The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 15 No 3 - June 2011

The story of Second Lieutenant Arthur Knibbs, D Company; 1st South African Infantry Battalion

Victoria and Albert Ward
4th London Gen Hospital
Denmark Hill
London 5th August, 1916

My dearest Girliewigs,

I am starting this letter early this week, so that I can (tell) you something about our scrap. First of all, must tell you how the poor wounded soldier is progressing. I have been here just on a fortnight now, the sister tells me that I am doing famously, my wound is healing up very well indeed.

Now for the news, on the 9th of July our Regiment was sent up to 'Bernafay Wood', which was supposed to have been the second line. Well before we had been there half an hour, the Manchesters (who were supposed to have been in the front line, 'Trones Wood') retired to our trenches. The Bosche [Germans] happened to spot this and simply poured shells into us. We were taken out after two days, and were given three days' rest. It was then when Mr Smith (Institute) was killed, poor fellow was hit by an aeroplane shell, which didn't explode. At dawn on the 14th [sic - should be 16th] we started out to attack Delville ('Devils', it should be) Wood.

The Bosche spotted us before we had even been there ten minutes, and oh what a time he gave us. We started driving them out of the wood immediately and in an hour we had them out. Their snipers did a lot of damage; they were well hidden up the trees. That night they tried a counter attack, but we gave them a warm time with our machine guns. Whenever it was quiet we dug holes and connected them, making a trench of it. The third day the enemy started shelling us very heavily, I knew then that we were finished and that we could not get reinforcements. My Captain (who was [later] killed) rushed past and told us to retire to our Headquarter trench. I had gone 50 yards when I got it in the elbow just as I stumbled in a shell hole (lucky fall for me, might have got it in the head). I didn't feel much pain at the time I was hit, but I felt awfully weak on account of the loss of blood. Ritches, a travellor [sic] at Dreyfus and Co, (Ronnie will know him) helped me on from there to the advance dressing station. I should never have got through without his assistance. It was a terrible job, trees were cut down in front of us, and shells bursting all round. At the dressing station it was worse, they bandaged me up and advised me to bolt for it. After having a bit of a rest I made a dash for it. Every fifty yards or so I rested. I shall never forget that run as long as I live. I saw men blown to pieces, and men lying wounded and killed all along the road.

When I arrived at the dressing [station] I col[l]apsed, cried like a baby. They put me on a stretcher there, and [I] have been in bed ever since. Yesterday I got up for the first time, I have had quite a number of S[outh] Africans in to see me, they have been awfully good to me.

I must hurry up, for the Sister has started the dressings (the butcher shop I call it). Now before I close off, Girliewigs, I want to ask you to be a good girl and not worry. It will be two or three months before I will have to go back, and when I do get there the Old Bosche won't get me the second time.

I am awfully fed up waiting for my mail, I do miss your letters. I have spent hours writing this letter, and have still got Mother's letter to write.
With fondest love
I remain always your own loving

2/Lt A R Knibbs

On 18 July 1916, during the climax of the fighting at Delville Wood, where the 1st South African Brigade had been instructed to hold the wood 'at all costs', Second LieutenantArthur Knibbs of East London, like so many of the officers of D Company, 1st South African Infantry Battalion, became a casualty. Fortunately, he survived the battle and, two weeks later, wrote this letter to his fiancee, Florence, whom he affectionately referred to as 'Girlie'. The letter was recently unearthed by his family and is published here in the interests of bringing this soldier's experience to the readers of this journal. The letter is reproduced by courtesy of his family.

Arthur and Florence Knibbs

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