On Wednesday, 20 July 2016, exactly 100 years to the day that the remnants of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade left the Wood after 6 day and 5 nights of hell, the Veterans of SAMVOA Western Australia held a Battle of Delville Wood Commemorative Service at the Flame of Remembrance in Kings Park, Perth.
Distinguished Guests included Her Excellency, the Governor of Western Australia Kerry Sanderson AC, the Vice President of the RSL WA, Mr Denis Connelly, The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Michael Sutherland MLA, various other Members of Parliament , the Lord Mayor of Perth Lisa-M Scaffidi, the Honorary Consuls of Britain, France and South Africa, representatives of the Australian Army, Navy and Royal Air Force, as well as from the WA Police Service and others.
This was in honour and memory of the men who fought at the Battle of Delville Wood, one of the bloodiest battles of World War One and a battle where the fighting qualities and tenacity of the South African soldier was born.
The battle formed part of the Battle of the Somme, and commenced on 15TH JULY 1916, when the 1st South African Brigade, comprising 4 Regiments,
- 1st South African Infantry (made up of volunteers from the Cape Province),
- 2nd South African Infantry (volunteers from Natal & the Orange Free State provinces)
- 3rd South African Infantry (volunteers from the Transvaal & Rhodesia) and the
- 4th South African Infantry (an amalgamation of the South African Scottish Regiments)
under the command of Brigadier General H.T. Lukin were ordered to: “Attack, Occupy and hold the Wood at all costs.”
The casualties sustained by this Brigade were of catastrophic proportions, yet they managed to hold the Wood as ordered. This feat has been described as “…the bloodiest battle hell of 1916.” – [Source: Liddell-Hart, Basil, H. (1970). History of the First World War p. 324
An extract from the official history reads as follows:
‘The six days and five nights during which the South African Brigade held the most difficult post on the British front – a corner of death on which the enemy fire was concentrated at all hours from three sides, and into which fresh German troops, vastly superior in number to the defence, made periodic incursions only to be driven back – constitute an epoch of terror and glory scarcely equalled in the campaign. There were positions as difficult, but they were not held so long; there were cases of as protracted a defence; but the assault was not so violent and continuous.. The high value the enemy set upon Delville Wood is proved by the fact that he used his best troops against it … The South Africans measured their strength against the flower of the German army, and did not draw back from the challenge.”
As a feat of human daring and fortitude the fight is worthy of eternal remembrance by South Africa and Britain.
At midnight on 14 July, when General Lukin received his orders, the Brigade numbered 121 officers and 3 032 men. When Lt Col Thackeray marched out on the 20th, he had a remnant of 143, and the total ultimately assembled was about 750.’
To place their actions in perspective. At the time any brigade that lost 30% of their strength would be considered as unable to continue to fight. The South African brigade lost up to 80 % of their numbers and they continued fighting.
Australians and South Africans have much in common –their ancestors having come from Europe, all having Christian values, all exceptional horsemen, sharp shooters and independently minded. All loved the veld and the outback and had made new life’s in distant lands, with their own unique character, which they called home.
They are all extremely competitive by nature and play to win.
These are probably some of the reasons why South Africans assimilate so easily into the “Australian way of life” and why Australia is now a country that former South African soldiers now also proudly call home.
“Gewond, maar nie oorwonne nie. Wounded, but not conquered.”
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