Heelwat van ons weet wat het in 1914 plaasgevind maar daar is tog van ons volkslede wat nie alles onthou nie. Help onthou en onthou hulle wat hier gesneuwel het. Baie was gedwing om deel te neem.
The South African National Memorial in Delville Wood, near Longueval, is stunning. No other word for it. This short video hopefully shows it at its best without glossing over the fact it is a Memorial to 10,000 South African fallen soldiers. The assualt on ‘Devils’ Wood’, then called Bois d’Elville took place in July 1916. For five days the South Africans conducted a bitter battle among the trees and water filled shell holes. Despite every effort, part of the wood remained uncaptured when the South Africans were relieved on 20 July. It was not finally cleared until 27 August. In the fighting, the South African Brigade lost over 2,300 men. Today, the Memorial commemorates not only the 10,000 South African dead of the First World War, but other major conflicts as well including the Second World War and Korea. Delville Wood, (renamed because the troops called it ‘Devil’s Wood’) remained the most costly action the South African Brigade fought on the Western Front.
The now beautiful battle site and cemetery at Delville Wood, where the South Africans suffered huge losses. Also the New Zealand monument nearby.
Front National SA
In just four days between 15 and 19 July, the SA Brigade, numbering only 3150 men, attached to the 9th Scottish Division lost 766 men with the dead outnumbering the wounded four to one. At the height of the Battle of Delville Wood, enemy artillery fire reached 400 shells a minute.
That’s what happens when you combine 19th century battle strategies with 20th century machine guns. The vast number of casualties of this war has put a question mark over the military insights of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front.
South Africa had been a Union for little over four years when the Great War broke out. Wounds were still fresh from the Anglo-Boer War, and it was a country sharply divided between English and Afrikaans.
The war was not a popular one on all fronts, and yet 229 000 South Africans volunteered (those that were not in the army already) to join the British and French forces fighting on the Western Front. Of those 10 000 in total would die on the battlefields of WW1 and countless thousands injured and maimed.
Why did these soldiers go and fight?
Why did they go in the first place? Times were hard, work was scarce, there was labour unrest, and for many people the army provided secure employment. Also this could be their one chance to travel beyond SA’s shores in days before travelling was so commonplace. Or it might have been a feeling of patriotic duty, a sense of adventure, or a combination of any of the above.
Hurled into the kind of ongoing hell we can scarcely imagine from the relative safety of our suburban homes, these men put on a brave battle. We should never think that all soldiers are great heroes, though. It wasn’t all camaraderie and the Last Post. In any fighting division you are likely to find not just your heroes, but also your drunkards, those sleeping on guard duty, a deserter or three, someone who will not risk himself to save a friend. Just people like everyone else. Who’s to tell what kind of soldier you and I would have been? Pray that we never find out.
The point is that many of these South Africans were hardly professional soldiers. They were people like you and me with a few weeks of hurried and probably insufficient training and little if any battlefield experience and they were thrown into one of the most vicious and deadly battles mankind has ever known – in four months in the Battle of the Somme, there were, on both sides, over a million casualties.