The Bromhead name is synonymous with Rorke’s Drift and, of course, the movie Zulu but the name Bromhead, pronounced BRUMhead has a long military history.
I won’t go back in too much detail but, as Michael Caines version of Bromhead on the movie references his Grandfather, I’ll make a quick mention of Lieutenant-General Sir Gonville Bromhead, 1st Baronet. What a title eh?
“The General” as referenced in Zulu was a British soldier who served, as a very young man, in the Saratoga campaign (1777) during the American Revolutionary War. The British high command attempted to gain control of the Hudson River, a strategic strongpoint, but failed and were forced to surrender which was a great turning point in the war. Before that he had very narrowly escaped death along with a couple of other soldiers at the battle of Bemis Heights.
Fast forward nearly a hundred years and his grandson, Gonville Bromhead 3rd Baronet narrowly escaped certain death at Rorke’s Drift.
Was it luck on both counts or good soldiering? I’m not 100% certain but I’d like to think it was a bit from column A and a bit from column B.
Michael Caines portrayal of Bromhead in the movie certainly had me feeling, initially, that the well to do officer was a bit of a ponce who was in love with his own inflated ego. However, as the movie progresses, Bromhead proves himself in battle again and again and allies himself with Lieutenant Chard by the end of the battle. The interplay between the two characters is a great part of the movie.
In the movie we see a discussion between Bromhead and Chard about who is in charge? I doubt this conversation really transpired because, as we know from Part 11 of this project, Chard was told by Major Spalding that he was in charge.
Gonville Bromhead was born in Versailles France in August 1845. He grew up in Lincolnshire, a county in the East Midlands of England, and in 1867 bought a commission into 2nd battalion 24th Regiment of Foot.
In the army he acquired the nickname “Gonny” and excelled in most sports but especially boxing, wrestling and cricket.
Through his military years his hearing started to deteriorate but didn’t seem to interfere with his duties.
At the start of the invasion on Zululand South Africa Bromhead and B company were ordered to defend and maintain a small mission, Rorke’s Drift. They were also tasked with defending the Ponts that were to be used by the army for crossing the Buffalo River.
Unlike the character in the movie Bromhead wasn’t flashy at all and was one of the chaps. He fought with his men and he fought hard using his rifle, his pistol and his bayonet to fend off Zulu warriors at all different positions in and around the mission.
For his leadership in the face of, what could’ve quite easily have been an easy victory for the Zulus, Bromhead was awarded the Victoria Cross.
There was much hurrah and fanfare after the battle but Bromhead wasn’t interested. In fact if anyone ever tried to engage him in conversation about Rorke’s Drift he would make himself scarce. We, as naive watchers of movies and readers of history, can never really fathom what soldiers through history and today must go through on and after the battlefields. I can only imagine how hard it would be to talk about let alone live with.
Bromhead, along with Chard, was invited to dine with Queen Victoria but he was, “busy fishing” in Ireland and didn’t attend. He was never invited again.
He stayed on in the military and did see action again in the Third Anglo Burmese War (1886). Then, aged only 45, he succumbed to Typhoid Fever and is buried at New Cantonment Cemetery in Allahabad (India).
In 2010 it was discovered that Bromheads grave was in a bad state of disrepair. It was promised that efforts would be made to restore it but I couldn’t find any updates.
In my opinion I think Bromhead was a soldier through and through. I think he was one of the lads and not at all a pompous git like Michael Caine portrayed him to be like at the start of Zulu. It makes me wonder if this was Michael Caines interpretation or if the writer/director Cy Enfield and/or Zulus original writer John Prebble wrote the character to be that way?
I think this mini has been my favourite to paint so far for this project.