To mark the centenary of the Somme Offensive we will be posting a series of blogs that explore the contribution of certain Commonwealth nations to the infamous land battle that has so dominated our perceptions of the British Army during the First World War; today is the turn of South Africa.
On this day 100 years ago, the 1st South African Brigade was in the thick of a significant six-day engagement as part of the Battle of Delville Wood, part of the wider Somme Offensive. The 1st South African Brigade was part of the 9th (Scottish) Division who had been tasked with an assault on Longueval. Whilst the 12th Royal Scots (part of 27th Brigade) made several unsuccessful attempts to capture objectives in Longueval, the South African Brigade was tasked with taking Delville Wood.
Peter H. Liddle describes the South Africans as having been involved in what he terms the ‘progressive capture, consolidation and retention of Delville Wood’. 1 In short, the South African Brigade was up against fierce shelling, sniping from close range and a test of endurance in the face of ferocious German attacks that are almost impossible to comprehend. Although it was not only South African troops who took part in the significant fighting at Delville Wood; between 14 and 20 July 1916, it was the South African Brigade’s debut on the Western Front. The event rightly stands out as a major anniversary concerning South Africa’s contribution to what was truly a ‘World War’. Six days of continuous close fighting and heavy shelling, the likes of which occurred at Delville Wood, are noteworthy even in the wider context of the violence and tragedy of the First World War.
As the 1st South African Brigade came under the command of the 9th (Scottish) Division, the war diaries covering their service at the Somme are held in The National Archives series of War Diaries in WO 95. Continue reading »
- 1. Peter H. Liddle, ‘The 1916 Battle of the Somme, A Reappraisal’ (Leo Cooper, London, 1992). p. 77 ^