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Visit of Delville Wood





Delville Wood


A Soldier's Song


The Battle of Delville Wood


At Delville


The Sinking of the Mendi


SS MENDI (A lament)


Our Fallen Heroes



A few years after the War, Colonel Donald MacLeod asked W.A. Beattie to write a poem about Delville Wood. Beattie had fought in the wood in the 4th SAI as Lance Corporal and was wounded.

By ruined homes in Montauban, by trench and sunken road.

All resolute and strong the living stream of khaki flowed.

Through land laid waste and seared and torn by ruthless giant guns

And so that stream South Africa had lent her sturdy sons.


Of Boer  and British stock were they, and lean and lithe and tanned.

Yet mingling there as brothers fighting for one Motherland ;

For kith and kindred o’er the sea, for King and Country now

Their hands they joined in fellowship, and took the filial vow.


And thus they entered Bernafay through fire and fitid fume,

While every tree atrembling stood, as if it sensed its doom ;

And in that avenue of woe they paused to count their dead.

Then grimly on on Delville, where their path of glory led.


Within that wood of epic fame for days and nights they fought.

And backward thrust the stubborn foe, through every step was bought

With tragic toll of vivid youth, that had but life to give.

And gladly gave that precious gift, that you and I might live.


From hour to hour the battle raged and fearful tumult reigned.

And still they fought as men inspired and still their ground maintained ;

And as their stricken comrades fell, the shattered boughs dropped down

In pity on their mangled forms – and made their laurel crown.


So year by year we think of them and humble homage pay

To thocs who trad with courage high that Gethsemane.

Now Delville is South Africa blooddrenched with manhood’s bloom.

Our heritage from heroes brave, our temple and our tomb.

                                                                                    W.A. BEATTIE

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In Delville Wood - In Delville Wood,

The German foe in thousands lay,

And no-man's land, with British blood,.

Ran red as wine that summer's day -

We'd sworn to take it - and we would !

God help the Bosche in Delville Wood !


To Delville Wood - To Delville Wood,

We faced his fire, and forced our way

To where his grim machne-guns stood,.

And where he fiercely turned at bay -

We'd sworn to beat him - and we would !

We'd turn him out of Delville Wood !


In Delville Wood - In Delville Wood,

As inch by inch the ground was gained,

With bullet, steel, and smashing butt.

We fought and fell, till few remained ;

But Boer and Briton steadfast stood,

For Freedom's sake - in Delville Wood !


In Delville Wood - In Delville Wood,

Midst splintered trees and shattered wrack,

From morn till night we still made good

Gainst shot and shell and massed attack,

We'd sworn to win, so firm we stood -

Or died like men - in Delville Wood !


In Delville Wood - In Delville Wood,

The shattered trees are green with leaves,

And flowers bloom where cannons stood,

And rich the fields with golden sheaves -

Sleep soft ye dead, for God is good -

And Peace has come to Delville Wood !

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Published in the 1920s by Emma Creswell-Knütsen.

They left our sunny land so bright

They crossed the seas to join the fight ;

In Delville Wood they took their stand,

Briton and Boer - a noble hand

Of glorious Springbok boys.


When the great battle-cry rang out,

They answered with a joyous shout ;

They sprang right in the fiery zone -

Not one faltered, no, not one

Of our noble Spingbok boys.


They charged into the cruel fight,

Bayonetting, stabbling, left and right,

They held their captured ground ;

Then o'er the bodies of grey they bound -

On, on to greater glory.


Of the wonderful stand of that little band

'Gainst nine battalions grey,

The whole world will ring,

and our children sing,

Forever and for aye.

Old Africa"s proud of her gallant men,

We'll sound the praises again and again

Of our noble Springbok boys.

                                                                                        Emma Creswell-Knütsen.

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Written by Robert Ernest Vernède in 1916. Second Lieutenant in a battalion of The Rifle Brigade, he was wounded during the Battle of the Somme and was killed in action at Havrincourt on the 9th April 1917. He is buried in Le Bucquiere Communal Cemetery Extension. This poem was found among his belongings after his death.

At Delville I lost three Sergeants
And never within my Ken
Had one of them taken thought for his life 
Or cover for aught but his men.

Not for two years of fighting
Through that devilish strain and noise;
Yet one of them called out as he died -
"I've been so ambitious, boys"...

And I thought to myself, "Ambitious!"
Did he mean that he longed for power?
But I knew that he'd never thought of himself
Save in his dying hour.

And one left a note for his mother,
Saying he gladly died
For England, and wished no better thing..
How she must weep with pride.

And one with never a word fell,
Talking's the one thing he'd shirk,
But I never knew him other than keen
For things like danger and work.

Those Sergeants I lost at Delville
On a night that was cruel and black,
They gave their lives for England's sake,
They will never come back.

What of the hundreds in whose hearts
Thoughts no less splendid burn?
I wonder what England will do for them
If ever they return?

                                                                Robert Ernest Vernède.

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(from Black Valour of Norman Clothier - translated from the Xhosa by J. Cope and M.C. Mcanyangwa)

Yes, So be it, though we already knew

A long time that this would come, and few

Of us were startled for we had seen most

Clearly it would happen as it must.

Out of all ways this was the chosen one -

So then, Lord, your will be done !

And as our bride down her last flood

The Mendi takes the service of our blood.


Say it was not for just a bride

Or for meat you left the hunger of your tribe ;

Not in the hope of piling up rewards

Or for wealth counted by the stars.

To you who died for Africa, who sailed down

Over the sea to meet the German, we make it known :

It was not for the King by any lotal tie,

It was not for Britain you went out to die.


When you came from your homes we talked with you ;

When you left your children we reached out to you ;

Our eyes were wet as we held your hands in ours,

Your fathers groaned, mothers shed bitter tears ;

And when you left behind these hills, this earth,

Your backs turned to the rivers of your birth,

Black men of our blood, we said this thing -

'On that far-off field you are our offering'.


Whith what victim do we make atonement ?

For home and family what offering is sent ?

Do we not sacrifice the bull-calves of the kraal,

Single out those most loved of all ?

So does our way lie open to the heart,

Seeking true words to show the path.

Was not Abel's death the whole world's price ?

Was not the Saviour heaven's sacrifice ?


Then be comforted, orphans of our nation -

From one death rises new creation ;

One man must serve that others may live on.

Accept, and let this pity be your shield ;

We say that thus the hurt mind is healed.

And we call old words up from the long past :

'Death is no stranger when it comes at last.''


Ah, those dead stood in the foremost rank

Of Africa - great the ship's burden when she sank.

Brave of the brave they were, men who bring

With their blood greetings to the King of Kings.

Death has its wage - to live again.

Gladly I would stand with them, new-riden men,

And shine like one whose work is well done

In the great brightness of that Day's dawn.

So then, let it be.

                                                                                                                                S.E.K. MQHAYI

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A lament. Written for the Ceremony of the 90th Anniversary of the sinking of the SS Mendi on the 21st July 2007.


Long years

Bold young bones

Long buried

By History

Lay restless

In the tomb

Of foreign waters



Very long decades

Our warrior spirits


Craved to journey home

Yet remained hovering

With a massive ache

Amongst carefree



Over this unsteady

Burial site

Forever fluid

In climate most


In seasons

Espacially harsh

To faces of the South

To sons of the sun



Long years

Your tite of passage

Nipped at infancy

Could never flower

Hankering for delivrance

Your communal voice

Could not be heard

Silenced by deception

Stifled by

Educated cover-ups

Through the length

Of the longest journey

That has brought us

To these shores

Of your harrowing end

To hear again

Your anguish


Through all waters barriers

With a heart-searing

A heart-tearing


That even now

Rises from ancient seabeds


Mount on backs

Of Seathings


Along the crest

Of swollen waves

Forever swelling


Six hundred plus





One African



That rises with each wave

In harmony

With rumours of

New life

Taking firm root4In the land of your birth

In alliance

With all that is young and good

And the present of pace

You bought us

With your undying love


Because we have

Rediscovered our memory

Because we have

Recovered our souls

We can now hear

These sacred voices

In all our tongues

When they pierce

Through our amnesia

Shock our consciences

Into conscious


Of every soul

Lost in these wildernesses

Bed us to


Each mother's son

Whose coffin is

A ship

Each unsung hero

Forgotten in

The cold French soil

At Dieppe

Or amongst the trees

Of Delville Wood

All enriching foreign lands

With each drop

Of precious life


It is a prayer

To bow before

These child-heroes who

Though long gone

And deleted in history

Continue to bless


To the music of the birds

When united in their freedom

Lend melodious notes

And sweet rhythms

To the motion

Of such eloquent waters

With endless tales

Of the English Channel

Whose greed swallowed



Then belched them



Some icy




At the cemetery of the brave

All aboard

The doomed

SS Mendi

                                                                                                        LINDIWE MABUZA - 16th July 2007

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Written by Petty Officer Mpho Rakoma and recited by its composer on the 23rd August 2004 during the Memorial Wreath laying by the SAS Mendi.

SS Mendi, our fallen heroes
We come here today
To commemorate February 21, 1917
Celebrate your bravery
Hails for your courage

SS Mendi, our fallen heroes
Our courtesy visit
Is also to acknowledge
The mighty Mendi name
To understand its origin

SS Mendi, our fallen heroes
We're visiting your resting place
To connect and accept the event
For blessing and guidance
Through the deep blue seas

SS Mendi, our fallen heroes
We bid you farewell
In accepting our call
To guide the Mendi name
Aluta continua

                                                    Mpho Rakoma

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