by Graeme Swinney
South African National Museum of Military History
The opening ceremony, the first function to be held in the new building, was also attended by members of the Museum Council of Trustees, the Chairman of the Military History Society, the Chairman of the Friends of the Museum organisation, Honourary Museum Curators, the facility's architect and building contractors and all of the Museum's staff. After the opening, Mrs Mabandla attended a meeting of the Council of Trustees and a luncheon served in the Marrières Wood Room.
In her speech, Mrs Mabandla congratulated the Museum Council for its initiative in embarking on a five-year development programme, a programme which had been funded by the Museum alone, without any financial assistance from the State.
The centre, as its name implies, is dedicated to South Africa's hero of the First World War (1914-1918), W F Faulds, as well as to the many brave members of the country's armed forces who died during that war. Sadly, as many readers will doubtless be aware, most of Faulds's medal group, including his Victoria Cross (VC) and Military Cross (MC), was stolen from the Museum earlier this year. This unique medal group, which was purchased by the Museum for R 80 000, can obviously never be replaced, but the loss was perhaps not entirely futile. Insurance monies received for the stolen items, while hardly covering the real value of the medals, in addition to capital accumulated by the Museum's Council of Trustees, have been used to help construct the Faulds Centre.
The Faulds Centre greatly expands the Museum's previously limited conference and function facilities and will in future be an important source of income for that institution. The multi-purpose centre will also be used for temporary exhibitions.
William Frederick Faulds (1895-1950) of Cradock, Eastern Cape, was awarded eleven medals during his military career.(1) Of these, two, the Military Cross (MC) and that most prestigious of British military awards, the Victoria Cross (VC), were bestowed on him for conspicuous gallantry during the First World War. The VC was awarded for his actions during the Battle of Delville Wood (15-20 July 1916) and the MC for his endeavours during his unit's retreat to Marrières Wood during March of 1918. Both of these engagements were amongst the most savage battles in which Faulds's unit - and South Africa's fighting 'representatives' on the Western Front - the 1st South African Infantry Brigade, fought. Of the two, the Battle of Delville Wood is the better known, but Marrières was hardly less intense and saw the destruction of the hard fighting brigade.
Private W F Faulds, VC.
Faulds was one of only three South Africans in the SA Imperial Service Contingents to be awarded the VC.(2) His was the first decoration of this kind to be won by a member of the Imperial Service Contingents and the only one to be awarded to a member of the 1St SA Infantry Brigade at Delville Wood. It was also the last VC awarded to a fighting soldier for a rescue attempt during the war.(3)
According to the citation for Faulds's VC: 'A bombing party under Lieut Craig attempted to rush over 40 yards (36 m) of ground which lay between the British and enemy trenches. Coming under very heavy rifle and machine gun fire the officer and the majority of the party were killed and wounded. Unable to move, Lieut Craig lay midway between the two lines of trench, the ground being quite open. In full daylight, Pte Faulds, accompanied by two other men, climbed over the parapet, ran out, picked up the officer, and carried him back... Two days later Private Faulds again showed most conspicuous bravery in going out alone to bring in a wounded man, and carried him nearly half a mile to a dressing-station... The artillery fire was at the time so intense that stretcher-bearers and others considered that any attempt to bring in the wounded man meant certain death...'
The SA Brigade suffered appalling casualties at Delville Wood: on 15 July it numbered 3 155, but six days later the brigade mustered a mere 720.
The great German Offensive of 1918 began on 21 March and cracked a wide section of the Allied Front. As it turned out, the offensive proved to be Germany's last throw, but at first it appeared irresistible. That day, although the Allied troops on its flanks began to give way, the SA Brigade stood firm and repulsed all attacks made on it. However, by evening it was clear that the brigade was in danger of being encircled and it was decided that it should retire.
Faulds's platoon (he was by then a temporary lieutenant) was made part of the rearguard covering the brigade's retreat on 22 March. General Orders of 21 January 1920 describe Faulds's actions that won him the MC that day:
'In the retirement from the line east of Hendicourt, 22nd March, 1918, he was commanding one of the platoons which formed the rear-guard. He handled his men most ably, and exposed himself freely. Though the enemy pressed hard, he, by his fearless and able leadership, checked them, and enabled the remainder of the battalion to withdraw with slight losses.'(4)
Faulds and the exhausted SA Brigade stood and fought the advancing Germans at Marrières Wood on 24 March 1918. At 09.00 the brigade, which by then numbered only 500, sighted the field grey mass of the German advance. The South Africans, who were eventually outflanked and encircled, beat off one German assault after another. With ammunition virtually exhausted, they were finally overrun that afternoon. Fewer than a hundred of the brigade's members, the bulk of them wounded, surrendered at 16.20. Faulds was marched into captivity with his comrades. The seven-hour South African stand at the wood won vital time for the retreating Allies.
William Faulds went on to serve in the Second World War (1939-1945). He saw active service in Italian Somaliland and Abyssinia with the Rhodesian forces. He died in 1950. It is fitting indeed that this brave young man and his brigade are commemorated at the Museum's new centre.
The Faulds Centre has two floors, the interiors of which were designed by the Museum's staff. The top floor is named 'The Delville Wood Room' and is a well-equipped seminar and conference room with state of the art sound equipment. This complements the Museum's existing, but similarly equipped J C Lemmer Auditorium in which talks and slide and video-shows are held.
The original plaster-cast positive of a Danie de Jager relief at the Delville Wood Museum in France, completes the commemorative atmosphere of the Delville Wood Room. This 'bronze' relief features a group of soldiers of the 1st SA Brigade leaving Delville Wood after their ordeal. An interpretation of this 'Sixth Day' panel is reproduced on the cover of this journal.
Needless to say, the ground floor room is called the 'Marrières Wood Room'. This is a gathering and dining room and is equipped with a kitchen. Here Jo Roos's epic relief shows, in a conglomerate of panels, South Africans in action around the world throughout the First World War. Like de Jager's relief, this work may also be seen at the Delville Wood Museum. However, unlike de Jager's work, Roos's panels had to be moulded in fibreglass from the negatives that were used to make the original bronze work at the Delville Wood Museum. Welcoming the visitor to the new building, above the front doors of the top floor, is a large replica of the South African General Service cap badge - the famous springbok head surrounded by a laurel wreath. The glass front doors of both floors aptly feature engraved or frosted glass images of the Victoria Cross. The inspiration for this was also drawn from the Delville Wood Museum which features similar panels of frosted glass.
Both rooms also contain two small display cases each. One display is devoted to Faulds himself, and replicas of the medals that made up his group can be seen here. Another two displays feature the type of equipment and uniforms that the belligerents used on the Western Front during the latter half of the war, and the fourth case presents relics that were retrieved from the Delville Wood battlefield.
In the Delville Wood Room, replica rifles (a British Short Magazine Lee-Enfield No 1 Mk 3 and German Mauser Gewehr Model 98) are mounted on the walls. These fine replicas were made by the Museum's workshop staff. They are carved largely out of wood, although some parts were fashioned from plastic. Four flags are also affixed to the walls, two on each floor. These flags are South African Red Ensigns (Railway Versions). General Louis Botha took a colour version of these to South West Africa in 1915.
The Faulds Centre enormously extends the function and exhibition facilities available at the Military Museum. It is hoped that the centre will make the Museum an even more popular conference and entertainment venue, a venue where visitors can expenence an unusual setting and perhaps learn something of the efforts of their forefathers during the First World War.
1. Faulds's eleven awards included: the Victoria Cross, Military Cross,
1914-1915 Star, British War Medal 1914-1920, Allied Victory Medal
1914-1918 (South African issue), 1939-1945 Star, Africa Star,
Defence Medal 1939-1945, War Medal 1939-1945, Africa Service
Medal and King George VI Coronation Medal 1937. The Museum
possessed nine of these medals.
2. Besides Faulds, one other VC was won on the Western Front. The third was awarded for an action in East Africa. Another twelve VCs were awarded to South Africans who had been seconded to - or who had enlisted directly with - the British armed forces.
3. Apparently, after the Somme Offensive the British High Command tried to discourage fighting men from leaving the front line. For a discussion on this issue and about the distinctiveness of Faulds's decorations see S Monick 'W F Faulds, VC, MC: A Uniquely South African Victoria Cross Group' in The Museum Review, Vol 1 No 6 (Sept 1987).
4. General Orders of the Union Defence Forces, Minister of Defence, 21 January 1920, GO 3344 - Rewards for War Services. Library Archives of the South African National Museum of Military History, File A 46, 'Faulds, Lt William Frederick (VC)'.
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