Nicknamed 'Devil's Wood' by the soldiers of the South African 1st Infantry who fought here during the Battle of the Somme in the First World War, Delville Wood, near the town of Longueval in Picardy, northern France, saw intense fighting.
Beneath the protective cover of fifty-five acres of trees the German Army dug trenches in Delville Wood to defend the captured Longueval; a 'fortress town' manned by heavily-armed German soldiers. The Allies considered liberating Longueval and routing the enemy strategically vital to ending the war on the Western Front.
The Battle of Delville Wood began early on July 15th 1916 when South African soldiers mounted an attack under virtually continuous German artillery fire which fell at up to four hundred shells per minute. Deprived of rations, water and sleep and having lost eighty percent of its men, the South African Infantry was eventually relieved on July 19th. Delville Wood had become a devastated, hellish quagmire, with every tree but one reduced to a stump. It was finally cleared of German troops on September 3rd.
In 1920, the South African Government bought Delville Wood, establishing a permanent memorial for the country's servicemen who perished in the Great War. Today, Delville Wood is a picturesque yet sobering reminder of war's high cost to humanity and an unmissable destination on any tour of the Somme's battlefields.
Delville Wood Cemetery
Located opposite the wood, the Delville Wood Cemetery is the third largest British war cemetery in the Somme and contains the graves of servicemen lost in battle during the summer of 1916. Only a third of the headstones here bear soldiers names; the rest are unknown.
Delville Wood Memorial
Designed by Sir Herbert Baker, the Delville Wood Memorial consists of a semi-circular wall with a stone archway at its centre and a pavilion at each end. An inscription carved into the archway reads ""Their ideal is our legacy/Their Sacrifice our inspiration" in both English and Afrikaans.
The Altar Stone
South Africa's further sacrifice in World War Two is commemorated in Delville Wood by an altar stone on a plinth positioned on the Memorial's central avenue and aligned with the stone archway. Donated by the South African Government it is dedicated to "All South Africans who gave their lives in all theatres of war on land on the sea in the air in the World War of 1939-1945".
The 'Last Tree'
Only one tree, a hornbeam, survived the sustained wartime bombardment of Delville Wood. The 'Last Tree', continues to grow today despite the artillery shrapnel deeply embedded in its trunk and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Meta description: Take an unforgettable trip to Delville Woods to discover the heroic role played by South African infantrymen in one of the fiercest battles of the Somme.