to the Western Front
Part 9: Delville Wood, High Wood...
Brian Pohanka - October 28, 1999
brief sketch was originally posted at a Civil War discussion
group site and is reprinted here with the author's permission.
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
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.
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