Many of you will, I am sure have seen the film “Zulu”, starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker. On the 22nd January 2017, the anniversary date of the Battle of Islandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, St Mary’s Church, Stansted, hosted a memorial service and presentation for Captain Alan Gardner.
Captain Gardner was one of only 5 out of 67 officers to survive the 1879 Anglo-Zulu war in South Africa. He served with the 14th Hussars. The memorial service followed the original funeral for Captain Gardner with the same hymns and readings. Captain Gardner went on to become a member of Parliament and died in 1907.
We are grateful to a local historian, who found Captain Gardner’s grave in St Mary’s churchyard as part of her research, and paid for the restoration of the gravestone at her own expense. She is very knowledgeable on the period of history and gave an excellent slideshow presentation, telling the story of Captain Gardner’s early life and the part he played in the Anglo-Zulu war. She used original historical artefacts, which included a Zulu shield, an ‘ikwala’ (stabbing spear) and an ‘iwisa’, (a cudgel fashioned from dense hardwood). British Army weapons included a Martini-Henry rifle, bayonet, spent bullets and even a used rocket casing. The red British Army tunic and uniform was also on display. The presentation was accompanied by a sound track of Zulu chanting, which added to the atmosphere. It was a very moving, informative and interesting afternoon. All the takings on the day were donated to the church.
If you are passing this way, perhaps you could take a few minutes to visit this beautiful historic church, now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust and Friends of St Mary’s, and linger for a few minutes at the graveside of one of the heroes of what was clearly a brutal conflict. We don’t have to agree with war to recognise the contribution that so many made on behalf of their country.