Thursday, August 14, 2008

So Henry Hook wasn't a boozer after all!

It seems the 1964 film "Zulu" cast unfair and untrue aspersions on the character of Private Henry Hook.

In the film Zulu he was portrayed as a drunken malingerer who became a reluctant hero.

But while Hollywood was right to show Private Henry Hook as a hero, the rest of his screen depiction was fiction.

In reality Private Hook was a teetotal lay preacher who had been awarded good conduct pay shortly before the battle that led to him winning the Victoria Cross.

Now his reputation is being restored after a campaign conducted by historians and backed by his former regiment.

Private Hook, played by James Booth in the 1964 film, was awarded the VC after he saved the lives of eight patients stranded at an Army hospital at Rorke's Drift during the Zulu war in 1879.

Major Tim Whedon, from the Royal Regiment of Wales, which incorporates Private Hook's regiment said: 'The regiment was delighted that a film about the heroism of Rorke's Drift was produced but disappointed that some of the portrayals were far from the truth.

'Henry Hook is an example of how a character was distorted to attract the film-goers when the story was captivating enough.

'As a regiment we would like to do what we can in helping to see that he is honoured in a fitting way.'

Private Hook, then aged 28, and Private John Williams desperately fought off the Zulus at a temporary hospital to bring eight patients into the British inner line of defence.

In the film, 'Hookie' is shown using his bayonet against the Zulus after running out of ammunition.

But he was described on screen as 'a thief, a coward, and an insubordinate barrack-room lawyer'. He was only in the hospital because he was malingering there as a patient.

The Gloucestershire-born soldier was also depicted as a Cockney. His family was devastated by his portrayal as a lazy soldier and his elderly daughter, Letitia Bunting, walked out of the film's premiere in disgust at her father's treatment.

In fact, according to reports her father was a model soldier. He received a scalp injury during the battle, on January 22-23, 1879, and a year later discharged himself from the Army.

Private Hook spent several decades after the war working at the British Museum. He was married twice and had two sons and four daughters.

When he died in 1905 aged 54 from tuberculosis he was remembered as a hero.

More than 50,000 lined the streets in Churcham as his coffin was escorted four miles to the churchyard.

Private Hook's great-grandson, Cyril Bunting, 53, said: 'I'm glad his story is being publicised in a positive rather than a negative light this time.

'My grandmother was so upset when she saw the film and the way he had been portrayed. That was not how she remembered him.'

Private Hook's account of the Battle of Rorke's Drift is worth reading.

I've toured the battle site at Rorke's Drift. It's pretty amazing to stand there, under the African sun, and look around, thinking of the many hundreds of people who died there in what was one of the "last gasps" of the Zulu nation before it was overwhelmed by British colonial power.

Rest in peace, Henry Hook, and all those who fought at Rorke's Drift.



Anonymous said...

I read the story of Henry Hook. It was a story of Great Bravery. Hollywerid should be ashamed of the smear job they did on this fine man.

Anonymous said...

Apparently the British soldiers were in rags for some time afterwards as they had ripped their jackets to pieces as insulation from the scalding barrels of the Martini-Henry's.

Rio Arriba said...

I have a great interest in Rorke's Drift, having had a distant relative who fought there. It's good to see that a good and brave man is being finally vindicated.