In the Great War thousands of South Africans volunteered. One of the most memorable achievements took place in Delville Wood, France:

On the 15 July 1916, the brigade, comprising 121 officers and 3032 men, received orders to take the wood “at all costs”. For five nights and six days, the South Africans fought against various units of the 4th German Army Corps. Outnumbered, and being fought against from three sides, they were almost decimated but managed to hold on and fight back, sometimes resulting to hand to hand fighting, until most of the woods had been captured. When they were relieved on the 20 July, only 142 men came out of the woods unscathed, eventually 780 men from the South African Brigade reassembled.  –

The Delville Wood was destroyed during the war but replanted in the 1920’s and today it houses the South African National Memorial, dedicated to all the South Africans who fell in the 20th Century in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The Memorial was unveiled in 1926, and in 1986 the neighboring South African National Museum was inaugurated. Since the museum was built during the apartheid-era, it only commemorated the white British and Boer soldiers initially. But although black South Africans were not allowed to  take up arms, over 20.000 served as labourers in the First World War alone. So, in 2014 and onwards, the museum and the memorial have transformed to include all South Africans. On the Wall of Remembrance, 14.000 South Africans are listed in alphabetical order with no other distinction.

The Memorial and the museum is part of the Imperial War Graves located at Longueval, Somme in France. Admission is free. The annual service of remembrance will take place at the Memorial on July 9th. Read more on the offical Delville Wood website.

The above information is an excerpt from the Battle of the Somme Centenary 2014-2018, where you can find many more museums and memorial sites in the area, and a lot of gripping and fascinating history.


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