President Zuma speaking at the South African National Memorial in the Somme (Photo: Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

Somme Centenary: Memorial honouring all South Africans unveiled at Delville Wood

Posted on on 19 July 2016
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President Jacob Zuma has inaugurated a new memorial at Delville Wood honouring South Africans of all races who fought in the First and Second World Wars.

South Africa's leader visited the Somme on July 12th 2016 for commemorations marking the centenary of the first major action fought by South African troops on the Western Front.

President Zuma said: "We have gathered to honour South Africans who sacrificed their lives during the Battle of Delville Wood, one hundred years ago, regardless of race, colour or creed.

"We are here to honour in particular, black people who fell in this war, who were not accorded the respect and recognition they deserved, and which is equal to that of their white compatriots."

The names of all the Great War fallen have now been engraved, in alphabetical order, on a new commemorative wall at the South African National Memorial.  

The ceremony at Delville Wood (Photo: Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

Under white minority rule in South Africa, only white soldiers were buried at Delville Wood. Black South Africans were buried elsewhere in France. Thousands volunteered for the South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC), even though restricted to unarmed labouring and support duties.

President Zuma said: "The transformation of the Delville Wood Memorial was therefore necessary to ensure that it would reflect an objective, just and authentic South African military history."

The first step came in 2014 when Private Myengwa Beleza, the first SANLC member to die in France, was reburied in the museum courtyard as a symbol of reconciliation.

100 years ago, South African soldiers of the 1st Infantry Brigade were ordered to 'take and hold Delville Wood at all costs' as part of Allied operations in the early stages of the Battle of the Somme.

They lost 3,000 men in six days of fighting in July 1916 before being relieved. The struggle for Delville Wood would continue until September.

A century later, President Zuma declared: "Let all South Africans stand proud of what the men of Delville Wood of all races sacrificed for their country. Let their ideal be our legacy and their sacrifice our inspiration."

Source: South African Presidency

Images courtesy of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Posted by CN Editorial Team