Wandsworth ACF

 

Some excellent work been done by the SA Legion in the United Kingdom as we continue our aims of youth education and participation with Her Majesty’s Armed Forces Cadet program. ACF Wandsworth – Cadet Saffa Da Conceaio and Detachment Commander Lt Cassandra Sealy, both Legionnaires, proudly carried the colours at this year’s Delville Wood Parade in France.

This article on the SA Legion has just appeared in the hard copy the latest UK Army Cadet Volunteer magazine.


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About 100 Military Veterans and friends gathered at the cenotaph in Benoni on Sunday 19 July 2015 to attend the 99th Commemoration of the Battle of Delville Wood. A total of 17 wreaths were laid while 35 symbolic roses were placed by members of the public.

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Charles Ross with photos by Sergeant Kevin Fenton.


 

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The South African Veterans and French Veterans form the honour guard at the War Memorial in Delville Wood, and drop the veteran association standards in honour of Private Beleza Myengwa, a South African Labour Corps soldier, who on the 27th November, 1916, who was the first SALC casualty in France at the start of the First World War.

Pvt Myengwa’s remains where reinterred alongside 600 fallen South African soldiers lost at Delville Wood during one of the fiercest battles ofthe war.

Private Myengwa’s remains were originally interred at a civilian cemetary in Le Havre, and not in the South African Labour Corps military cemetery near Dieppe as he was literally the first casualty lost within days of his battalion arriving in France. The practice at the time been to bury WW1 soldiers near the hospital (sometimes civilian) where they passed on.

One of the greatest travesties of the war is that South African Black and Cape Coloured soldiers, who made up 42% of the forces in World War 1 where not honoured for their services, medals were not awarded and in subsequent years their legacy was actively removed or excluded from the history books, both in South African and in Europe. Because of this The First Wold War is perceived in South Africa and the United Kingdom as a ‘white mans’ conflict, when nothing can be further from the truth – over 80 000 ‘men of colour’ served side to side with their white counterparts albeit in non combat support roles.

Black and Cape Coloured soldiers performed all sorts of roles, from engineering, medical orderlies, stores and logistics assistants, drivers, cooks, military policing, they felled forests for wood, used to build trenches and for fuel and they dug and fortified trenches and defences. These men were exposed it the horrors of war and hundreds of them succumbed to war paying the ultimate sacrifice.

Finally, this particular travesty of history and forgotten valour was corrected on Sunday, during the ceremony in France attended by Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, the Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, SANDF personnel together with the veterans community who witnessed the re-internment of Private Myengwa’s remains at Delville Wood.

Private Myengwa has become the first ‘person of colour’ to be laid to rest at the Delville Wood memorial. His remains where laid to rest inside the Museum inside Delville Wood. The inscription on his tomb says everything as to the symbolic purpose of his placement.

‘Here lie the remains of the first South African Native Labour Corps member to die in France. His presence represents all the members of the SANLC whose deeds were not acknowledged in the past. He is buried here amongst his comrades as a symbol or reconciliation and nation building. Their contribution was not in vain and their heroism will forever be cherished by their nation.’

In every respect it is the right thing to do.


The Battle of Somme, launched on 01 July 1916, was one of the bloodiest offensives during World War 1. 1 SA Brigade was part of the 9th Division in reserve on the Southern Sector. On 14 July 1916, the 26th Highland Brigade attacked the village of Longueval, situated on a plateau with a small wood of 1 000 metres x 1 400 metres sited directly East of the village. This wood was known as Delville Wood (often referred to as “Devil’s Wood”), comprising of high trees and well-prepared German defences. The wood was criss-crossed by parallel roads with nicknames such as Strand, Regent, Bond, Princess, Buchanan, Campbell and King Streets and Rotten Row. This wood was the key to the battlefields as it influenced the Northern and Eastern flanks of the Southern Sector.

At 00:55 on 15 July 1916, the Commander of 1 SAI Brigade, General Tim Lukin, was ordered to capture Delville Wood and to “hold it at all costs.” The Springboks carried out their mission, surrounded on the Northern and Eastern flank and constantly attacked and shelled by German artillery until 20 July 1916, when Col Frank Thackerey, two wounded officers and 140 men marched out of the wood after being relieved by the Norfolk regiment. On the same day, five officers and 750 men, most of them walking wounded, paraded before their commander.

General Lukin removed his cap and wept unashamedly as his troops marched past with “eyes right”. His troops had heroically held a key position and carried out their mission to hold the position at all costs notwithstanding the appalling casualties they suffered of 763 dead and 297 prisoners of war captured – with wounded, a total of 2 435 casualties.

The main commemoration service is held at the Delville Wood in the Somme, France and is usually held on a weekend in the first weeks of July depending on the French Bastille Day celebration calendar.  Commemoration services in South Africa usually follow the official date set by the Delville Wood memorial in France.  In South Africa commemorations are held in Benoni, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Kimberley, Pietermaritzburg and Pretoria.

In France, the South African Legion usually has representatives who attend the ceremony at Delville Wood itself, the Legionnaires carry the standards of the various official South African veteran bodies (including the South African Legion’s standards) alongside their French veteran counterparts.


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