Lest we forget
THE Battle of Delville Wood (July 15 to September 3 1916) marks a very special period in South African military history when 2 500 South Africans were killed, their bloodied bodies having to be buried at the site after the battle as transporting them home was impossible.
They are remembered each year on or near July 16.
According to writer Susan Erasmus, “…In just four days between July 15 and 19, the SA Brigade numbering only 3,150 men, attached to the 9th Scottish Division, lost 766 men with the dead outnumbering the wounded four to one. At the height of the Battle of Delville Wood, enemy artillery fire reached 400 shells a minute.”
It is almost impossible for South Africans today to understand the fear these soldiers, black and white, must have felt as enemy artillery pounded their trenches at a rate of about eight shells per second. Knowing that there was no relief, the only option was to fight. But the enemy was largely hidden and too far away to make any reasonable charge against them (although that, in fact, did happen).
Last Sunday saw the Moths (Memorable Order of the Tin Hats) meet at the Port Alfred Shell Hole to commemorate the brave men who died during that fateful encounter, a decisive battle of World War 1, the Great War that was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Yet, just over 20 years later the world was again embroiled in a war where more lives were lost to battle.
There are no old soldiers from the First World War alive today, and those current members of the Moths who even fought in World War 2 are now at least in their late 80s, so the general feeling among those in attendance was that the tradition of commemoration might die within the next decade.
Mark Schroeder opened the proceedings by giving a brief introduction to the battle that took so many lives.
“Of the young men who enlisted in the army to fight the Germans in 1914, none were at Delville Wood. That was because all of them had been killed in the first two years of the war,” said Schroeder.
Reverend Des Spenceley then gave a short address highlighting that these soldiers gave their lives in order to ensure the safety of those back home.
As the Last Post was blown and heads where bowed in soulful remembrance, Jon Pieters read out the names of the 98 South African soldiers who died on the first day of battle. Reveille saw the re-raising of the Moth colours and the ceremony end.
“They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them” – For the Fallen, a poem by Laurence Binyon.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM: Revered Des Spenceley gave an address to the Moths and the public regarding the soldiers who died at Delville Wood in the First World War, at the Port Alfred Moths Shell Hole on Sunday