Harold Hall served in the SA Infantry Brigade under General Lukin. He was in the Prince Alfred's Guards. He was wounded by shrapnel fire in 1916, in the Battle of Delville Wood, France, at the age of 21.
The 1st South African Infantry Brigade was recruited in August and September 1915 and consisted of 160 officers and 5648 men, all strictly volunteers. The brigade underwent training in Hampshire, England, for two months, then spent a few months in Egypt. After this, the brigade, under General Lukin, was transferred to France, where the Allied forces had suffered heavy losses. The brigade underwent training in trench warfare at Flanders. After a few weeks training in trench warfare at Flanders, and some work moving supplies, shells and other materials, these brave, enthusiastic men went into battle in July 1916 in the Somme area of the Western Front of France. On one day alone (1 July 1916) there were 57 000 casualties. The trenches along an 18 mile (29 km) stretch of the Western Front were intended to be used in the final push to end the 'war to end all wars'.
The battle for Delville Wood started on 15 July 1916, although a barrage of shells and mortars had been hurled at the enemy trenches for the previous week in an effort to weaken their defenses. However, when 3 000 South African soldiers entered the wood at dawn that fateful day, the Germans shot at them with every kind of weapon. Men fell all around them like ninepins - men were shot while fighting, and shot while talking to their buddies in the trenches. There was not enough medical supplies or medical staff. Ammunition ran low, and what they had could not be used because the continuous rain and the mud had seeped into everything and made it useless. Rations of food and water were low, and, toward the end of the bitter battle, these rations ran out.
Not only were these men exposed to continual fire and attack, but also to the horror of watching friends and officers being killed or lying injured and untended. Their lack of sleep for several days, as well as not being able to eat or drink for the last few days, left the men shell-shocked, exhausted, and at the end of their endurance. They would fall asleep, rifle in hand, despite the shooting and shells. They were completely worn out. The continuous firing and shells were made worse by the smoke and sparks of falling trees. At times the explosions occurred at a rate of 7 per second.
By 17 July, most of the wood had been taken, but the Brigade was suffering heavy casualties, and on the 20th had to be withdrawn. Only 780 men remained.
At the end of the five-day offensive, the landscape was shattered. There were smoking craters and jagged tree stumps, and charred branches lay scattered over the desolate land. Of the entire wood, only one single tree was left standing. Shattered bodies, from both sides, lay sprawled about among the debris.
Thousands of men were lost, and many injured in vain, as the securing of the Wood was not successful, and it served no strategic purpose in the war, but cost the lives and wholeness of many men as they fought a battle of such horror and terror.
For more information, see:
IS Uys, The South Africans at Delville Wood, Military History Journal, Vol.7, No.2
From inside the Delville Wood memorial:
The Battle of Delville Wood (July 1916)
On 14 July 1916 the village of Longueval was captured by the 9th Scottish Division's 26th and 27th Brigades, which suffered severe losses during the attack. The Division's reserve brigade, the 1st South African Infantry Brigade, consisting of 121 officers and 3032 men, was ordered forward and the 1st South African Infantry Regiment committed to the attack. At dusk the Brigade was ordered to capture Delville Wood.
At 06:00 on 15 July 1916 the 2nd, 3rd and 4th South African Infantry Regiments, under the command of Lt Col William Tanner, entered the Wood and by 09:00 had secured the perimeter. The German counter-attacks were unsuccessful and that evening the 1st South African Infantry Regiment launched an unsuccessful attack during which Lt A W Craig's bombing party was pinned down by enemy fire. Pte W F Faulds and two others left their trench under heavy enemy fire to rescue the wounded Lt Craig.
During the following two days the German and South African forces attacked and counter-attacked in an effort to capture and hold the Wood. On 17 July, Lt Col Tanner was wounded and Lt Col E F Thackeray assumed command. Pte W F Faulds performed a second rescue under heavy fire - an act of bravery for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
On 18 and 19 July constant German attacks gradually drove the South African Brigade into the south-western corner of Delville Wood. At 18:00 on 20 July, the 3rd British Division relieved the South African Brigade and Lt Col Thackeray, himself wounded, together with two wounded officers and 140 men, left the wood.
The sixth day
From 14 July to 20 July 1916, the 1st South African Brigade, comprising 121 officers and 3032 other ranks, was engaged in one of the bloodiest battles ever fought by South Africans. Under command of the 9th Scottish Division, the 1st South African Brigade was ordered to attack Delville Wood and to hold it 'at all costs'. For five nights and six days the brigade fought against units of the German Fourth Army Corps. Outnumbered and attacked from three sides, the South Africans held the wood until they were overrun and virtually destroyed. On 20 July, six days after entering the wood, Col Thackeray, himself wounded, walked out of Delville Wood with 2 wounded officers and 140 other ranks.
Delville Wood Cemetery
Delville Wood was captured in an epic action in July 1916 by the South African Brigade, which suffered crippling casualties before being relieved. It was lost to the Germans in April 1918 and recaptured four months later. This cemetery contains the graves of 5239 British, 29 Canadian, 81 Australian, 19 New Zealand and 152 South African soldiers.
This cemetery was constructed and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Architect: Sir Herbert Baker
After being wounded by shrapnel fire in 1916, in the Battle of Delville Wood, Harold Hall, at the age of 21, was treated in hospital in London, and then sent for convalescence to Eastbourne. He met May Stemp in England, and they were married on 2 August 1920, at Portslade-by-Sea in Sussex, before returning to South Africa.