The Western Front Today - South African Memorial, Delville Wood

In 1916 the wood known as Bois d'Elville, near Longueval (9 miles from Albert), (and christened 'Devil's Wood' by allied troops) was a major German defensive feature.

A museum on the site today tells the story of the battle for the wood well.  The South African Brigade was attached to the 9th Scottish Division and given the task of capturing the wood in July 1916 as part of the Somme Offensive.

On 15 July at dawn the South African regiment went in following a heavy artillery battle: they managed to clear the southern edge of German forces. The remainder of the wood was still in German hands.

Hand to hand fighting ensued until the South Africans were relieved on the night of 19 July, having lost 766 dead among the four battalions alone.

Throughout poor weather (it rained often) and enemy artillery fire which reached a crescendo of 400 shells a minute, the surrounding landscape was transformed into a mess of broken, stumpy tree roots and massive shell holes.

Mud and rainwater covered bodies of South African and German forces alike - many bodies remain in the wood today (which is now in private hands).

The wood was never entirely taken by the South African forces, despite huge efforts to do so.  It wasn't until another month of fierce fighting had taken place, on 25 August, that 14th (Light) Division finally took the wood and overcame German resistance.

Delville Wood remained the most costly action the South African Brigade fought on the Western Front.

During the final great German push of March 1918 the wood was again taken by the Germans on 24 March but was recaptured by 38th (Welsh) Division on 28 August.

Today the wood and nearby memorial is looked after by the South African Government.

The Delville Wood cemetery sited opposite the memorial contains 5,493 burials. Almost two-third of these are unknown.

Film Footage of South African Memorial (1)

Film Footage of South African Memorial (2)

Before Endeavours Fade, Rose E.B. Coombs, After the Battle 1994
Major & Mrs Holt's Battlefield Guide - Somme, Leo Cooper 2000

A "salient" is a battle line that projects into territory nominally held by enemy forces.

- Did you know?