History page

Visit of Delville Wood


« The largest and most moving memorial is Delville Wood itself… »

Ian Uys - Delville Wood


Acquisition of the Wood

At the end of the War, there was a strong popular demand in countries of the Commonwealth for the commemoration of the fallen troops. So, during the twenty years following the War, the Commonwealth countries erected National Memorials on the sites where their troops distinguished themselves.

With this aim and view, the Colonel HELBERT, South African military attaché in London, travelled to France and Belgium to select a site. Visiting the Somme devasted by the War, he was struck by the look of Delville Wood, place of the first major engagement of the South African Infantry Brigade in July 1916. The wood, thick and dense in the past, was now a desolated wasteland covered with shell holes, broken trees and remains of trenches.

Delville Wood in September 1916 (from The Somme then and now, of John Giles)

In February 1918, one month before the German Spring Offensive during which it was to be almost destroyed, the South African Infantry Brigade took part in a Drumhead service in front of a tall wooden cross dedicated to the men of the Brigade fallen in the Wood in 1916.

(from Delville Wood of Ian Uys)

Considering that this highly symbolic place impose itself, the Colonel HELBERT, took a call option with the owner, on one's own initiative. With the motivation of Sir Percy FITZPATRICK and the support of the General SMUTS, Delville Wood was eventually purchased in 1920 by the South African Gouvernment.

Covering an area of 63 hectares, Delville Wood had retain more or less its pre-war outlines. Its Western and North-Western edges borders the village of Longueval and its Southern edge is lined by the Longueval-Ginchy road.

A  Information Centre

B   Main entrance

C   Memorial

D   Museum and Cross of Consecration

E   The Last Tree

F   Davies-Hill tree memorial

G   Site of the South African' HQ

H   Point of entrance on 15th July 1916

The red areas are restricted

It was decided that the Wood would only be replanted and remained the final resting place of all soldiers who repose here.

The Central Avenue

Flanked by two double rows of oaks, a wide avenue lead solemnly to the Memorial. These venerables oaks are a colourful story. Approached in 1920, the South African Department of Forestry took on the immense replant work. M. Hockvelden, stationed at La Motte in Franschoek, asked 9-year-old Koos Hugo, who lived on the farm La Cotte to collect a bag full of acorns from the same tree that had germinated from one of the six acorns which French Huguenot Jean Gardiol had brought to South Africa in 1688. These symbolic acorns, when germinated were sent across to France where they were used to replant Delville Wood.

View from  Rotten Row

The paths

Today, wide grass rides had replaced pre-war bridle paths. Marker stones, bearing the names which were given to the rides on the battle maps, were erected at their intersections. It bears the names of streets of London (Rotten Row, Regent Street, Bond Street)), Glasgow (Buchanan Street, Campbell Street), Edinburgh (Regent Street, King Street) and Cape Town (Strand Street).

Regent Street in summer

Western part of Princes Street in spring

The Last Tree

A hornbeam is the only surviving tree of the original wood. Situated near the  Prince's Street-Regent Street intersection, behind the Museum, it was preserved during the replanting work. Today, it is the only living witness of the battle. A silent testimony but touching.

Cuttings from this tree have found their way to South Africa and been planted at a number of places, among others General Smuts' home at Doornkloof, Irene, and the Garden of Remembrance at Pietermaritzburg.

The Last Tree in Summer 2006

Davies-Hill Tree Memorial

In 2002, a beech was planted along Princes Street, no far from the Last Tree, in remembrance of  Corporal J.J. Davies and Private A. Hill, 10th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, each awarded the Victoria Cross during the fights of the 20th July 1916.

Davies VC / Hill VC Tree Memorial

An attentive visitor can see marks of the Battle.

Remains of a trench

The wood is a military cemetery, several thousands men lies here for eternity.  The Cross of Consecration, now in the courtyard of the Museum, replaces the Common Cross of Sacrifice, present in all Commonwealth Military Cemeteries.

The Cross of Consecration

Delville Wood covered in snow