In 1914, the White Dominion countries of the British Empire were officially an integral part of the ‘British Nation’ and such were automatically drawn into any outbreak of hostilities once the British Sovereign declared war. Therefore, in the tension charged months before the declaration of war on Germany by the British, it was quite expected that the British Government should receive firm commitments from the Dominion governments of Canada, Australia and New Zealand that they would support the Home Country in the event of war with Germany. Newfoundland was a British Colony at the time and completely separate from Canada so, like India and the other colonies it made its own commitment to aid the Empire.
At the outbreak of war in August 1914, the other British Dominion, South Africa, (more properly known as the Union of South Africa), immediately offered troops for imperial service and undertook to look after its own defence releasing 6,0000 British troops for service elsewhere. But there was strong antipathy to the war against Germany in the country from the Boer community, and this led to a short-lived rebellion in October 1914.
In July 1914, the ruling Conservative Party formally offered a military force to assist Great Britain in the event of hostilities and was closely supported by the Liberal Party without a parliamentary vote. As the Canadian Army was small – around 3,000 troops – a call for volunteers was made to man a Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). The first tranche of 83,000 volunteers left for Britain in October 1914 in 31 transports for further training and assimilation into the British Expeditionary Force. It disembarked at Plymouth, England, to a rapturous welcome.
Compulsory conscription was only introduced in early 1917.
Although the political parties in Australia were in a state of change of power in July 1914, both the Liberal and Labour leadership and their Parties supported the sending of Australian troops overseas and to putting the Australian Navy under British command. On the 3rd August 1914, a formal commitment was made to the British Government to provide 20,000 troops. Australia’s Regular Army was very small, but it was backed by a militia of volunteers that totalled 45,000. There was also a universal commitment for periodic military training in a Citizen’s Army. Like Canada it was decided to create an entirely separate volunteer force – The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) – for imperial service overseas. On the 10th August 1914 recruitment for the AIF began. After a delay, due to the threat from the German cruisers at loose on the High Seas, on the 14th October 1914 the AIF left for Europe by sea.
Before the departure of the AIF for Europe, another force of 1,500 men – the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF), led by Colonel W. Holmes – had taken possession in October 1914 of the German colonies of New Guinea and the Bismark Archipelago. The principal target was the land-based German radio stations at Rabaul and smaller stations elsewhere on the Archipelago.
Despite two referenda in 1916 and 1917, compulsory conscription was never accepted in Australia in the Great War.
Prior to the outbreak of war in August 1914, both of the dominant Liberal and Reform Parties strongly supported British efforts to resist the demands of Germany and the other Central Powers. The defence of New Zealand, prior to 1914, was dependent on a Citizen’s Army of 26,000, and 26,000 Territorials, co-ordinated by a permanent cadre of around 600 permanent staff. The New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) – 8,400 strong, under the command of British Major General Alexander ‘Alick’ John Godley – left for Europe in October 1914. For logistics reasons the two antipodal forces combined, used the same shipping and faced the same delay due to the threat of the German cruisers.
Before the departure of the NZEF for Europe, a detachment of 1,400 men took possession of the German colony of Western Somoa on the 29th August 1914,
In August 1914, the Newfoundland Assembly offered 500 troops and up to 1,000 of its naval reserve towards the Imperial cause. The recruitment of the troops was made by the Newfoundland Patriotic Service. Enlarged to form the Newfoundland Regiment (later the Royal Newfoundland Regiment) in October 1914 its trooper ship sailed in convoy with the Canadians to Britain.
N.B. Although Newfoundland only became part of the Dominion of Canada in 1949, in this document it is treated as part of a Dominion.
At the out-break of war, the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, the other White Dominion, suggested that the Union take over responsibility for its own defence, thus releasing 6,000 locally deployed British troops. It mobilised the Active Citizens Force (ACF). Later that year, it agreed to undertake operations in German South West Africa.
Conscription for White South Africans had existed since 1912.
When the 1st Division CEF arrived in Britain October 1914, further training was undertaken on Salisbury Plain under very adverse weather conditions.
The first Canadian troops to arrive in France in December 1914 were an independent unit known as Princes Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. They were attached to the British 27th Division and did not rejoin the main force of the CEF until a year later.
The 1st Canadian Division moved to France in February 1915 and during their ‘Induction Period’ in a ‘nursery sector’ near Fleurbaix, were peripherally involved in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in mid-March 1915. In April 1915 the CEF moved north to the Ypres Salient.
A British career officer Colonel Edwin Alfred Harvey Alderson was given command of the CEF. He was in command on the 22nd April 1915 when the Germans launched their gas attack on the French Colonials and the adjacent 1st Canadian Division at Gravenstafel Ridge, near Langemarck, in the Ypres Salient. A second attack on the Canadians followed on the 24th April at St. Julien. All in all, the Canadians reacted well and, after initially falling back, held the line and quite possibly saved the bacon of the BEF in the Salient.
In May and June 1915, the 1st Division CEF participated in the Battles of Festubert and Givenchy in the Arras Sector.
Still under Alderson’s leadership, the Canadians became the Canadian Army Corps in September 1915, with the arrival of 2nd Canadian Division. However, after the questionable performance of the 2nd Canadian Division in April 1916 at St. Eloi Crater (St. Eloois), south of Ypres Town, and an ongoing dispute with the Canadian Ministry of War over deficiencies in the Canadian Army’s standard rifle – the Ross – in May 1916, Alderson was ‘Kicked upstairs’. He became the Inspector General of the Canadian Forces on the Western Front.
Alderson was replaced by another British commander, the newly promoted Lieutenant General Sir Julian Hedworth George Byng. Byng was appointed in May 1916 as General Officer Commanding Canadian Corps. He now had three Canadian divisions 1st – 3rd and was quickly involved in the Battle of Mount Sorrell that took place just before the beginning of the First Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916.
On the Somme. the Canadian Corps (1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions) participated in the Battles of Courcellette and Thiepval Ridge in September 1916. In October all four divisions participated in the Battles of Transloy and Ancre Heights that included the famous capture of the Regina Trench. Only the 4th Division participated in the Battle of Ancre in November 1916.
Byng’s greatest success with the four divisions of Canadian Corps was at Vimy Ridge in April 1917 in the Arras Offensives. Vimy Ridge was a natural fortress located at a vitally strategic point 12km north-east of the city of Arras with an overview of the entire area, and well within shelling range of the city. Spotted by the Germans in 1914 as a potential stronghold, and strongly fortified, it repulsed repeated attacks by the British and French in 1914, 1915 and 1916. Finally, the four Canadian divisions stormed and captured the Ridge on 9th April 1917 and thereafter it remained in Allied hands, even during the German Spring Offensive in March 1918.
Later in April and May 1917 came participation in the Battles of Coulotte (2nd and 3rd Divisions), Arleux (1st and 2nd Divisions) and the Scarpe (1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions) which included the crucial capture of Fresnoy by the 1st Division.
Following on from his success at Vimy, Byng was promoted and appointed, in June 1917, to the command of the British Third Army, also on the Western Front.
Byng’s replacement was a Canadian, General Arthur William Currie. He took over in June 1917, just in time to oversee the four Canadian divisions (1st-4th) deployed in the important Battle of Hill 70 at Lens in August 1917. But earlier Byng had planned for the June attack by 3rd and 4th Divisions to capture Avion in the Arras Sector and this was Currie’s first attack under his direct command.
Currie’s four divisions of troops collectively, and individually, played a major role in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. In October and November 1917 they took a prominent part in the Second Battle of Passchendaele under the ghastly conditions of the Flanders flood plain
After the German Spring Offensive was launched on March 1918, the Canadian 2nd Division played an important role in the successful defence of Arras.
During the Hundred Days Campaign in from August – November 1918, the Canadian Corps was increasingly seen, and used, as a spearhead of the Allied advance that led to the final victory over Germany. The principle battles/engagements of the Hundred Days campaign were:
Amiens, August – 2nd and 3rd Divisions.
Damery, Amiens, August – 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Divisions.
Scarpe, Arras, August – 1st, 2nd, 3rd Divisions and Brutinel’s Brigade (= First and Second Motor Machine Gun Brigades).
Monchy-le-Preux, Arras, August – 3rd Division.
The Drocourt-Queant Line, Arras, September – 1st and 4th Divisions,
Canal du Nord, Hindenburg Line, September/October – 1st, 4th and Brutinel’s Brigade.
Cambrai, October – 1st, 2nd, 3rd Divisions and Brutinel’ Brigade.
Capture of Valenciennes, November – 3rd and 4th Divisions and Mont Huoy, November – 4th Division.
Sambre, November – 4th Division.
Passage of the Grande Honelle, November – 2nd and 4th Divisions.
Capture of Mons, November – 3rd Division.
Exceptionally for a commander on the Western Front, Currie’s record, as the General Officer Commanding of the Canadian Corps, was one of unalloyed success. Although very much a ‘behind the lines General’ his foresight, careful planning, brilliant use of artillery and, above all, his concern for the welfare of his troops, made him popular with his own troops and able to get the best out of them in the battle-field.
After the war, Byng continued his connection with Canada when he was appointed Governor General in 1921, having taken the title Baron Byng of Vimy and Thorpe-le-Soken in 1919. He served as Governor General until 1926 and died in 1935 aged 73.
Alderson died in 1927, aged 68, and Currie in 1933, aged only 58.
Over 620,000 Canadians served in the armed services with 209,000 casualties (206,000 on WF) and 59,000 dead and missing (56,000 on WF). Percentage dead and missing = 9.0%
From the outset the organisation of the NZEF (commanded by British General Alexander ‘Alick’ John Godley) was co-ordinated with that of the AIF (Colonel William Throsby Bridges), and the two armies sailed together in convey for Europe in December 1914. Whilst in transit on the High Seas, the AIF and NZEF were diverted in Egypt due to the acute shortage of training facilities and accommodation in the UK as Kitchener’s New Army recruits flooded in.
Training in British Army fighting methods took place near the Pyramids, Cairo and security duties were undertaken in the Suez Canal Zone that included a minor skirmish with the Turkish Army in February 1915.
British General Sir William Riddell (‘Birdy’ or ‘Bill’) Birdwood was appointed in December 1914 to command the Australian 1st Division and the New Zealand and Australian Division as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF). The three Australian and one New Zealand Mounted Brigades were employed as infantry.
Whilst in Egypt, a decision was made to unite the two Australasian forces under the acronym ANZAC – telegraphese for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
As the closest available uncommitted force, the ANZAC was chosen to participate in the invasion of Gallipoli and was assigned Z beach on the Western (Aegean) coast of the Gallipoli Peninsular as its beachhead.
On the 25th April 1915, 8,000 mainly ANZAC troops landed at Z Beach (later known as Anzac Cove). The initial advance into the hinterland was bloodily repulsed by the Turkish 9th Division, led by Colonel Mustafa Kemal. Birdwood recommended evacuation. But this was refused by the Commander-in-Chief MEF, and the ANZAC was more or less corralled in their beachhead of Anzac Cove for almost nine months. During which time they suffered extreme hardships and deprivation including a huge numbers of wounds, tropical disease cases and deaths. Throughout it all, Birdwood did his best to find a solution to the difficult position in which ANZAC found itself, and attempted several initiatives to breakout from the enclave; but none succeeded. A combination of Turkish determination, British incompetence at both the political and military level, and sheer bad luck, suborned all his efforts
In May 1915, Birdwood was given administrative control of all Australian Imperial Force troops including the Australian 2nd Division when it arrived from Australia.
The other major Gallipoli battles in which the ANZAC was involved were:
Second Battle of Krithia, May 1915.
Battle of Suvla. August 1915, including Chunuk Bair, Hill 60 and Lone Pine.
(Notably, a New Zealand Maori Battalion of 475 men served at ANZAC Cove from July-August 1915. Reinforced to 2,700 men it also served as the New Zealand Pioneer Regiment on the Western Front from April 1916 until the end of hostilities).
When overall evacuation from the Gallipoli Peninsular was decided upon in late 1915, Birdwood was a leading figure in producing the overall phased plan. The entire ANZAC force was withdrawn from the original Z Beachhead as part of a casualty-less evacuation in December 1915/January 1916.
The ANZAC was repatriated to Egypt where it was reorganised and reinforced to form five infantry divisions; four Australian (1st/2nd/4th and 5th) and one New Zealand.
In February 1916, 1 ANZAC (1st/2nd Australian Divisions and the New Zealand Division) sailed for Europe and the Western Front to be followed by 2 ANZAC, (3rd/4th Australian Divisions) with British General Birdwood in overall command.
The New Zealand contingent was renamed the New Zealand Division in March 1916 under the command of Major General Andrew Hamilton Russell a naturalised Englishman. He remained in command of the NZ Division throughout the remainder of the war. His Division was reputed for its smartness, strict discipline and military correctness as compared with its Australian comrades. (Interestingly, the author found the same military distinctions during the Malayan Emergency in the 1950’s).
The ANZAC Mounted Division (formerly the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division), which had served as infantry in the Gallipoli Campaign, remained in Egypt. (See below).
1 and 2 ANZAC Corps arrived in France in March and after the usual period of induction in a ‘nursery sector’ near Armentiéres participated with great verve. initiative and determination in many battles of the Western Front. Of course, the ANZAC Corps was usually only a part of a much greater force of military units that were grouped together for a particular engagement or offensive.
The major engagements in which the Australians and New Zealanders were engaged on the Western Front in 1916-17 were:
Fromelles, Somme, July 1916 – 5th Australian Division.
Posiéres, Somme, July 1916 – 1st, 2nd,and 4th Australian Divisions (first action as 1 ANZAC Corps).
Moquet Farm, Somme, August-September 1916 – 1st , 2nd and 4th Australian Divisions.
Morval, Somme, September 1916 – New Zealand Division.
Flers/Courcelette, Somme, September 1916 – New Zealand Division (First tank battle).
Transloy, Somme, September 1916 – New Zealand Division.
Bullecourt, Somme, April 1917 – 4th Australian Division.
Lagnicourt, Somme, April 1917 – 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions.
Bullicourt, Somme, May 1917 – 1st, 2nd and 5th Australian Divisions
Hindenburg Line, Somme, May-June 1917 –5th Australian Division.
Messines, Flanders, June 1917 – 3rd, 4th Australian and New Zealand Divisions.
Menin Road, Ypres, September 1917 – 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Australian Divisions.
Polygon Wood, Ypres, September-October 1917 – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and New Zealand Divisions.
Broodseinde, Flanders, October 1917 – 1st, 2nd, 3rd Australian and New Zealand Divisions.
Poelcapelle, Flanders, October 1917- 1st, 2nd, 3rd and New Zealand Divisions.
First Passchendaele, Flanders, October 1917 – 3rd, 4th, 5th, and New Zealand Divisions.
Second Passchendaele, Flanders, October–November, 1917 – 1st, 2nd and 5thDivisions.
Looking at this formidable list of battles and engagements spread over a period of only 17 months, it is not difficult to see why there were such high casualty rates and that the ANZAC troops felt ‘they were being over-used’ at this juncture of the war.
In December 1917 the 1 ANZAC and 2 ANZAC were amalgamated to form the Australian Corps minus the New Zealand Division (still commanded by Major-General Andrew Hamilton Russell). So the units of the two countries became fully separated for the first time since 1914, although they still served in some of the same engagements and offensives as independent units.
In March and April 1918, during the German Spring Offensive (Michael) the Australian Corps and the New Zealanders played a major role in:
The protection of the city of Arras (2nd Canadian and New Zealand Divisions) and the town of Villeurs-Bretonneux (4th and 5th Australian Divisions).
The Battle of the River Avre – The Australian Corps minus some brigades)
The Battle of the River Ancre – 4th Australian and the New Zealand Divisions).
Hazebrouck, Flanders, April 1918 – New Zealand Division.
An ad hoc unit composed of the 1st Australian Division training personnel and elements from the 2nd New Zealand Entrenching Battalion were put into the line during the battle of Hazebrouck in April 1917.
In June 1918, the long-serving General Birdwood was replaced by Australian General Sir John Monash as General Officer Commanding of the Australian Corps. Whilst not quite the genius at modern warfare as the Australians often claim, Monash was highly competent in his planning and preparation which was reflected in his series of victories in the Hundred Day campaign.
Meanwhile, during July 1918, elements of the Australian Corps were involved in the capture of Hamel in the Somme Sector,
The principal battles of the Hundred Day Campaign in which the Australian Corps and the New Zealand Division participated as separate units were:
Amiens, Somme, August 1918 – all the five Divisions of the Australian Corps.
Albert, Somme, August 1918 – 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th Australian Divisions and New Zealand Division.
Bapaume, Somme, September 1918 – 2nd, 3rd, 5th Australian Divisions and New Zealand Divisions.
Monte St. Quentin, Somme, September 1918 – 2nd Australian Division.
Havrincourt, Hindenburg Line, September 1918 – New Zealand Division.
Ephey, Hindenburg Line, September 1918 – 1st and 4th Australian Division.
Canal du Nord, Hindenburg Line, September-October 1918 – New Zealand Division.
St. Quentin Canal, Hindenburg Line, September-October 1918 – 2nd,3rd, and 5th Australian Divisions.
Beaurevoir, Hindenburg Line, October 1918 – 2nd Australian Division.
Cambrai, Artois, October 1918 – New Zealand Division.
Selle, Artois, October, 1918 – New Zealand Division.
Canal du Nord, Artois, October 1918 – New Zealand Division.
Le Quesnoy, Artois, November 1918 – New Zealand Division
Sambre, Artois – November 1918 – New Zealand Division.
Claims are made that the Australian Monash, and the Canadian Currie, were the best of the generals on the Western Front. Certainly, they both were different from the classic officer class of the British Army, but to Haig’s credit he gave them maximum possible support and encouragement once he realised they both had a battle-winning formula.
One can only wonder why the excellent record of the New Zealander General Russell is not included to make this duo a trio. It is also fair to say that the achievements of the New Zealanders were (and are) often down-played against those of their more aggressive (verbally) Australian comrades. But their military accomplishments stand comparison with the best, as exemplified by their last military operation on the Western Front – The Battle of Le Quesnoy. It is perhaps the most renowned of the Kiwi’s many achievements: the NZ Rifle Brigade stormed the ramparts of the town using ladders and captured it.
Finally, mention must be made of two mounted units:
1. The four brigades of Australian and New Zealand mounted units that had fought as dismounted infantry with the ANZAC in Gallipoli. Upon evacuation to Egypt they were formed as division – the ANZAC Mounted Division (ANZACMD) – and fought as mounted infantry with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force commanded by British General Archibald James Murray (until June 1917), and then by British General Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby.
The horsemanship of the ANZACMD became renowned, and it fought with great success under the leadership of Australian Major General ‘Harry’ George Chauval (March 1916 – April 1917) and Major General E.W.C.Chaytor (April 1917 onwards).
A list of their major engagements is as follows:
Western Desert in anti-Senussi patrols: 1916.
Egypt in protection of the Suez Canal: 1915 -1918.
Turkish invasion of Sinai, Battle of Romani, July 1916.
Capture of Magdhaba and Rafah on the Palestine border, December 1916 and January 1917.
Palestine: Battles of 1st and 2nd Gaza, March – April 1917; 3rd Gaza, Beersheba, Jaffa, October – November 1917, capture of Jerusalem, December 1917; Battle of Megiddio September 1918.
Transjordan, raids across of Jordan River, March – April1918.
Transjordan, Capture of Amman, September 1918.
Syria, Damascus, October 1918.
Gallipoli, December, 1918.
2. The Imperial Mounted Division was formed in Egypt in February 1917 from the 3rd and 4th Australian Light brigades and the 5th and 6th British Mounted Brigades. After objections from the Australian Government, in June 1917 the unit was renamed the Australian Mounted Division and the British units were phased out. It was under the command of Australian Major General H. Hodgson from February 1917 onwards.
The Australian Mounted Division gained an enviable reputation in its relatively short life. Not least of which was the making of the last of the great cavalry charges in the history of mounted warfare when it captured the strategically crucial potable water wells at Beersheba, Gaza, Palestine, in October 1917
Other major engagements of the Australian Mounted Division were:
Palestine: 1st and 2nd Battles of Gaza, April-March 1917; 3rd Battle of Gaza and Beersheba, October-November 1917. Capture of Jerusalem, December 1917 and Jericho, February 1918.
Transjordan: Raids across the Jordan River, March- April 1918.
Syria: Capture of Damascas, October 1918.
The total commitment of troops from Australia in the Great War was:
420,000 troops served overseas; 209,000 (180,000 in WF) were casualties of which 54,000 were dead and missing (49,000 on WF). Percentage dead and missing = 11.7.
The contribution of New Zealand in the Great War was 130,000 of which 58,000 (48,000 on WF) became casualties and 17,000 were dead and missing (13,000 on WF). Percentage dead and missing = 13.1.
On arrival in the UK the Newfoundland Regiment was sent to Scotland for training.
In early 1915, the Regiment moved to Aldershot, in England, and in September 1915 was moved on to a transit camp in Egypt en route for the Gallipoli Front.
On September 1915, the Newfoundlanders landed at Suvla Bay on the Western Aegean coast of the Gallipoli Peninsular as reinforcements for the British 29th Division of the British Mediterranean Expedition Force. They were commanded by British General Aylmer Gould Hunter-Western. Hunter-Western was an engineer and a former infantry brigade commander in the original British Expeditionary Force. His record on Gallipoli was said to be both hesitant in follow-up and, at other times, over-ambitious. At all times it seems he was indifferent to casualties
The Newfoundlanders served with the British 29th Division throughout the Gallipoli Campaign, participating in its vicissitudes and rare successes until the 20th December 1915 when it was sent to Cape Helles for the evacuation. By this time the effective strength of the Regiment was reduced to 150 men.
The Regiment was successfully evacuated from Gallipoli, and on 22nd March 1916 arrived in France for reinforcement, reorganisation and training.
Still with the British 29th Division, of Fourth Army, and with Hunter-Weston in command, the Newfoundland Regiment entered the Front Line in April 1916 in the Beaumont Hamel Sector of the Somme, under the direct command of British Lieutenant Colonel A. L. Hadow. On the 1st July 1916 the 801 strong force went ‘over the top’ to meet annihilation – only 68 men made it back to their own lines having suffered one of the highest casualty rates on the Somme.
Further costly actions took place at:
Guedecourt and Monchy-le Preux, Somme, April 1917.
Cambrai, Somme, November – December 1917.
4th Battle of Ypres, Flanders, September-Novembers 1918.
The Newfoundland active service contribution to the British forces was 6,200 men in the NR (later RNR) plus a further 5,700 men in a Forestry Battalion (who all served in Scotland), the Naval Reserve, the CEF and the British Army. . Total died was 2,000.
South African units made up the majority of the 67,000 troops of the expeditionary force that invaded German South West Africa in September 1914. And again in February 1915, after the hiatus of the Boer rebellion from October 1914 to January 1915. The force was led by the South African Prime Minister, General Louis Botha as Commander-in-Chief. The South Africa Defence Minister, General Jan Christian Smuts, became his deputy from the Spring of 1915. The campaign ended in July 1915 with the German surrender.
Smuts led the South African defence force in war against German East Africa and captured Dar es Salaam, the main port of Tanganyika. He formally took over the command of the theatre from British General Tighe from February 1916, being promoted to Lieutenant-General in the British Army.
From October 1915, the British forces in East Africa were instructed to follow the leadership of the South Africans. The South Africans bore the brunt of the fighting until Black African soldiers became sufficiently increased in numbers by late 1916. The African regiments took over the principle fighting role as they better tolerated the endemic tropical diseases and the climate.
In June 1916, Smuts handed over his command to another South African, General Hoskins. Smuts went to England to become member of the British War Cabinet, a position he held for The Duration.
In late 1915, a South African infantry brigade of four battalions – the 1.SA Brigade with a strength of 5,800 – was despatched to the UK arriving in November 1915. Almost immediately it was sent on to Egypt, arriving in Alexandria in January 1916. From there it was posted to duties guarding the Suez Canal. That month it was engaged in a battle with the Turkish Army and its Sennussi allies at Agagia, near Sidi Barrani, Egypt, and routed them.
In March 1916, the 1.SA Brigade left for the Western Front, where from April 1916 it served with the British Army – 9th (Scottish) Division – in the Somme and Flanders Offensives. It was particularly involved in the July Battles for Trones Wood, Barnafey Wood, Langueval and Delville Wood.
The brigade is especially noted for its part in the latter battle when 4,000 South Africans fought for five days in July 1915 in ferocious hand-to-hand combat with the Germans occupying the Wood. Despite their truly heroic efforts, they were unable to capture Delville Wood – it only fell a month later on the 25th August 1916 to the British 14th (Light) Division – and when the Brigade was relieved only 29 South African officers and 751 men emerged from the battered and almost treeless Wood.
Delville Wood is now the site of the South African National Memorial, Museum and Cemetery (151 SA graves) on the Western Front. Many of the South Africans lie in unmarked graves in Delville Wood.
The 1 SA Brigade next participated in the Battle of Warlencourt, Somme, in October 1916.
In April/May 1917, the 1.SA. Brigade was involved in the battles of Arras, Somme, and in July – November the 3rd Battle of Ypres, Flanders.
Following the German Spring Offensive in March 1918 the 1.SA Brigade participated with the 9th (Scottish) Division notably in the Flanders Battles of Bailleul and Scherpenberg in April 1918, and in the 100 Days campaign that ended the war.
South African troops, in the form of six heavy artillery batteries, a brigade of artillery and the SA Cape (Coloured) Corps were also deployed in the Summer of 1916 in Palestine.
A total of 230,000 White South Africans served in the Great War – 30,000 on the Western Front and 43,000 in East Africa Campaign. There were also around 10,000 that directly joined the British Army. In addition 85,000 Black South Africans served as in Labour Battalions and support units on the East/West African (72,000) and Western (21,000) Fronts.
Of the 230,000 White South Africans who served in the Great War, 19,000 (8.3%) became casualties (12,000 on WF) with 6,000 (2.6%) dead and missing (3,250 on WF). The number of Black and Coloured South Africans that were casualties/died on active service is not available to the author.
To ensure comparability, the rounded off casualty figures used here are based on those given in ‘ The World War 1 Data Book’ by John Ellis and Michael Cox, ISBN 1 84510 766 6, which the author acknowledges with thanks. They may not necessarily agree with figures used elsewhere on the WFA Website as there are many authoritative sources with quite different figures.