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Brian Pohanka
The Western Front:
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- Y-Sap, Lochnager
   Craters

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- Ulster Tower,
   Beaumont

- The Somme
- The Fallen Soldier
- Mametz Wood
- Delville Wood, High
   Wood
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   Vaux

- Verdun

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Visit to the Western Front
Part 9: Delville Wood, High Wood...

By Brian Pohanka - October 28, 1999

This brief sketch was originally posted at a Civil War discussion group site and is reprinted here with the author's permission.

From Mametz Wood we drove some two miles east to another of those little forests that saw such carnage in the Great War -- Delville Wood -- or "Devil's Wood" to the Tommies. I had been there a year and a half earlier, when our 5th NY Zouaves [Civil War re-enactment group] had our tour of France. One of our men is the grandson of a soldier of the King's Own Lancashire Regiment, and his grandfather's brother had died on the Somme with the 1/7 Manchesters. But I wanted to show Cricket this spot, and revisit it myself.

Across the road from Delville Wood is another British Cemetery, with nearly 5500 graves, of which two-thirds are of unknown soldiers. Beside the wood (which has grown up into quite a considerable forest again) is a small visitor's center, which has some displays as well as a very nice bookstore. I picked up some more volumes there, and managed to get a coffee at the snack bar, before two busloads of British kids on school tour came roiling in. Cricket and I then walked over to the wood itself.

At the center of Delville Wood is the large South African Memorial, with its own museum and interpretive displays. One walks up to it on a long open pathway cut through the woods. But what I wanted to do was walk off into the woods themselves, for there, beneath a carpet of vegetation, are the trenches and shell craters still obvious after all these decades. When I was there with the Zouaves, we found several shell fragments, four bullets and part of the nozzle attachment of a gasmask. This time I was not really poking around for relics, but more to show Cricket just how shelled and tossed about that landscape had been.

The South African Brigade (attached to the 9th Scottish Division) had been ordered to take the wood -- a German stronghold -- and did so at great cost, only to be driven out by a counterattack. On July 20, 1916 the South Africans were pulled out of the line after five days of fighting. Of the 3150 who went into "Devil's Wood" only 143 emerged unscathed. It would be August 25 before Delville Wood was finally in British hands.

From there we drove a mile northwest to High Wood, which also saw terrible fighting and was reduced to stumps and splinters. There are memorials to the Black Watch and Cameron Highlanders at the edge of the wood. Behind the latter is a pond which occupies the hole made by one of the many mines exploded beneath the German lines prior to the British assault. High Wood is somewhat off-limits, as a very nice home -- I would call it a small chateau -- has been erected there, and "private property" signs were much in evidence.

We then travelled another mile north and east to the little village of Martinpuich, where I spotted a pretty considerable German bunker in a cow pasture, and took several photos and made some video of it. We then continued North, passing Pozieres and Thiepval (which we'd visited the day before), and on to Beaumont Hamel and the Newfoundland Memorial Park -- the largest area of trenched and cratered landscape remaining on the Somme battlefields.

red poppy by DLO

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