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Political Gallantry

So, according the National Army Museum, Britain’s greatest land battle was Kohima-Imphal against the Japanese in World War Two. Interesting choice; but not indefensible. What did surprise me was that Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu War of 1879 was a runner-up. It shows what a difference a film makes. I reckon more guys get killed on screen in the 1964 Stanley Baker/Michael Caine film than died in the real-life siege. If memory serves, the British suffered 17 dead. But the 140-strong garrison of the mission station did harvest 11 Victoria Crosses. That may have had much to do with the need to raise morale at home following the loss of around 1,500 British troops at the hands of the Zulus at Isandlwana hours before the attack at Rorke’s Drift. While not wishing to take away from the courage of the men at Rorke’s Drift, basically all most had to do was keep their nerve and keep firing their Martini Henry repeater rifles from behind the mealie-bag barricades. The fellahs at Isandlwana made the mistake of being caught in the open with an inadequate ammunition replenishment system. Sometimes I can’t help feeling that the Victoria Cross and other gallantry are used by politicians to make themselves look good. An action in one conflict that wouldn’t even have earned a solder a Military Medal in another can sometimes result in a VC. A lot depends on the war and what stage its at.  In the opening days of the Second World War Military Medals were on occasion handed out for deeds that would have attracted no attention whatsoever 1944-45. There used to be some British regiments that refused to send in recommendations for gallantry awards because they felt the soldiers involved were doing no more than hat was expected of every member of such a proud and distinguished unit. There were other regiments that realised that a long list of VC winners could tip the balance in their favour when it came to avoiding disbandment or amalgamation. Why, I’ve even heard of some VC citations that have very little resemblance to actual events.

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