Mr Godfrey Giles, the Honorary Vice-President of the World Veterans Federation (35 million members) and the National President of the South African Legion of Military Veterans (95 years old, oldest organisation in South Africa) presented the Welcoming Address at the Commemorative Service of the Battle of Delville Wood in Johannesburg, on Sunday, 17th July 2016. On behalf of the SA Legion, MOTH, Transvaal Scottish and the City of Johannesburg he welcomed all and thanked everyone for giving up their time to remember those that fell during all wars but on the specific morning those who partook in the Battle of Delville Wood.
He also paid tribute to those that survived and their families who grieved or looked after survivors for many years. He welcomed the Next of Kin representatives, Madam Speaker, Clr Connie Bapela, Foreign Representatives of Argentina, Australia, Chad, Republic of Costa Rica, Republic of France, Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Republic of Kenya, New Zealand, Russian Federation, Republic of San Marino, United Kingdom and the United States of America, Generals, Admirals, Members of Military Forces, Representatives of Veteran Organisations and other Associations – Veterans on Parade and invites guests. He thanked Madam Speaker for everything she had done for our Reserves and veterans as it was possible that this it could have been her last service she attended. He specifically thanked the Delville Wood Commemoration Trust, for the book that they had published that covered the WW1 trilogy – Delville Wood, SS Mendi and Battle of Square Hill – it was greatly appreciated. He also thanked all those that assisted in putting the service together.
Having returned from a visit abroad as the Legion representative on the 100th Anniversary Tour to Delville Wood, in France, he had a new perception of that battle and why we get together once a year for these services. He said that today the wood had the most magnificent huge trees with birds continuously calling was that it was a peaceful resting place for hundreds of our men. However, when one looks at the pictures of the total devastation of the wood one gets a picture of the absolute horror of that battle. With only one last tree still standing, one understands how the bombs would have hit the trees and splintered them. Due to so many roots in the wood, there was little chance of proper trenches for their cover from shelling. At times it was estimated that the rate of shelling reached 7 shells per second. At night the shelling reached a rate of 400 per minute. This made it very difficult for passing orders or communication of wounded as well. What with the bad weather and blown away ground many soldier’s rifles were jammed – some accounts tell of 4 out of 6. One can only admire and understand what must have been going through their minds during those five days and six nights.
As soldier or relative we must remember the courage and tenacity of our troops, their first battle and baptism of fire. The appalling casualties suffered – approximately 750 of the 2,500 casualties were killed and no more than 200 bodies were ever recovered.
The holocaust of Delville Wood taught lessons which would stand the Allied Forces in good stead through the remainder of the war, but at a huge cost – our fallen and those that managed to survive. Delville Wood was a very strategic point in the war which had to be held at all costs. Over the 141 days of the battle of the Somme, 420,000 casualties, including 60,000 on the first day. The French lost 200,000 men and the Germans nearly 500,000Over 9 million military and civilians lost their lives along with nearly 9 million animals.
As citizen of South Africa we all need to carry the torch of remembrance and peace as well as passing this torch on to our youth. Together we should influence our politicians and radicals and that we must not accept war! Dialogue is what we call for and that words are stronger than weapons and that we must use them to prevent new holocausts like this one in the future. The Legion motto "Not for ourselves but for others” acknowledges all those that continue to remember and recognise the service of our men and women who have given us our today.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.
Respect was shown by many Veterans by placing a wreath and amongst many pitiful tokens of then dreadful circumstances at Delville Wood. High rankings Military Representatives were invited to pay their respect by laying a wreath. A number of International Officials attended the service and placed beautiful flower arrangements to show their admiration and respect.
The 100th Delville Wood Commemorative Service was well arranged and a true military atmosphere was provided by the perfect rhythm from the back pipes and drums on parade.