Category Archives: 2nd South African Infantry

Trones Wood then and now

Trones Wood was an initial success for British Forces;

and subsequent crushing defeat due to the onslaught of German artillery.  Here are some photos before, during and after the 9th July 1916 assault by the 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment.


Montauban to Longueval and Delville Wood - taken from a helicopter July 2012

Great photo courtesy of  The rolling chalk hills and dense woodland has changed little from 1914 – although the villages were flattened by artillery fire and woods became a mass of splintered timber during hostilities.

I’m showing Jeremy’s picture to show the beautiful wide horizons and ‘big’ sky; similar to David Hockney’s paintings of the Yorkshire Wolds.  Back on track, the corner of Bernafay Wood can be seen on the right of the image.  The trench of Montauban Alley extended to the Wood, across the first fields beyond trees at the edge of the village.  The 16th Manchesters occupied Montauban Alley on the 1st/2nd July and the 17th Manchesters occupied Triangle Point, slightly to the left of the view.  This was the point of the furthest sustained advance by the British IVth Army on the first day of the Somme.

The area beyond Montauban towards Longueval is infamous for the ferocious battles that took place in mid-July, particularly those concerning the South African Infantry, which was almost wiped out in the area shown in this image. South African forces in the British Army of 1914-1918

South African Infantry helping Manchesters at Trones Wood

Private Walter Giddy - 2nd South African Infantry.  Courtesy

Private Walter Giddy – 2nd South African Infantry. Courtesy

Spanning almost one hundred years and thousands of miles between continents, the internet has led me to corresponding reports of events involving Empire troops and Arthur Bell.  This has subsequently led to contact with the great niece of one of the South African troops who may have helped my grandfather rescue a wounded Sergeant Major near Trones Wood.

Extracts of the diary of a young 2nd South African Infantry man can be found on this link for which I acknowledge copyright for the photo and extracts below. DELVILLE WOOD. Private Walter Giddy’s Battalion was defending Bernafay Wood in the period the 17th Manchesters were assaulting Trones Wood.  Lieutenant Ralph Miller and Arthur Bell were assisted by South African troops when they went to recover the wounded Company Sergeant Major Charles Johnson.  Extracts of Walter Giddy’s diary may suggest he was with those men.

9th July 1916

“Shall never forget it, as long as I live. Coming up the trench we were shelled the whole time, and to see a string a wounded making their way to a dressing station, those who can walk or hobble along…The Manchesters had to evacuate the wood below us, and we the one along here…

10th July 1916

… Of course we’ve dug in a bit, but its no protection against those big German shells… The S.A. lads in our platoon have stuck it splendidly, it has been a tough trial this.

We heard cries from the wood further down, and Geoghan and Edkins went to investigate, finding three wounded men lying down in the open. They had been lying there three days among their own dead, and had been buried a couple of times by their own shells, and the one brought in had been wounded again. They asked for four volunteers to bring in the other two, so off we went. It was an awful half hour, but we were well repaid by the grateful looks on their haggard faces. Poor old Geoghan was hit, his head was split off by shrapnel. Four of us buried him this morning.”

Extracts of Arthur Bell’s notes tell us:-

 “Who will volunteer to bring back Sergt. Major “J” (Johnson) – this was Lieut. Jockey M. (Miller) outside Trones Wood one day…Right, so we set off along the trenches.  The Lieutenant must have known where to look, for we got to the Sergt. Major without much trouble.  He was quite unconscious, hit in the face and elsewhere.  Nearby were some South African soldiers and one of them volunteered to help to carry the S.M. back to our lines.  He – the S.M – was a very heavy man…We went back over the top via the Briquetterie and the Sunken Road….”

The suggestion that the troops were wounded three days before, indicates that the men may not have been Manchesters – who had advanced from Bernafay Wood on the morning of 9th July; withdrawn that afternoon and waited near the Briqueterie on the 10th.  However, the 2nd SA Infantry had not been in Bernafay Wood long enough for Walter to assess this time accurately.

Charles Johnson. March 1915

Charles Johnson. March 1915

On the other hand, CSM Johnson had many injuries consistent with multiple wounds.  It may seem Edkins helped Arthur Bell carry the stretcher and Walter Giddy, Geoghan and their Section helped recover the other two wounded men.  It is possible Lieutenant Miller and Arthur Bell had made their way up to Bernafay Wood on the 10th July, consistent with Walter’s story.

Walter Giddy was born at Barkly East, Cape Province, South Africa, in 1895. He was the third son of Henry Richard Giddy and Catherine Octavia Dicks/Giddy. Walter was schooled at Dale’s College in King Williamstown. He voluntereed, together with friends, for overseas military service in 1915. He served in the 2nd S.A. Infantry Regiment. Having survived the battle of Delville Wood, he was killed by shrapnel on the 12th April 1917 near Fampoux. Walter Giddy is commemorated by a Special Memorial in Point du Jour Military Cemetary.

Arthur D Geoghan is buried in Ovillers Military Cemetery.  His Grave indicates he died on 9th July, slightly contradicting Walter Giddy’s diary.

Pt. Vernon Edkins - 2nd South African Infantry.

Pt. Vernon Edkins – 2nd South African Infantry. Courtesy SAMHS

Vernon Jeffrey Edkins was the youngest son of Albert and Gertrude Edkins of Clifton, Cambridge (later incorporated into the City of East London in the Eastern Cape) Vernon died on 14th July after wounds received on 13th July during the infamous attack on DELVILLE WOOD. Vernon Edkins’ great niece, Iris Howes, contacted me and directed me to her review of  three great Uncles’ service in the war.  South African Military History Society – East London’s Edkins brothers in WWI This has a treasure trove of  documents, phots and plans.  My grandad, and Iris’s great uncle would be happy we have compared notes – particularly if it were these two men that carried CSM Johnson’s stretcher on 9th or 10th July 1916.

2nd Lieutenant Ralph (Jockey) Mariller Miller died in the assault on Guillemont | 17th Manchester Regiment on the Somme. Arthur Bell showed a great deal of respect for Ralph Miller and he will have a separate Entry.

Charles JohnsonFollowing transfer to Norwich war hospital CSM Charles Johnson eventually recovered from wounds to his left foot, face, hands and thigh. He was discharged with a Silver War Badge and Kings Certificate | 17th Manchester Regiment on the February 1918 and convalesced in Weston-Super-Mare – with his parents Thomas and Mary Johnson – prior to returning to Manchester.  Charles Johnson had been employed as a printed cloth salesman at  Tootal, Broadhurst & Lee before the war.  The photos show Charles in March 1915 when he held the Rank of CQMS.  He was promoted to CSM that October, prior to embarkation to France.

For more information on events on 9th / 10th July 1916, see Trones Wood | 17th Manchester Regiment on the Somme.