but also what became of many of these young soldiers (average age 23) after the survivors returned home. He also told us of the weapons used (and I was glad to be in the second row, the club Rob was waving about seemed to come rather close to the heads of the audience members sitting at the front).

After his lecture,(delivered occasionally in the Zulu language) and a good round of applause from the thirty or so members of his audience, we were free to speak to the 'Corporal' who was dressed in the uniform as worn by the soldiers who fought that day. He had some of the rifles from the period and the throwing and stabbing spears of the Zulus. Again, a very knowledgeable fellow and very interesting to talk to.

Then, feeling like extras on the set of Downton Abbey, we were seated around a huge table and a grand meal was served. The theme was, of course, Welsh and Welsh Lamb and Welsh cakes came into it. I found myself sitting next to Douglas Bourne whose grandfather was the Colour Sergeant at Rorkes drift. (Played, in the film Zulu, by Nigel Green) Typically, he had never said anything about his exploits that day.

After an illuminating and entertaining evening, Chris and I were back in Moreton in Marsh at about midnight. However, the cost of his glass of orange juice was obviously very much in Chris's mind for he called in at the shop this morning and presented me with a carton of the stuff.

(Rob has a site at and you can hear him talk of the battle by joining 'Great Guides' there.
Details of Ellenborough Park can be found at )

Thank you to New Zealand daughter for the tickets and to the management and staff of Ellenborough Park and, of course, Rob Caskie, for a terrific evening.

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