A veteran of the war who famously gave an account of his experiences on several occasions - and for whom the same process can be seen to be at work - was Alfred Henry Hook who, as a Private in B Company, 2/24th, had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in the defence of the hospital at Rorke’s Drift. Hook was not literate himself, and so all his accounts were filtered through the perceptions of his interviewers, and shaped by the questions they chose to ask him - or not to ask. Nevertheless it is interesting to note that in later life Hook became a member of the Corps of Commissionaires and worked as a cloakroom attendant at the British Museum - a position which brought him into contact with many literate and inquiring individuals who were curious about his story. But if, later in life, Hook was able to offer a fluent narrative which apparently seamlessly stitched together the story of the battle with his own personal experiences, his earliest accounts were both more garbled and more intense. In particular, he included a number of shocking details of the horrific fighting in those first accounts which were left out of the later smoother descriptions for wider public consumption. Like many soldiers before and since, he confessed ’I don’t like talking of these things’ - and he no doubt found, too, that representatives of the British public, used to imagining the battle in the heroic imagery of contemporary illustrated newspapers and battle painters, didn’t particularly like to hear about them either. Among the incidents described by Hook in the first few years after the battle were the fact that at one point in the fight for the hospital ’I was fighting “over the soles of my boots in blood”’, and that afterwards Sergeant Maxfield’s body was so badly burnt that ’there wasn’t much left to identify - only a small piece of his shirt as large as a lady’s handkerchief, and a small part of his body, all the rest was burnt’ (5). In another little-known early account he left little doubt as to the brutal nature of close-quarter combat in the claustrophobic hospital rooms;
...in the hospital I had my top coat and a rug. A young Zulu - he was only about
twenty - stole this, and was making off with them when he was disabled, and I came and caught him with my things. I clubbed my rifle, brought it down with all my force on his head - and smashed - not the Zulu’s skull, but the stock of my rifle all to pieces. He lay quiet for about five minutes, and then began to wink his eyes a bit, so I gave him the contents of the barrel in his head, and finished him off. (6)
It is interesting to note that this jagged and uncomfortable content did not make it into Hook’s later, more fluent accounts. Indeed, those which were both the most circulated at the time and are best known now - notably those published in The Strand Magazine (1891), The VC (1904) and The Royal Magazine (1905) - not only lack such grisly details but reveal a narrative similarity that suggest that, by that time, Hook had become considerably more practised at telling his story and comfortable in his own presentation of it."
Source: Ian Knight.