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Visit of Delville Wood



Letter written on the 21st July 1916 by Lance Corporal Frederick Charles Lee after he came out from Delville Wood. He was the only surviving NCO in C Company of the 3rd South African Infantry Regiment that went into action in the wood.

He died of wounds on the 9th April 1917 near Arras (as Second Lieutenant) and rest in St Nicolas British Cemetery.

B.E.F., France

21st July 1916

My Darling Mother,

It is with a very sorrowful heart that I sit down to write you these few lines.

We are a couple of miles behind the firing line now, having just come out of the Wood (Delville). After five days of absolute awfulness poor Angus Brown (1), my pal, died of wounds after about three hours awful suffering. He had both feet blown off by a shell on the 18th July.

I wish you to let Mrs and Mr Brown know this. I saw him a little while after he was hit. He was quite conscious and showed real grit. He even asked me for a cigarette. I gave him a drink of water, and the only complaint he made at that time was "My God, Fred, the pain is awful, and they can't give me anything to deaden it". With that I ran down to the next dressing station and got the doctor to give me some Morphia pills. When I got back to the dressing station in the wood Angus had been moved, and by the time I found him in another dressing station he was just about finished. I heard him say, "I wish the shell had killed me". I could not stop till the end, mother, as I had to go back to the front line, where we were being hard pressed. Angus was a real hero. I had no idea he was going to die ; he seemed so very cheerful. I've had a real good cry, I couldn't  help it. When we got the order to get back to a certain rallying place, all we could muster of our company was 29. Out the fine S.A. Brigade that went into action about 4,000 strong only approximately 300 are left. Of course quite a lot are wounded. We have no officers left, Captain Jackson (2) and Captain MacLachlan (3) and two Lieutenants killed, and the other two wounded. Not one officer of the 3rd Regiment has arrived so far. I'm the only NCO in C Company who went into action left, and I'm only a Lance Corporal and action O.C. C Company. Now you can try and judge what we have gone through, and all just for a small wood.

You know what a wood looks like when the trees are in bloom -well, that is what it was like when we first drove them out. Since then they have continually bombarded it with hundreds and hundreds of guns, until now it is just like one or two poles stuck in the ground.

Yesterday they gave us ten solid hours bombardment with guns of all sizes and kinds - tear shells, gas shells, etc, and some Jack Johnsons (4) that threw you thirty yards away when they landed near you. How I'm alive, mother, I can't say, and I am - I'm not ashamed to say it - one of many that prayed to get shot, absolutely worn out, nothing to eat or drink for two days, thanks to the enemy curtain fire, and no sleep for a week. I'm going to turn in very soon for a well earned rest. I haven't had a wash or a shave fort three weeks, and my face is drawn so that I'll wager that I could stand in front of you for inspection and you would not know me. McCaffery (5) got a bad wound in the neck, whether he got out of the Wood or not no one knows.

Also let Gracie know that young Rowe (6), whom I wrote to Vilma about some time ago, has also been killed. Also tell Katie that I've made enquiries about her cousin Fred and find that he and several others were blown to pieces by a shell. Give them all my love, mother, and tell them that I'm sorry that I can't write to them, but I am really too tired, can't keep my eyes open.

Good-bye, tons of love


(1) Private Harold Angus BROWN, died of wounds on the 19th July 1916. Commemorated on Thiepval Memorial.

(2) Major John William JACKSON, killed on the 20th July 1916. Commemorated on Thiepval Memorial.

(3) Captain Donald Ronald MACLACHLAN, killed on the 16th July 1916. Commemorated on Thiepval Memorial.

(4) Jack Johnson : from the famous heavyweight American boxer, nickname of the German heavy shells (from 150mm).

(5) Lance Corporal H.D.I. McCAFFERY. Taken prisoner.

(6) Private Walter Edmund ROWE, killed on the 16th July 1916. Commemorated on Thiepval Memorial.