This exhibition which opened on 12 July 2016 at the KwaMuhle Museum tells two stories. The first story celebrates the establishment of a great school, DHS 150 years ago. The other story recalls the tragic loss of so many lives in the Somme Offensive 100 years ago. It is one which cemented the name of a battle in France, Delville Wood, which will forever be linked with immense bravery and heroism and part of our nation’s history.
In the Great War as it was then known the troops were all volunteers. By 1915 and 1916 many of the young men of Durban had volunteered and joined the 2nd Battalion of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade. This Battalion mainly comprised men from Natal, the Border and OFS (as these Provinces were then known). After a short training period in camp at Potchefstroom they shipped out and by 1916 found themselves in Europe and soon thereafter at the Front.
The Somme Offensive started badly for the Allies. The Command believed that a solid week pounding the German lines would ensure the barbed wire was so damaged men could easily pass through. They believed the incessant bombardment using howitzers and other field guns would smash the trenches and greatly reduce the defences of the opposing troops. In fact minimal damage had been done and the Germans with their well sited machine guns were able to inflict appalling damage. There were more British casualties on the first day than at any time in British military history.
Two weeks later and the British High Command ordered the South Africans to take and hold Delville Wood. For five days and nights the South Africans withstood attack after attack by greater numbers as well as fiercely intense bombardment by the German Axis forces. They did hold on and probably saved the entire allied line but when reviewed a week later more than 3000 men had been reduced to a few officers and 750 men.
12 DHS Old Boys numbered amongst the dead of Delville. So the exhibition provides a link between the school and the battle.
Visit KwaMuhle for this exhibition and don’t miss the allied exhibition, Durban in World War 1 at the Old Courthouse Museum. There are excellent brochures to accompany both.