Page Histoire

Visite du Bois Delville



10th and 11th novembER 1918

The last two days of battle of the South African Brigade.

from South African Forces in France by John Buchan.


At 7 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, 10th November - about the time when the courier of the German delegation was reaching Spa (German HQ) with Foch's terms in his pocket - the column moved out from Solre-le-Chateau on the Beaumont Road, Lieutenant-Colonel H.H. Jenkins (C.O. of the 1st SAI), with the 1st Regiment, forming the advanced guard. A culvert a mile to the East had been blown up, and took some time to repair, so it was 9.30 before the head of the column reached Hestrud. The 12th Lancers, who were in possession, reported that the enemy was in considerable force on the high ground north and south of Grandrieu. Tanner accordingly halted the main body under cover at the Bois de Madame, and ordered the 1st Regiment after a brief reconnaissance to deploy for attack in order th clear the way for the column. The attack of the 1st on a three company front began at 10.30 with the fording of the Thure River, the road bridge having been destroyed. The enemy, part of the Guard Reserve Corps, opened the sluices of a reservoir upstream, with the result that the assaulting troops were cut off till the flood subsided. Presently it became clear that they were facing an organized rearguard position, strongly held by machine guns, and supported by artillery.

The flanks of the advance were exposed ; and since the bulk of the 5th Cavalry Brigade had not come up, General Bethell (C.O. of the Bethell's Force and of the 66th East Lancashire Division) moved forward the 199th Brigade on the right of the South Africans in the direction of Sivry, where they were in touch with the 20th Hussars. The instructions of the advanced guard were to keep close to the enemy, but not to attack if he was found in a strong position. Accordingly Tanner (C.O.of the South African Brigade) did not force the advance, and in the afternoon the 1st Regiment was ordered to dig in. It was thought likely that the Germans might retreat during the night, so vigilant patrolling was carried out ; but at dawn on the 11th the situation had not altered. In the meantime the bridge at Hestrud had been rebuilt by the Engineers.

The morning of Monday, 11th November, was cold and foggy, such weather as a year before had been seen at Cambrai. Very early, while the Canadians of Horne's First Army were entering Mons, the 1st Regiment attacked, but could make little progress, though a patrol under Second-Lieutenant Cawood managed to gain some ground on the left flank. By 8 o'clock a considerable advance was made on the right, where the 20th Hussars were feeling their way through Sivry. At 10 a.m. Tanner received by telephone the news that an armistice had been signed. "Hostilities", so ran the divisional order, "will cease at 11 o'clock to-day, 11th November. Troops will stand fast on line reached at that hour, which will be immediately reported by wire to Headquaters, Fourth Army Advance Guard. Defensive precautions will be maintained. There will ne no intercourse of any description with the enemy until receipt of instructions". The news must have reached the enemy lines earlier, and he signalized its arrival by increasing his bombardment, as if he had resolved to have no surplus ammunition left when the hour of truce arrived.

Punctually at 11 o'clock the firing on both sides ceased. There came a moment of dramatic silence, and then a sound as of a light wind blowing down the lines - the echo of men cheering on the long battle front. The meaning of victory could not in that hour be realized by the weary troops ; they only knew that fighting had stopped, and that they could leave their trenches without disaster. The final "gesture" fell to the arm which from the beginning of the campaign had been the most efficient in the enemy service. At two minutes to eleven a machine gun opened about two hundred yards from our leading troops at Grandrieu, and fired off a whole belt without a pause. A German machine gunner was then seen to stand up beside his weapon, take off his helmet, bow, and turning about, walk slowly to the rear.

At the hour of the Armistice the line reached by the advanced guard ran from Montbliart in the South, West of Sautain, through the Bois de Martinsart, round the eastern edge of Grandrieu to the western skirts of Cousolre. It represented the easternmost point gained by any troops of the British Armies in France. The South Africans had the honour of finishing the War as the spear-point of the Advance to Victory.