No battlefield on all the Western Front was more bitterly contested than was ‘Devil’s Wood.’
It was “the bloodiest hell of 1916,” and of the 3,200 soldiers of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade that entered the battle on July 14 less than 800 mustered afterwards.
For six days and five nights, in the solitary square mile of Delville Wood, the South Africans stood firm against three crack German divisions.
By the time they were relieved a legend had been born, but who were these men that took and held the wood in an inferno of exploding shells, flame-throwers, machine-gun and rifle fire?
Fresh-faced youths, Boer War and South West African campaign veterans, enlistees with false names … all were volunteers whose overriding desire was to serve in France.
First published in 1983, ‘Delville Wood’ remains a landmark volume commemorating the daring and fortitude of South Africa’s soldiers at the Somme during the First World War.
In forming an overall picture of each day’s fighting through the words of the survivors, the statistics of battle are cast aside by Uys in favour of something altogether more profound, exploring their characters and ensuring they will never be forgotten.
Ian Uys (b. 1942) is a South African accountant and author. A co-founder of the Military Medal Society of SA and former committee member of the SA Military History Society — and related to a survivor of the battle of Delville Wood — his interests have lead him to write numerous books on the subject.