The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 7 No 2 - December 1986

The South Africans at Delville Wood

by I.S. Uys

The 1st South African Infantry Brigade was recruited at Potchefstroom in August and September 1915 for service overseas. It comprised four battalions (or regiments) of infantry. In order to render these battalions as representative as possible, they were designated as follows:

It is apparent, therefore, that the first three battalions were representative of all four provinces of South Africa, whilst the fourth was strongly representative of the Scottish military tradition in the country. In overall command of the brigade was Brig Gen H.T. Lukin, a seasoned campaigner who had seen service in the majority of South African campaigns during the preceding 35 years. Lt Col F.S. Dawson commanded 1st South African Infantry Regiment; 2nd South African Infantry Regiment was commanded by Lt Col W.E.C. Tanner; 3rd South African Infantry Regiment was commanded by Lt Col E.F. Thackeray;

First photo

Colonel Edward Francis Thackery CMG, DSO

and 4th South African Infantry Regiment by Lt Col F.A. Jones, DSO. Each battalion had its Honorary Colonel; Sir Charles Crewe was Honorary Colonel of the 1st, Gen Louis Botha of the 2nd, Gen Jan Smuts of the 3rd, and Col W. Dalrymple of the 4th. All the members of the brigade were strictly volunteers. There were proportionately fewer Afrikaans speaking personnel in the Brigade. This may well have been due to the fact that the Afrikaner military tradition was predominantly orientated towards cavalry and not infantry. Further, the recent Rebellion of 1914 may possibly have cast a shadow over recruiting. However, it should be noted that before the end of the War their representation in the 1st South African Infantry Brigade had increased from 15% to 30%. It should be noted, within this context, that after the publication of his work The South African Forces in France, John Buchan wrote in the flyleaf of one of the copies:

The Brigade, numbering 160 officers and 5 648 other ranks, embarked for England from Cape Town. The spirit of these young South African 'colonials' exuded the highest degree of enthusiasm and patriotism. One of these young volunteers, Arthur Betteridge, later recalled the esprit de corps then prevailing within the brigade, and stated that 'Everyone of the five thousand men who left these shores in 1915 was proud to call himself a South African.'
Most of them keenly anticipated 'getting to grips' with the Germans. The brigade was quartered at Bordon in Hampshire, where, for the next two months, they underwent training.

Second photo

Arthur Betteridge

Fighting the Senussi in Egypt
During December 1915 it was decided to send the South African brigade to Egypt, where the Senussi tribe led by Gaafer Pasha, was threatening to overrun the country. On 23 January 1916 the 2nd South African Infantry Battalion first saw action at Halaxin.
Brig Gen Lukin's column comprised; 1st and 3rd South African Infantry Regiments; Dorsetshire Yeomanry; lst/6th Royal Scots; a squadron of The Royal Buckinghamshire (Yeomanry) Hussars; and the Nottinghamshire Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery.
They marched along the coast and engaged the enemy at Agagia on 26 February 1916. With the aid of the Dorsetshire Yeomanry's cavalry the Senussi were routed and Gaafer Pasha and his staff captured. After successfully bringing this brief campaign to a close, Brig Gen Lukin and his brigade were transferred to France.

Introduction to the Western Front
The brigade sailed to Marseilles, where the 4th South African Infantry Regiment were placed in two weeks quarantine due to a case of spinal meningitis. The remainder of the brigade entrained for Armentieres in Flanders, where they underwent training in trench warfare. They formed part of the 9th (Scottish) Division, in the place of the 28th Brigade, which had suffered extremely heavy casualties at the Battle of Loos in September 1915.
On 31 May the brigade left its training area and marched 72 km to the Somme area. Four days later they arrived at Enguingatte, where they would spent the ensuing ten days in intensive training. Thereafter they moved closer to the front in several stages. Together with thousands of other combatants, the newly arrived South Africans were utilized to move supplies, shells and other materials. The massed British artillery commenced a heavy bombardment on 24 June. For a week the Germans were subjected to a terrifying barrage from over 1 500 guns. Victor Wepener(1), a proud descendant of Cmdt Louw Wepener (who had been killed in the assault on Thaba Bosiu in 1865, and after whom the Louw Wepener Decoration and Louw Wepener Medal are named) wryly recalled that it was not only the Germans who were affected by this bombardment: 'We marched down to the Somme where there were thousands of heavy guns. I got the fright of my life when a battery went off close behind us and the shells went over our heads.'
The fact that Allied artillery fire was by no means an unmixed blessing to the South Africans was to be forcibly impressed upon them at Delville Wood. Writing in the Salstaff Bulletin of July 1936, Arthur Betteridge, then serving in the 4th Battalion, vividly records his early experience of the Western Front:

Mr Betteridge's reminiscences clearly evoke that juxtaposition of farce and tragedy which is such a recurrent characteristic of war; illustrated in the final paragraph, where a humorous situation proves to be prelude to sudden death.

The Somme offensive and its aftermath
The ill-fated Somme offensive opened on 1 July 1916. The horrific artillery bombardment, commenced on 24 June and recalled by Mr Wepener, was the prelude to this disastrous offensive in the Somme valley. The High Command hoped that the preliminary week's barrage would totally destroy the enemy trenches, exterminating their defenders and thus enabling the Allied infantry to occupy the German lines with minimal opposition. This design, a recurrent feature of the major attacks on the Western Front throughout the War, was to prove totally illusory, on this and on both preceding and succeeding occasions. The shelling completely failed to neutralize the German infantry in their dug outs, and they were ready to meet the assaulting waves of infantry behind the former's emplaced machine guns and barbed wire. The attackers, hurled against the strongest points of the German defences, suffered in excess of 54 000 casualties in the first day's fighting, of whom over 19 000 were killed. Only XIII Corps achieved its objectives; on 30 Division's front the shellfire had done its work in smashing the defences and, in addition, much of the German artillery beyond Montauban had been immobilized. The village of Montauban was deserted and Montauban Alley, at the top of Montauban-Mametz ridge, was secured by llh00.
The scale of the British failure of 1 July 1916, combined with the extremely limited successes achieved on that day in Gen Rawlinson's XIII Corps sector, exercised a great influence upon the future course of the offensive and, in so doing, proved to be one of the major factors in propelling the South Africans into the awesome experience of Delville Wood a fortnight later. Haig realized that he had to capitalize on the limited successes achieved on the right of the British line. He urged Rawlinson to exploit this by securing Mametz Wood and the Contalmaison area in order to prepare for an attack on the German second line on the Longueval-Bazentin le Petit ridge, for he realized that the advance from the line Montauban-Fricourt would attack in the rear of those German defences facing west. The attack would extend on the right to Longueval Village and Delville Wood. First, however, Bernafay Wood and Trones Wood, which were situated to the south of, and below, Delville Wood, would have to be captured.

First map

Map of the Somme

After capturing the German second line on both sides of Longueval village, the task of XIII Corps was to establish a strong defensive flank around the village. There the German front turned southwards by Trones Wood, facing Guillemont and across the head of Caterpillar Valley. It was thus of the utmost importance - both for the success of the immediate attack and for the preparation of subsequent assaults - that the right flank of Longueval should be consolidated and held as a corner buttress of the new line.

In accordance with this plan, the reserve division was brought forward to the new line, extending from Montauban to the south of Trones Wood. This reserve division was the 9th (Scottish) Division which included, of course, the 1st South African Infantry Brigade. On 7 July the 9th Division was told to prepare for the second stage of the battle, an assault on Longueval. The reserve battalion, the 2nd South African Infantry Regiment, relieved two battalions of the 27th Brigade in Bernafay Wood. The 2nd South African Infantry Regiment incurred over 200 casualties in the process.
Hugh Mallett(2), serving in C Company, recalled his experience of this fighting in the following manner:

Third photo

Hugh Mallett

On 10 July, B and D Companies of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment relieved the 2nd South African Infantry Regiment in Bernafay Wood. On 11 July Lt Col F Jones, OC of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment, was killed by a shell as he emerged from his dug-out in Bernafay Wood. This loss of a battalion commander vividly impressed the fact that the war was no respecter of persons. The carnage among the rank and file was yet to follow. It should be noted that, whilst B and D Companies were engaged in Bernafay Wood, A and C Companies of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment had been involved, from 9 July, in the fighting for Trones Wood. On 10 July Capt S.C. Russell, of A Company 4th South African Infantry Regiment, was mortally wounded, dying on the following day

Longueval: 14 July 1916
In planning his assault on the German second line, Gen Rawlinson decided on a night advance and dawn attack. The attacking force was to consist of the 26th and 27th Brigades of the 9th Division, which would assault the village of Longueval on the dawn of 14 July; the South African brigade would remain in reserve. The 26th and 27th Brigades formed up near Montauban and were led to the start line of the attack. As arranged, at dawn they stormed the German positions and fought their way into Longueval, where bitter hand-to-hand fighting ensued. The intensity of the fighting led Maj Gen W.T. Furse, commander of the 9th Division, to offer (at 08h05) the assistance of the 1st South African Infantry Regiment in support of the 27th Brigade. Pte Sidney Martin Carey, aged 21 years, serving in D Company of the 1st South African Infantry Regiment, vividly recalled his experience of the fighting on that day:

Pte Carey was evacuated together with other wounded.(3) The commander of Pte Carey's company, Lt W. Nimmo Brown (from Rondebosch), had been killed on 5 July, and the company was led into Longueval by Lt 'Ginger' Brown, who had taken over command of D Company.

At 12h30, on l4July, Maj Gen Furse advised Lukin of the objective of the remaining three battalions of 1st South African Infantry Brigade; viz. Delville Wood:

Maj Gen Furse included in the above communication the following code words: 'Venice' (1st South African Infantry Brigade), 'Rome' (26th Brigade) and 'Norway' (artillery).

At 13h00 the 9th Division's commander reported further:

At 14h16 the first troops entered Delville Wood, and at 15h00 Lukin advised his remaining three battalion commanders of the planned assault on Delville Wood. The hour of attack was to be postponed, however.

At 19h20 Brig Gen Lukin was ordered to attend a meeting, at which it was decided to alter the hour of attack to 06h00 on 15 July (i.e. on the following morning), as Longueval village had not yet been totally captured, and, as this was considered to be the essential prelude to the capture of Delville Wood, the assault upon the latter would have to be initiated only after the former had been secured. Maj Gen Furse impressed this fact upon the 27th Brigade:

At the same time that this signal was sent (12h15), Maj Gen Furse informed the 26th Brigade:

Taking the Wood: 15 July 1916
The three battalions of the South African brigade which were to attack Delville Wood were placed under the command of Lt Col William Tanner. He was an exceptionally gifted military leader; courageous, much respected by his men, of high intellectual calibre and a charming personality. One of his fellow officers later wrote of him: 'A man of iron and a strict disciplinarian. He was about the most brilliant soldier sent out from SA. His records at the British Military Staff College prove him to be an exceptionally keen student. He gave the impression of being a master at the game. Would go to any amount of trouble to explain difficulties to puzzled 'subs' [subalterns].'

The following testimony to his leadership and character is furnished by a 'ranker' who was wounded at Delville Wood:

To reiterate, Tanner was OC of the 2nd South African Infantry Regiment.(4)

Tanner commented that Brig Gen Lukin had allowed him a great deal of latitude in the planning and execution of the attack:

He comments upon his plan of attack in the following terms:

Tanner established his headquarters at Buchanan Street.{Editor's notes: The South African forces allocated English place names to the locations in Delville Wood, for the purposes of easy reference.}

Thackeray remained with him and sent his 3rd Battalion to the far side of the wood. Tanner's 2nd Battalion followed the 3rd Battalion to the east, then branched off to the north. C Company, 2nd Battalion, manned the southern perimeter close to Longueval.
Hugh Mallet was a member of that company, facing Waterlot Farm, and he vividly recalled his experiences on that day:

The platoon commander to whom Mallett refers was Lt Walter Hill. Earlier in the day, Mallett relates, Lt Hill was taken prisoner and had a German placed over him as sentry. When an opportunity presented itself, Lt Hill took the German captive and marched him back to the South African lines. Lt Hill died of his wounds (on 20 July). Hugh Mallett remarked on the strain placed on the medical personnel:

On the eastern perimeter of the wood there was some confusion as to whether the men moving about outside the wood were French or German. At 07h50 Thackeray replied to a query from Capt D.R. McLachlan, of C Company, 3rd Battalion, positioned on the south-west perimeter:

Thackeray also replied to a similar query from Capt R.F.C. Medlicort (OC B Company, 3rd Battalion):

At 08h40 Medlicott became more insistent:

This problem of identification deeply disturbed Capt E.V. Vivian of A Company, who signalled Thackeray [at 09h15]:

In the same communication Capt Vivian informed Thackeray that Capt McLachlan had been killed,* together with some six other casualties.

At l0h00 Capt Medlicott reported on the fighting in the entire southern sector of Delville Wood:

{Editor's Note: The Roll of Honour is incorrect in stating that Capt McLachlan's death occurred on 16July (i.e. on the following day). There was a great deal of confusion, understandably regarding casualties during the first few days of Delville Wood. Capt McLachlan had died between Capt Medlicott's first report of the former being wounded and Capt Vivian's communication (08h40 and 09h15 respectively).}

Lt Harold George Elliot, of C Company, assumed command of the company following the death of Capt McLachlan, and at l0h00 reported:

Thirty minutes later Lt Elliot sent a further message:

At 10h40 Maj D.M. Macleod, OC of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment, which was supporting the battalions manning the perimeters, made an urgent request for two Lewis or Vickers guns. The German attacks on the perimeters increased steadily. At 12h15 Lt Elliot sent a runner to Thackeray, with the following message:

At 12h50 Capt L.W. Tomlinson, commanding D Company, wrote to Thackeray:

Capt Medlicort's B Company had successfully repulsed some attacks. At 14h30 he sent a runner to Thackeray with the following message:

As the day progressed casualties increased whilst ammunition grew scarcer. Capt Stephen Liebson, the medical officer; bore witness to the former:

With regard to the shortage of ammunition, Lt Elliot requested:

(In the same message he provided a casualty report, to the effect that Capt McLachlan and four others had been killed, whilst Lts Baker, Thompson, Scallan and four others had been wounded, as well as one machine gunner; all these casualties being incurred by C Company).

At 16h15 Capt Tomlinson advised that the enemy were massing for further attacks:

On Capt Tomlinson's left flank the 2nd Battalion had been subjected to severe enemy pressure on the north and north eastern perimeters, as evidenced by the following message from Tomlinson:

Capt Vivian was wounded and Lt Owen Hubert de Burgh Thomas took command of A Company in his place. His first message to Thackeray was reassuring:

Bloody Sunday: 16 July 1916
The South Africans manning the perimeters entrenched themselves during the night, despite continuous enemy shelling and sniping. Capt John Jackson was sent by Thackeray to organize the defences in the south-east of the wood, and reported back that morning as follows:

Brig Gen Lukin was ordered to support the attack of the 11th Royal Scots (a component of the 27th Brigade) on the orchard situated in the northern sector of Longueval, situated between North Street and Flers Road. The 11th Royal Scots would attack along North Street, whilst B and C Companies of the 1st South African Infantry Regiment would attack northwards in the wood parallel to the Royal Scots. The combined attack was launched at l0h00 and was met by withering machine gun and rifle fire. Both assaults failed and survivors scrambled back to their positions, to face a day of shelling and sniping.

Brig Gen Lukin visited Lt Col F.S. Dawson (OC of 1st South African Infantry Regiment) in Longueval. Dawson impressed upon the brigade commander that the men were exhausted, yet Lukin replied that there could be no relief for several days.

At 17h50 Capt Medlicott reported to Thackeray on enemy movements:

Ten minutes later Lt Thomas, commanding A Company, sent the following situation report:

Fighting on: 17 July 1916
During the night of 16/17 July the north-west corner of Delville Wood was subjected to an Allied artillery barrage, in order to enable the combined attack launched by the 27th Brigade and 1st South African Infantry Regiment to be initiated by dawn. Once again the attack met with fierce enemy resistance and failed.
At 08h00 the Cameron Highlanders, supported by two companies of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment, attacked and captured Waterlot Farm. At the same time, Lt Thomas sent a further situation report:

Brig Gen Lukin visited the battalion commanders in Longueval and at Buchanan Street. Upon his return to brigade headquarters he telephoned Maj Gen Furse and pointed out that his troops were exhausted. Furse replied to the effect that the wood was to be held at all costs.

At 09h30 Capt A. MacDonald (Battalion HQ) requested from Capt Liebson, the 3rd South African Infantry Regiment's medical officer; stretcher bearers, but the latter replied:

At the same time Capt MacDonald circulated to all the company commanders a request for machine gunners but, owing to the heavy casualties incurred by these specialist troops, Capt MacDonald's request could not be met.

The Germans were becoming more active in the north western sector of Delville Wood. At l0h00 Capt Sydney Style, acting adjutant of the 1st South African Infantry Regiment, requested mortar support from the South African Trench Mortar Company:

At 14h00 German batteries from Ginchy began bombarding the wood. A patrol of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment erroneously reported the Germans to be east of Strand Street. Tanner advised Lukin of this state of affairs, and Lukin then sent the brigade intelligence officer, Lt Percy Roseby, to investigate. At 18h40 Tanner advised Lukin of the error. Twenty minutes later Tanner was shot in the thigh and, despite his protestations, was evacuated. Lt Colonel Thackeray then took command. He was ordered to attack the German positions southeast of the wood, but refused as he had only 200 men available for such an operation. Brig Gen Lukin assisted in having this Divisional order cancelled.

The Germans then attacked from the north-west, reaching Princes Street, but were halted and then driven back by a counter-attack. That night the British artillery fired on the Germans who were east of Delville Wood. At 20h50 Capt Medlicott despatched the following irate message to those directing this fire:

Lt Thomas of A Company seconded this request:

At 21h00 Capt MacDonald replied:

Twenty minutes later he received a message from Lt Thomas, to the effect that the gunnery had not improved:

At 21h30 Capt MacDonald acknowledged the complaints of the company commanders in the following message:

That night the German artillery commenced their barrage on the wood. Many of the 186 guns involved had been hurriedly transported from Verdun. The thunderous explosions illuminated the forest in flashes, making sleep virtually impossible.

The Holocaust: 18 July 1916
During the night of 17/18 July the Germans withdrew from the north-west corner of Delville Wood and northern Longueval to enable their artillery to bombard the entire Wood and village. Maj Edward Burges, second-in-command of the 1st South African Infantry Regiment and commander of D Company, pushed northwards and managed to effect a junction with the 76th Brigade (3rd Division), which was similarly advancing on Longueval. The junction was to be shortlived, for; at 08h00 on 18 July the German artillery commenced firing on Delville Wood from three sides.

The bombardment endured for seven-and-a-half hours. Burning trees came crashing down, adding to the sparks and smoke of the high explosive shells. At times the incidence of explosions was seven per second. On that day, in an area less than one square mile, 20 000 shells fell.

Frank Marillier; serving in C Company of the 2nd Battalion, was sent to the northern perimeter, as a Lewis-gunner He later provided the following eyewitness account of the day's events:

Fourth photo

Frank Marillier

As the rate of shelling decreased after 14h30 Lt Edward Phillips and 79 men of his South African Light Trench Mortar Company were sent as infantrymen to reinforce the northern perimeter.

[{ Editor's Notes: It was considered by many that Lt Philip's arrival in Delville Wood was instrumental in the success of the South African defence. Although severely wounded on the night of 18/19 July he remained at his post and was conspicuous in leading bombing counter attacks to meet the enerny's assaults. He was awarded the Military Cross (MC). He was wounded at the Butte de Warlencourt and died on 16 October 1916}.]

At 14h50 Lukin advised Thackeray that he had been superseded as commander of the forces in the Wood:

Soon afterwards Dawson entered the Wood with 150 men, all of whom were battle-weary as the result of three days fighting. He discovered many wounded men lying close to the Buchanan Street headquarters, and so detailed some of his party to act as stretcher-bearers. Meanwhile, Maj Burges had been killed by a shell which exploded at the northern perimeter

Frank Marillier's life was saved by a courageous officer:

Mr Marillier also refers to the hazards of snipers:

At 17h30 Lt Thomas sent an urgent message to Thackeray:

Lt Thomas's communication was typical of the urgent demands for relief conveyed by all the companies. At 21h40 Lukin reiterated the uncompromising 9th Division Order G708, through the medium of Brigade Maj John Mitchell-Baker:

Casualties continued to mount. In the late afternoon Capt Jackson was inspecting the lines held by A and C Companies of the 3rd Battalion when the Germans launched a heavy attack and he was killed. The positions of the two companies were overrun by the Germans, who approached from the rear; through the devastated wood. Capt Jackson was buried where he had fallen. Lt Thomas of A Company was hit in the left leg by shrapnel. He and the remnants of the two companies were taken prisoner and escorted out of the wood. It was initially thought that Lt Harold George Eliot had been taken prisoner, and his records were thus annotated. However; in November 1917 his personnel records were amended to the effect that he was regarded as dead on or since 20 July 1916.

Capt Medlicott, commanding B Company, managed to maintain their resistance on l8 July. Capt Medlicott was captured on 19 July (c.f. below). Whilst in his POW camp (at Gutersloh, in Westphalia, Germany), he smuggled out a letter, undated, addressed to Lt Col Thackeray In the letter; which was received by Thackeray on 22 October 1916, Capt Medlicott graphically described the experiences of he and his company on 18 July:

The 3rd Battalion Overrun: 19 July 1916
At 05h15 on Wednesday 19 July Brig Gen Lukin replied to one of Thackeray's requests for relief:

South-east corner
The Germans commenced their advance at 06h00. Col Konemann led a force comprising elements of the 153rd Infantry Reserve Regiment and two companies of the 52nd Infantry Reserve Regiment from the north into Delville Wood. Upon reaching the southern perimeter they swung to the left and attacked B Company of the 3rd South African Infantry Regiment.

In the letter smuggled out of his Prisoner-of-War camp, referred to above, Capt Medlicott recounted the dramatic events leading to the capture of he and the survivors of his company:

Among the survivors of B Company who were taken prisoner was Pte Victor Wepener (as he then was). He had served as a signaller in the company and also as a runner in Lt Guard's platoon. Two of his brothers served alongside him in Delville Wood; Eric, aged 22 years, who was shot through the cheek and Horace, aged 17 years, who was also wounded. Both brothers were evacuated. (His other brother; John, served as a corporal in the 9th Lancers). Lt Col Wepener also recalled two other brothers serving in his platoon, Percy and Victor King. He related his experiences immediately before and after his capture thus:

South West Corner
At 09h00 the hard pressed medical officer of the 3rd Battalion, Capt Stephen Liebson, sent the following message to Thackeray:

In the southern perimeter; C Company of the 2nd Battalion was still maintaining its defensive position. Acting CSM James MacAulley Thomson advised Col Thackeray of their situation:

Thackeray was undoubtedly pleased to be informed that there were others, in addition to the force positioned at his Buchanan Street headquarters, who were still grimly holding on. His reply to Thomson, sent at 09h25, was as follows:

That Thackeray had survived to send the messages quoted above was in itself a miracle. He had been hit six times, was twice knocked down by shells and once by a bomb. Yet he had remained unhurt.

Frank Marillier;(8), serving with Acting CSM J.M. Thomson(9) in C Company of the 2nd Battalion, commented upon the hazards presented by snipers:

At 13h15 Thackeray expressed, in no uncertain terms, the desperate need for relief:

Communication between Acting CSM Thomson and Thackeray continued, and at 13h40 Thackeray replied to a further note from Thomson:

At 14h20 there appeared to be a ray of hope regarding relief when Thackeray received the following message from the 26th Brigade:

At 15h20 Thackeray complained about the British artillery firing short:

Five minutes later Thackeray received a message from Maj J.S. Drew, Brigade Major of the 26th Brigade, which appeared to answer his prayers:

However; the promise soon appeared to be illusory, as no relief appeared, and at 18h30 Thackeray advised the Officer Commanding the 10th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, of his position in detail:

The Relief arrives: 20 July 1916
As the light crept over the shattered landscape with the dawn of 20 July, revealing a moon-like vista of smoking craters, and tree stumps jaggedly pointing skywards with the trunks and branches lying scattered over the desolate landscape, Col Thackeray must have wondered whether his force would ever be relieved. Shattered corpses, of both sides, lay sprawled among the debris of war and Thackeray must also have wondered as to whether he and the remnants of his troops would soon be joining them. At 08h00 he despatched a message to Lukin, urgently requesting supplies, water and ammunition. Yet, despite their parlous state, he and the haggard South African survivors continued to fight. Thackeray inspired his men by example - throwing hand grenades and fighting with rifle and bayonet.

During the course of the morning the wounded 2 Lt Garnet Green sent a message of hope:

Unknown to Thackeray, the Fusiliers were desperately fighting to relieve his force. Two of their men, Cpl James Davies and Pte Albert Hill, were later to be awarded the Victoria Cross for their bravery. Yet the Fusiliers were driven back.

At 13h00 Thackeray sent a desperate note to Lukin:

Brigade Major John Mitchell-Baker; acting for Lukin, undertook a tremendous amount of 'behind the scenes' work to effect the relief of Thackeray's beleaguered men, and these efforts bore fruit in the following message, sent at 16h15 by Brig Gen H.W. Higginson, commanding the 53rd Brigade, to the South Africans in Buchanan Street:

This time there was no mistake. Thackeray and his remaining two officers, Lt Edward Phillips and 2 Lt Garnet Green, had all been wounded. He and Phillips led the 120 bone-weary survivors out of the Wood. Green brought up the rear and was the last South African to leave the wood.

Frank Marillier; of C Company 2nd Battalion, was one of the last four men to leave the wood. He vividly recorded his impressions of that final day in Delville Wood, including the efforts of the Fusiliers to relieve the South Africans:

Col Thackeray concluded his report to Brig Gen Lukin on a proud yet hopeful note:

It is virtually the unanimous opinion of military authorities that the losses incurred by the South African Infantry Brigade at Delville Wood were indeed in vain. The most costly defence of the Wood served no strategic purpose whatsoever (Neither; indeed, did the overall Somme offensive, of which Delville Wood formed but a part). Ultimately, the most fitting epitaph to the struggle for Delville Wood is contained in the words of John Buchan, who stated that


1 Subsequently captured at Delville Wood, he proved to be a reluctant prisoner-of-war and endeavoured to escape, but was unsuccessful. In December 1941 he served with the Imperial Light Horse (as the regiment was then known) at Bardia, with the rank of Major. Although shot in the leg he continued in his command until nightfall. For his services in this action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). He commanded the Imperial Light Horse between 1948 and 1953 and, in 1966, revisited Delville Wood with the South African Con tingent. He now lives with a daughter in Hillbrow, Johannesburg.

2 Hugh Mallet was promoted to Sergeant in March 1918 and awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) on 3 October 1918. He was killed in action five days later, during the advance on Le Cateau.

3 Pte Carey had his shattered jaw rebuilt by plastic surgeons, then returned to Cape Town. In June 1984 he attending the laying of the Delville Wood Museum foundation stone, at Delville Wood.

4 For his subsequent leadership at Delville Wood Lt Col Tanner was made a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (CMG). He was promoted temporary Brigadier General and appointed Officer Commanding 8th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Division, within the British Army, on 18 October 1917, retaining this position until 4 February 1918. Between 3 April 1918 and 23 July 1919 he commanded the reformed 1st South African Infantry Brigade. He led the brigade with distinction during the fierce fighting in April 1918, in the vicinity of Messines, West Flanders, to his brigade went the honour of being in the forefront of the final advance to victory. He was made a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB) in 1918 and 1919 respectively. His honours also include: Officer of the Order of Leopold (Belgium), awarded in 1917; Croix de Guerre (Belgium), awarded in 1918; and Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (France), awarded in 1918. In addition he was mentioned in Despatches six times. Between 1919 and 1933 he held many important posts in the Union Defence Forces, among which were: Adjutant-General, Commandant of the South African Military College, Officer Commanding Roberts' Heights (subsequently Voortrekkerhoogte) and Officer Commanding the Union Garrison Troops, Cape Peninsula. During this period he also acted as Chief of the General Staff on four occasions. On 15 January 1940 he was recalled to service as Officer Commanding the troops at Pietermaritzburg and Ladysmith. In August 1940 he became Officer Commanding, Witwatersrand Command, and in October of that year Officer Commanding, Cape Command. On 30 April 1943 he retired, having reached the age limit, and was then promoted to Major General and placed on the retired list. He died on 29 September 1943.

5 Capt Richard Frederick Cavendish Medlicott was 39 years of age at the time of his capture. Initially, it was assumed that he had been killed at Delville Wood. He was repatriated to Holland in June 1918, due to failing health. He was eventually demobilized in July 1918, and made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), as well as being awarded the Order of Danils (5th Class) by the King of Montenegro. (He had previously been awarded the Military Cross (MC) for his services in the South West African Campaign of 1914-1915, whilst serving with the 10th Infantry Regiment (Witwatersrand Rifles)).

6 Capt MacDonald was mortally wounded at the 3rd Battle of Ypres on 20 September 1917. Prior to this he had sent to Lt Col Thackeray a packet of messages relating to Delville Wood, which he had retained in his possession. Many of these communications have been reproduced in the above article.

7 2 Lt Garnet George Green received the Military Cross (MC) for his services at Delville Wood. He subsequently received a Bar to his MC in 1917, for his service at the Battle of Arras, and was killed during the German offensive in March 1918.

8 Frank Marillier was commissioned in October 1916. He was shot through the chest in the course of the battle of Fampoux but survived to serve in World War II. He farmed near Queenstown and died in May 1976, aged 81 years.

9 Acting CSM James Thomson was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his services at Delville Wood and soon afterwards was commissioned. He was mortally wounded at the Butte de Warlencourt and died on 17 October 1917. He is buried in Grave 4887 at St Sever Cemetery, Rouen, France.

10 Lt Style never entirely recovered from his wound, and died at Kingwilliamstown ten years later, aged only 34 years.

11 Lt Col Thackeray was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and made a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George; as well as being awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Palms. However; after his 3rd Battalion was disbanded in February 1918 he was not given another command. On 15 September 1919 he was appointed General Staff Officer and retired, with the rank of Colonel, on 1 April 1926. He died in Johannesburg in 1956, aged 86, and his medals are displayed at the South African National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg.


Buchan J. The History of the South African Forces in France. (Cape Town, Maskew Miller, 1921).

Letters and reminiscences: Arthur Betteridge, Sidney Carey, Fred Hampson, Hugh Mallet, Frank Mariellier, Richard Medlicott and Victor Wepener.

Messages and signals: papers of Col E.F. Thackeray and Gen W.E.C. Tanner

SADF Documentation Centre: Personal Files/Records of 1st SA Infantry Brigade.

Uys, Ian. Delville Wood (Johannesburg, the Author, 1983)


The article, The South Africans at Delville Wood (published in the Military History Journal Vol.7 No.2, December 1986, pp 45-58) appears to have elicited a certain degree of comment and contention. The author and the editors, therefore, wish to avail themselves of the opportunity to clarify certain points in the article which have generated this comment.

In footnote no 11 (p 58) it is stated that after Lt Col Thackeray's battalion had been disbanded in February 1918, 'he was not given another command'. This statement implied a change in status, from that of regimental to staff officer, and was based on the records contained with the Museum's archives. These state that Col Thakeray returned to the Union on 28 January 1918 and thence ceased to be employed with the Union Imperial Service Contingents; and, further, that he resumed his normal status of Major (temporary Lt Colonel), Permanent Force Staff, on demobilization (8 September 1919). However, it has subsequently come to light that papers in the possession of Mrs M van der Westhuysen reveal that Col Thackeray commanded 12/13 Northumberland Fusiliers during the course of 1918.
On p 49 of the article the following editors' note appears: 'The South African forces allocated English place names to the locations in Delville Wood, for the purposes of easy reference.'

The term 'allocated' and not 'invented' was specifically employed. It was intended to convey the meaning that English place names had previously been ascribed to the locations within Delville Wood, and that the South African forces adopted this terminology as it was certainly more meaningful than any French terms which might previously have been applied.

On p 49 it is stated that the platoon commander to whom Hugh Mallen referred was Lt Walter Hill. This is incorrect. It was inserted by the editors (who sought to establish the identity of this platoon commander) after consultation with Mr Uys, and a misunderstanding undoubtedly occurred. The following factors were taken into consideration by the editors, and these compounded the misunderstanding:
Although, as stated on p 53, Lt Col Thackeray was officially superseded as overall commander of South African forces at Delville Wood by Lt Col Dawson, the former remained in effective command, owing to the fact that Lt Col Dawson became separated from Thackeray's forces.

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