The Delville Wood Story - SA Schools’ Essay Competition 2016

The Battle of Delville Wood, fought during WW I in July 1916, plays an important role in the rich and diverse heritage of South Africa. Many of those brave young men, fighting for freedom, far from home in northern France came fresh from South African schools, joining up as young men.

The South African Delville Wood Commemorative Museum Trust, had a programme over the past three years, engaging schools across South Africa, to instill awareness in the youth, of the sacrifice young South Africans of all races made in the First World War, focusing this year on the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme, Arques-la-Bataille, and the upcoming Centenary of the sinking of SS Mendi in 1917. A portion of all the programs, costs have been provided by the Ashworth family, who had two brothers fighting in Delville Wood. The aim of the program was to have three young South African learners, selected from an essay competition, attend the Centenary commemoration over July 2016, from Arques-la-Bataille to Delville Wood.

The three essay competition winners joined their Chaperone, Colonel (Padre) Addie Burt, and some of the Trustees attending the event, on Tuesday 5 July 2016 for the flight to France. For some of the learners it was their first experience of international travel. The learners attended the official South African Ceremony at Arques-la-Bataille on 8 July 2016, and the Centenary of the Battle of Delville Wood on 12 July 2016. In addition, tours were arranged to see special places, significant memorials and museums, across the Somme, that the learners could get a feel of what the fighting conditions were like in the trench war of World War 1, the sacrifices of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade and the South African Native Labour Corps, along with other South African contributions such as the South African Heavy Artillery.

The learners tour itinerary included a day and night in Paris, Vimy Ridge, Albert, Thiepval, Arques-la-Bataille and Dieppe, Arras, and Longueval with Delville Wood.

The articles below reflect the experiences of the three learners selected to join the Centenary. When reading their experiences, one can see how the lives of our soldiers still are remembered by South African youth, from the experience of the walk in Delville Wood itself, to seeing the destruction of the battlefields fought over, and the personal effects of the soldiers that still remain, to the final resting place of many, and the names of those still missing.

Maj, Dr Terence Milne (Ret)
Deputy Chair
South African Delville Wood Commemorative Museum Trust


The Three South African Learners, Wendy van Wyk, Meeka’eel Shaik Latiff,Tyson Mtshali, with the winners of last year’s Australian essay competition, at the Centenary of the Battle of Delville Wood Service


It is one thing to hear and read about the Battle of the Somme, but quite another to physically walk in the trenches and stand across from the sea of gravestones. Seeing the remains of the soldiers everyday objects like a watch, shoes, belt, enforced the realization that these were everyday people, teenagers like myself. It was a heavy day going from memorial site to memorial site and coming to terms with the history of my ancestors; the horror of their youth. I personally have always felt somewhat disconnected from my heritage; but visiting the Delville Wood forest and seeing the beauty that pays tribute to so much pain and suffering helped to make me feel more secure in not only who I am as a person, but also my role as a young person in our country; that it is important to remember, to embrace and furthermore to learn from this history’s injustice and to create something that is worthy of their sacrifice; to honour them. I am incredibly grateful and honoured to have been chosen to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime journey, to have had the opportunity to learn and experience so much and to be able to contribute to a wiser future.

Wendy van Wyk
Clarendon High School for Girls (East London, Eastern Cape)

France, a country associated with history, romance and where people dream to visit. It is a place where fashion, money and tourists all come together as one .With some of the biggest skyscrapers and most famous monuments known all around the world. But people only see the glamour and good things about France but never the struggle deep in depths of France. I may not have been there during the battle but yes I have witnessed the results of one of the bloodiest battles in World War 1. During my short trip we visited the various historical sites; I have discovered that when you hear and talk about it does not have as much effect as seeing it personally. I personally have experienced some of the deepest emotions and have the upmost respect for the brave men who have sacrificed their lives for freedom. Just witnessing the memorial sites of all the soldiers was breath-taking. The saddest part was that many soldiers were buried not being identified. It was truly humbling to view the number of soldiers that died for the freedom of France. As we walked through the trenches in Vimy, it dawned on me how many people fought and lived in the trenches. Whilst walking through one of the new monument sites, it depicted and recorded at least 580 000 soldiers’ names who died in battle. I was touched when I walked through the sites as I came to the realisation that people died at the actual place I had been walking through.
We also had the pleasure to visit a famous restaurant which is known for a man who made his own trenches to depict the actual trenches of the war and this showed how the men lived in the trenches. Seeing the actual items of the soldiers which were dug up from the war, items such as hairbrushes, shaving blades, shoes and many more items showed that these were normal people just like us that went to sacrifice their lives in the bloody battle.
This truly has been an experience to witness and a lifetime opportunity and I would like to thank everyone for making this possible.

Meeka’eel Shaik Latiff
Laudium Secondary School

It is said that soldiers bring honour and glory to their country, willing to lay down their lives to fight for freedom and justice. The men who died are seen as making a noble sacrifice for the good of the world. The wars fought are written in bold and big letters as the proud legacy of the country.
During the trip I did not see glory. I did not see honour. I saw devastation caused by a horrific fight. I saw the final resting place of thousands of men, a majority of them a long way from home, who died like pawns on a chessboard. I saw the scars on the Earth that remained from the destruction.
Walking through the graves, I did not feel pride. I felt death. I felt the presence of ghosts. They were the ghosts of men who should have had lives outside of war, men who should’ve been with their wives and children, some who don’t even have their name on their grave.
Die for your country and get a nameless grave. Either that or share a grave with four others, stacked on top of one another like discarded laundry. What an honour.
To think of how peaceful Delville Wood and the towns around it are now, it’s painful to think about how 100 years ago, it was all dust, bullet holes, twigs and bodies.
This begs the question: what did they die for? World War 1 was not the last global conflict. Terror rages on today. Deaths are coming daily. Must people die? Why? For who?
Why do countries look at winning a war as a good thing? Why must there be a war in the first place? Over disagreements? No disagreement deserves millions of deaths.
It was an honour to be chosen to go on the trip. I learned things and heard stories that I never would’ve in a history classroom. South Africans of all races were finally honoured and families can now try to make peace now that South Africans have been acknowledged for their contribution to the war efforts, but I left with dread filling my heart.
The deaths cannot be forgotten, but they were ones without glory and that brings on a dark cloud over the whole experience.

By Tyson Mtshali
King Edward’s School

Text provided by Maj (ret) Dr Terence Milne
Deputy Chair
SA Delville Wood Commemorative Museum Trust

publie le 28/07/2016

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