Ambassador Barbier attends "Devil’s Wood" play

On Wednesday 8 June 2016, Ambassador of France to South Africa, HE Elisabeth Barbier, attended a performance of the play Devil’s Wood, directed by Sylvaine Strike, at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre.

In July 2016, South Africa will commemorate the Centenary of the WWI Battle of Delville Wood, when 3 ‍‍200 troops of the South African Infantry Brigade arrived on the battlefield of Delville Wood in the department of La Somme (France).

Devil’s Wood starring Thabo Rametsi, Daniel Geddes and Thishiwe Ziqubu, was devised by multi-award winning director Sylvaine Strike using research material obtained through the Ditsong South African Military Museum, extracts from private letters, diaries, articles by Ian Uys and Deon Fourie, Purnell’s History of WWI volume 4, the poetry of Wilfred Owen, Love Letters of the Great War I edited by Mandy Kirby.

Said Strike: "A century ago may seem long to South Africa’s younger generations who feel they may have no connection to this war. We cannot quantify its impact on our contemporary and fragile humanity, nor can we ignore the warning signs that both Great Wars have left us, as we face a world that seems to be more at war with itself than ever before... We can never forget these men lost by the thousands in less than seven days, men who had no personal connection to fighting this war in the first place".

  • Read the Ambassador’s speech here.

Background:100 Years of Memory - South Africa and WWI

The Battle of Delville Wood became one of the deadliest Somme engagements of the First World War, in which the Union of South Africa lost almost two-thirds of the complement of its Overseas Expeditionary Force in less than a week of warfare.

The South African Union was only four years old at the beginning of WWI in 1914. As part of the British Empire, the country became attached to the Allied war effort in several military operations in Africa and the Middle East (South West Africa, South East Africa, North Africa, and in Egypt and Palestine), and in western Europe. Over 200 000 White, African and Coloured South Africans went to fight as combatants or to labour as non-combatants on these varied fronts. Due to the political requirements of segregation, black Africans were only allowed to serve as labourers or as other unarmed auxiliary workers, and were all prohibited from bearing arms. By the end of hostilities, around 12,500 South Africans had either been killed in action or had died as a consequence of their active war service. In death they were segregated as they had been in life - black servicemen were not buried together in the same cemeteries with their white compatriots.

As part of the remembrance of the Delville Wood battle, the French Institute of South Africa, the Alliance Française network, the Goethe-Institut and the South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation will be organising a series of events to commemorate the Union of South Africa’s engagement in the First World War. This project has obtained the “Label du Centenaire”, a French certification highlighting the most innovative and structured projects around the memory of WWI.

Historians (Bill Nasson, Tilman Dedering and others to be confirmed) will participate in a shared discussion of a century of commemoration of WWI in South Africa. Playwright and director Sylvaine Strike will create a performance alongside an exciting young cast to poetically convey the experience of young men who volunteered to be sent to the European battlefront, as well as the feelings back home in South Africa, a country geographically remote from the worst horrors of WWI. This play will also be performed in Durban and Cape Town. Finally, a showcase of animated short movies about WWI will be screened to provide a contemporary perspective on these events and experiences.

publie le 09/06/2016

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