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Pierre_Henri

Returning the South African Flag from Delville Wood

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Pierre_Henri    14
Pierre_Henri

In December last year (2008), a lady approached me and told me an incredible story. Her grandfather was a survivor from the First World War battle of Delville Wood. What is astonishing is that her granddad brought back the then SA flag (our flag has since changed) back to his home country. It was the actual flag (or at least a part of one of the South African flags) that was carried by our forces in the battle.

 

Delville Wood, as the supreme symbol of South Africa's Sacrifice and Courage, occupied an eminent place in the country's military history. In July 1916, the 1st South African Infantry Brigade carried out one of the highest feat of arms of the Great War.

 

delsoldiers.jpg

 

Before the battle: men of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment take a rest along a road (Delville Wood Museum)

 

The best known unit associated with the fighting in Delville Wood is the South African Brigade, part of the 9th (Scottish) Division — of the 3,433 men from the brigade who entered the wood, only 768 emerged unscathed. No prisoners were taken.

 

The ferocity of the fighting is demonstrated by the fact that of the South African casualties, the dead outnumbered the wounded by 4 to 1 (in typical trench warfare, the ratio of dead to wounded was 1 to 3). In the words of British military historian Peter Liddle:

 

The South African Brigade had fought steadfastly under such appalling and prolonged circumstances that in the grim litany of the Somme's savagery of sustained attack and counter-attack, Delville Wood stands unenviably pre-eminent

 

Delafter.jpg

 

Delville Wood after the battle

 

I did some research on the battle and found out that there is a memorial museum in Northern France dedicated to our soldiers that died there. Here is a picture …

 

Delvillemuseum.jpg

 

Regarding the flag: After the Unification of the four South African provinces in 1910, the Red Ensign was South Africa's de facto national flag until 1928. It was changed slightly in 1912 when the shield of the coat of arms was placed on a white roundel.

 

The flag that was brought back from Delville wood was actually the piece showing the shield of the coat of arms. One can see that is was torn from a red background (but it is the post 1912 red ensign with the white roundal) There are some discolored blood stains on it.

 

Here are three pictures. The first two shows the pre and post 1912 versions and the third the actual flag (or piece of it) that was brought back by the soldier.

 

za-1910.gif

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za-1912.gif

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Flag.jpg

 

The soldier who brought back the flag (the grandfather of the lady who contacted me) was William James who also fought in the Boer War (he originally came from Cornwall in England).

 

The family still has his Queens medal (South African War medal). According to an old copy of his birth certificate, he was born in 1861. So he must have been 55 years old in 1916 during the battle of the Somme. Now the question arises if a late middle aged man would fought as a private during WWI? Maybe in an auxiliary position?

 

I found two privates on the Delville Wood Register of South African soldiers with the surname of James (with a “W†initial) who fought there being Private W.T. JAMES (1st SAI - Wounded on the 18th July) and Private Douglas W. JAMES (2nd SAI, A Coy - attached to the Trench Mortar Battery and who was one of the last South African group relieved on the 20th July at Delville Wood).

 

Clearly much more research must still be done on this matter. So I referred it to the Delville Wood chairman, Major General Roy Andersen in an e-mail on December 12, 2008, writing…

 

Hello Roy

 

I have the Delville Wood flag carried by the South African forces at Delville Wood. I will provide a sworn statement by the grand daughter of the soldier who brought the flag back to SA. She wishes to donate it to a non-governmental museum.

 

Kind regards

 

Pierre Nortje

 

I got the following reply back…

 

Dear Pierre

 

I am out of the country until 24 December and then in KZN until the 19th Jan. My PA, Sharon is back in office on 5 Jan - Will you be in contact with her then (telephone number provided)

 

Regards

 

Roy Andersen

Chairman: Delville Wood

 

I called his PA and she told me that they would soon get back to me but since then I have heard nothing more… Maybe a military historian out there can help me to return the flag to wherever would be the right place for it for display purposes in respect and honor of the thousands of brave that died for it?

 

Kind regards

 

Pierre Nortje

 

Sources : I used various Google sources to obtain information on the history of the SA Flag and Delville Wood.

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WRANGLER_4X4    10
WRANGLER_4X4

flag

 

Try these people, Spink & Son LTD

5,6,7 King Street

St James's London Sw1Y

 

Tel 0171 839 4853

Fax 0171 839 4853

 

David Erskine -Hill maybe they can give you info.

 

Cheers

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Guest Guest

Re: flag

 

Try these people, Spink & Son LTD

5,6,7 King Street

St James's London Sw1Y

 

Tel 0171 839 4853

Fax 0171 839 4853

 

David Erskine -Hill maybe they can give you info.

 

Cheers

 

That's an English address.You have to add +44 to the front of the phone & fax numbers.

 

Here's their website address; http://www.spink.com .

 

Aidan.

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shellbee    10
shellbee

Returning the South African Flag from Delville Wood

 

Hi, thought you may be interested to know that there is a small garden of remeberance in Pietermaritzburg dedicated to Dellville Wood. The cross that is there was made from one of the trees at the site of the battle and actually "weeps" on the the anniversary of the battle.

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Guest Guest

ShelleyAnn,

That's very interesting to know.

 

Aidan.

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