Journal Article

Delville Wood and South African Great War Commemoration

Bill Nasson

in The English Historical Review

Volume 119, issue 480, pages 57-86
Published in print February 2004 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online February 2004 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI:
Delville Wood and South African Great War Commemoration

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During the July 1916 Somme offensive, a volunteer South African Infantry Brigade fought a savage battle of attrition with German forces at Delville Wood, taking and holding enemy ground despite severe losses. Viewed as a defining symbol of South African warrior sacrifice in the British imperial cause, the Battle of Delville Wood went down in First World War history as an icon of colonial settler valour and sacrificial heroism in war. The political elite of the recently-formed Union of South Africa rapidly appropriated the blood sacrifice of Delville Wood as a symbol of a unified Anglo-Afrikaner white nationalism. By the end of the War, Delville Wood remembrance had not only become the focus of a commemorative culture steeped in heroic images of war, patriotism and European civilisation. As the defining site of South African memory on the Somme, the battlefield was selected for the construction of an imposing national war memorial. This article tells the story of the creation of the Delville Wood monument in the years after the Armistice, and explores the rich life history of this memorial, from its inception and unveiling in 1926 through to the present. In its robust embodiment of national political culture, martial spirit and aesthetic traditions, the Delville Wood memorial reflected an acutely political commemoration of Great War loss, a symbolic expression of the white South African mission to uphold Western values.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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