The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man
This year it is 100 years since the commencement of World War 1 in 1914. It is also the 70 years since the ending of World War 2. Many young South African men served in both of these bloody conflicts and many sacrificed their lives. My Grandfather was among those who marched off to defend the British Empire and its Dominions. As an experienced soldier, and as a child of the Anglo-Boer War, Ernest (unlike many young men) did not go to war without an understanding of the consequences of war. He and is family had survived the Siege of Kimberley in 1899, and his father John Douglas Smith McCallum had served in the Colonial Forces throughout the Anglo-Boer War, as had Ernest’s uncles.
I present the following as an example of an average South African soldier’s World War 1 experience. They are the experiences of my Grandfather Alexander (Ernest) McCallum (called by his second name, ‘Ernest’ ironically in the German tradition and recorded in the South African and International records as E. A. McCallum). I gathered this information from his war records, papers and his anecdotes, then welded them to information obtained from the official history of “The South African Forces In Egypt and France” by John Buchan, originally published in 1920 by Nelson.
Alexander served through the full duration of the war beginning with the Dutch Rebellion that broke-out in the Union of South Africa, followed by the campaign in German South West Africa, then the campaign in Egypt, continuing to the Western Front in Europe and ending on Armistice Day in France. He was among the very fortunate of his generation to survive this terrible conflict.
Ernest’s war experiences had a profound influence on him and his life, and he kept in contact with his fellow comrades all through his long life. It was only after returning to the Union of South Africa after the war (aged 31) that he married and had a family of 7 well spaced out children. My father was the second to last born, when Ernest was well on in life.
When I was a child and visiting my grandfather, I would sit on his lap and ask him to show me his war wound. Sometimes he would indulge me or my brothers and unbutton his white dress shirt and bare his left chest. My brothers and myself (in wonder) would then place a finger tip into the large dent on his breast. We as children had no comprehension of the import of this. A few years ago I raised our antics with my father and he told me that although we might have seen the entry wound, his father never revealed the large and ugly wound in his back were the German Mauser bullet had exited and blown out a large chunk of his flesh. Further to this my father told me that the bullet had been deflected up and off his collar bone, shattering his clavicle, after entering his chest, and before exiting his back.
As an adult I have often thought of my Grandfather’s war service and regretted that I was not old enough to ask him the details of his war experiences before he died. I have had to glean information from my father, from Ernest’s effects, his war records and from official documents.
Graham Leslie McCallum
(above) A photograph of Alexander Ernest McCallum as a young child in Kimberley. Alexander was born on the 14th of April 1889 in Kimberley, Northern Cape, Cape of Good Hope.
(below) Ernest’s cetificate recording his baptism at the Beaconsfield Presbyterian Church.
Within days of the out-break of the Anglo-Boer War in October 1899, the Boers of the South African Republic and that of the Orange Free State were on the outskirts of Kimberley, threatening to capture the town. The Boers surrounded the town and so the Siege of Kimberley began. The extended McCallum family was in the town and so Alexander Ernest McCallum began his military life at the very early age of 12. His father John Douglas Smith McCallum had fought as a Defender and after the Siege was lifted, he enlisted as a Corporal in the Driscoll Scouts, a colonial contingent – and later as an Intelligence Agent in in Damant’s Horse (Remington’s Guides).
The McCallum family experienced the frightening effects of the Boer artillery shelling and the deleterious effects of the slow starvation of the civilian population until they were relieved by British Forces on the 15th of February 1900. The town’s people rallied their defences, throwing up trenches, sandbagging installations and building forts and redoubts. Food was rashioned, becoming so serious that the mules ,donkeys and horses within the town were slaughtered. Residents would have to queue-up to receive their rationed food, mostly soup that was given the moniker ‘Siege Soup’. The shelling of the town compelled the residents to build bomb-proof shelters in their gardens. Many dug shelters in the flanks of the mine dumps that lay adjacent to their neighbourhoods. This very militarised background primed Alexander for the military and a life of service.
(above and below) A sign instructing the women and children of Kimberley to proceed to the De Beers Mine shaft to be lowered into the shafts to avoid been killed and maimed by the artillery shells of the Boers. Besides my paternal family being in Kimberley during the Siege, so too were my maternal family, the Chapman’s and Seitz’s.
(above) A photograph recording the Boer shell-fire damage to the private home of a Kimberlite.
(above) Citizens of Kimberley taking shelter in shelters dug into the sides of a dump adjacent to Tyburn Street.
During this conflict, Ernest and his cousin were tasked with bringing a message through the lines from General French’s relieving forces when they were nearing Kimberley. During this daring adventure they were almost captured by the Boers who surrounding the town. Alexander related in later life how he and his cousin only managed to escape capture by a Boer patrol by making their horses lie down in the tall grass to avoid detection. When they got through the Boer lines, they cut the wires of the De Beers Mine grounds and entered Kimberley to deliver the message.
(above) A most remarkable photograph of Samuel Wells Green with his 3 brothers dressed in British military uniforms. Like my Grandfather, they too were used as Messengers and Scouts during the Siege of Kimberley. This is extraordinary to contemplate in our times, but perhaps it can be understood in the light of a desperate Kimberley population giving their everything to survive the Siege. The war lasted until 1902, some three years. These must have been very difficult years for the McCallum family with all their men away fighting the Boers.
(above) The Memorial to the Honoured Dead, who gave their lives to defend Kimberley.
(above) John Douglas Smith McCallum, Alexander’s father.
Two of the medals awarded to my Great Grandfather John Douglas Smith McCallum – the King’s South African Medal and the Star of Kimberley.
(above) Military Papers of John Douglas Smith McCallum from the Anglo-Boer War.
On the 22nd of January 1907 (a year after the death of his father) at the age of 18, Alexander Ernest McCallum enlisted in the Kimberley Regiment. His regimental number was (2165). He discharged himself on the of 14 February 1910 (age 21) after having served 1117 days (3 years).
On the 4th of June 1912 at the age of 23 Ernest again enlists in the Kimberley Regiment, with the regimental number of 2785. He again discharges himself from the regiment in 1914.
The Kimberley Regiment was formed in 1899 from the Diamond Fields Horse and the Kimberley Rifles. In 1907 it absorbed the Diamond Fields Artillery and after World War 1 the Kimberley Light Horse and Kimberley Mounted Corps. In 1913 it became known as the 13th Infantry, Active Citizen Force, almost at once altered to 7th Infantry, Active Citizen Force.
The regiment sent two battalions to German South West Africa in 1915. During World War Two, the unit served with the 6th SA Armoured Division after being amalgamated with the Rand Light Infantry for the duration.
(above and below) Two badges of the Kimberley Regiment.
(above) A uniformed Sergeant of the Kimberley Regiment, portrayed on a Player’s Cigarette card. The building in the background is the Kimberley City Hall.
(above) The Kimberley Regiment Drill Hall, 31 Park Road, Belgravia, Kimberley.
In August 1914 war broke out between Britain and Germany. On the 9th of September the parliament of the Union of South Africa voted to take up arms against Germany on the side of the British Empire. Less than a month later, Alexander resigns from his work as a miner and enlists in the Rand Rifles on the 3rd of October 1914 at the age of 25 with the regimental number of 136, and the rank of Rifleman.
Dutch Rebellion/ Boer Revolt/ Maritz Rebellion/ Five Shilling Rebellion
On the 12th of October 1914 Prime Minister General Louis Botha declared martial law after sections of the Boer population rose-up in revolt under leaders General Beyers, De Wet and Beyers. These leaders of the Boer community, most of them old leaders of the Anglo-Boer War, objected to the Union of South Africa taking up arms against their old allies Germany. After several skirmishes, union forces were able to defeat all the rebel groups by the 4th of February 1915.
(below) Union Forces mustering during the Boer Revolt of 1914.
In this capacity Alexander Ernest McCallum serves in the suppression of the Dutch Rebellion.
As soon as the Boer rebels were overthrown, General Louis Botha moved his Union Forces towards the border with German South West Africa and invaded the German colony and by July 1915 had defeated the German forces.
On the 28th of July 1915 at the age of 26, Ernest is demobilised from the Rand Rifles at Booysens, Johannesburg, after having served 299 days. Alexander’s military records note that his conduct as ‘Very Good’.
(above) A photograph of Alexander Ernest McCallum (far right) with three comrades while in the Rand Rifles.
On completion of the South West African campaign Ernest enlisted in the 1st Regiment (Cape Regiment) C Company/ 1st South African Infantry Brigade at Potchefstroom in the Western Transvaal, where an infantry depot had been established. Like my Grandfather, my Brother Douglas and myself were mustered at Potchefstroom in 1984 into the 3rd South African Infantry. Ernest’s military papers record that he was enlisted on the 2nd of September 1915 and given the regimental number of 4035, now aged 26 years. Many men from the Kimberley Regiment, or who had served in the Kimberley Regiment enlisted in the Cape Regiment. They were assembled into C Company.
(above) Alexander Ernest McCallum (seated) with his younger brother John Frank William McCallum shortly after they enlisting in the 1st Regiment. The two (both Kimberley men) were placed in C Company.
(above) Alexander’s leather dog tags.
It is worth pausing here and noting that Alexander’s mother Louise Rosine Zweig was born in Germany, Sindringen, Wurttemburg, and had come as a child to the Cape of Good Hope with her family as a member of the ‘Vinedresser Germans’ who settled at the Cape in 1866. One can only speculate what she made of her sons going off to war against her kin back in Germany, however, these Germans were closely allied to the British to whom they owed their success at the Cape and whose policy of ‘Assisted Passage’ made their settlement possible. In addition to this connection to Germany, Ernest’s paternal Great Grandfather Johan Heinrich Henkes had also hailed from Germany, as had several earlier ancestors. As in other countries – a strong anti-German sentiment developed in the early years of the 1st World War. Mobs targeted businesses owned by Germans or those with German names. In these times it was prudent to hide a German surname or forename, or any connection to Germany.
(above) Louise Rosine McCallum nee’ Zweig photographed in Cape Town.
After mustering, the South African Contingent was assembled in Cape Town. The Union of South Africa assembled an initial force of 5648 volunteers – 5648 Privates and Non-commissioned Officers and 160 Officers under the command of Brigadier-General Henry T. Lukin, among them Alexander Ernest McCallum, his brother, cousins and an uncle. Voyaging by troop ship. the men departed Cape Town between the 28th of August 1915 and the 17th of September 1915.
This amalgamated force was now called the ‘Overseas Expeditionary Force’.
After making a safe passage to Britain, the South Africans were quartered at Bordon, Hampshire in England, and undergo three months of military training in preparation for combat from October to December 1915.
(below) Photograph of Bordon Camp, showing the Guard Room and Barracks.
On a sudden change of order, the South African Brigade were ordered to depart for Egypt. Embarking from Devonport on the 30th of December 1915. This campaign was launched due to the threat posed by the pro-German/ Turkish Arab Senussi tribesmen who threatened the British Protectorate of Egypt and the Suez Canal, a vital passage for allied shipping.
The South Africans arrived at Alexandria on the 10 – 13th of January 1916 and set themselves up at Mex Camp, six miles west of the city. Mex Camp was a holding and transit camp for British soldiers. Among Alexander Ernest McCallum’s effects were two photographs of the South Africans Forces in Egypt. In Alexander’s papers he records he arrived in Egypt on the 10th of January 1916.
(above) A photograph recording South African soldiers resting up on an Egyptian beach, Mex Camp. (From Alexander Ernest McCallum’s mementos).
With the main Senussi force near Sidi Barrani. On 20 February 1916 an attacking column constituted of the 1st and 3rd South African Regiments, the Dorset Yeomanry, a squadron of Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars, the 1/6th Royal Scots, the Nottinghamshire RHA, six armoured cars under Major the Duke of Westminster, and two Field Ambulances set out from Mersa Matruh under the command of South African Brigadier-General Henry T. Lukin CMG DSO. The conditions were difficult, with high temperatures under a scorching North African sun. The force located the Senussi at Agagia, some 14 miles south east of Sidi Barrani.
On the 24th of February, the British force while encamped at Wadi Maktil and about to make departure, were attacked by Senussi tribesmen, who opening fire with two field guns and a machine gun. The South African Regiment as well as the Royal Scots deployed quickly and repulsed the attack with light casualties. On the 26th the force moved-out accompanied by the 6 armoured cars. When the enemy was located the enemy was engaged and destroyed, leading to the capture of the Senussi leader Gaafer Pasha and the relief of Sidi Barrani. South African battle casualties were 14 killed and 103 wounded.
After this engagement the enemy retreated to Sollum.
(above) A photograph of members of the SA Brigade in Egypt doing weapon training (from Alexander’s effects). The weapons appear to be Maxim machine guns.
(above) British troops near the coast at Sidi Barrani, Battle of Agagia (Agagiya) Egypt.
The South Africans return to Alexandria by sea on the 28th of March 1916.
On the 13 – 19th April 1916, the Brigade is transported via the ships Megantic, Oriana, Scotian and Tintoretto to France, arriving in Marseilles on the night of the 19th. The Brigade soon left for the front. In Alexander’s papers he records that he left Egypt on the 10 of April 1916.
Leaving Marselles and travelling in trains, the South Africans reached the Belgian town of Steenwerck where they were billetted along the water-logged roads of this Flemish town.
On the 23rd of April 1916 they were attached to the 9th Scottish Division under the upper command of Major-General W. T. Furse, about 25 km north of Lille, along water-logged roads.
(above) Photograph of the Belgian town of Steenwerck, before WW1.
(two images below) Steenwerck Railway Station, before and after the war.
From then on the South Africans were to be associated with the 9th Scottish division almost up and until the end of the war. The South Africans were nicknamed the ‘Jocks’ as a result. One must remember that many of the South Africans (like Alexander Ernest McCallum) were of Scottish extraction, and their attachment to the 9th was a logical choice.
Besides the South African Infantry Brigade – the 9th Scottish Division was made up of the following fighting groups – the 26th Infantry Brigade composed of the 8th Black Watch, the 7th Seaforths, the 5th Camerons, the 10th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders; the 27th Infantry Brigade composed of the 11th Royal Scots, the 12th Royal Scots, the 6th KOSB and the 9th Scottish Rifles.
(above) The 9th Scottish Division badge of a thistle head and two leaves
(above) Alexander’s 9th Scottish Division shoulder badge that he kept as a keepsake all his life.
(below) The springbuck badge and emblem, with the motto ‘Union is Strength’ / ‘Eendracht Maakt Macht’ in Dutch.
(above) The South African Brigade (the Jocks) with their springbuck mascot ‘Nancy’.
(below) Soldiers of the 3rd South African Infantry with their mascot the baboon ‘Jackie’.
see ‘Jackie’. http://www.tommy1418.com/mascots.html
(above) Photograph of the 4th South African Infantry, South African Scottish, South African soldiers cleaning a Lewis Gun, Carnoy Valley, July 1916.
In those initial two months detachments of the South African Brigade were taken into the trenches to familiarise and initiate them with the front. April was a critical time on the Western Front with the Battle of Verdun occurring where the French were able to resist an aggressive German assaults on their lines with great cost.
On the 1st of July 1916 the Battle of Somme began and the South African Brigade was moved to the Glatz Sector of the front.
On the 13th July 1916 the SA Brigade is concentrated at Talus Boise as the reserve brigade for the 9th Division. Talus Boise (Wood) was a long narrow wood running north-east into the British lines. At this time the wood was full of dug-outs, machine gun emplacements and mortar pits. The ground was beyond the view of the German lines and so this area became a point to muster reserves, to hold reserves in support before going up to the front lines at the village of Montauban, and to evacuate casualties. At this point in the conflict the SA Brigade had already sustained a total of 337 casualties. In the nearby Quarry Cemetery at Montauban, 6 South Africans lie buried. 18 lie buried at the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery and 2 in the Thistle Dump Cemetery. 126 South Africans are memorialised on the Arras Memorial.
On the 14th July 1916 the 1st Regiment attacks Longueval Village, with desperate hand to hand fighting.
(above) An aerial view of the village of Longueval.
(above) Longueval Village, photographed in 1915.
(above) Soldiers of the 9th Scottish Division returning from the Battle of Longueval.
(above) Main Street, Longueval, captured 14 July 1916.
(above) Battle of Ginchy, Somme, Longueval, Route de Bois, Wooden Street, Dellville Wood.
(above) The remains of Logueval Village.
Early on the 15th July the 1st Regiment is retired from the front lines at Longueval.
The 2nd, 3rd Regiment and 2 companies of the 4th Regiments are sent into Delville Wood later in the day of the 15th. Desperate fighting ensues and later in the day a company of the 1st Regiment is dispatched to reinforce the 2nd Regiment due to heavy losses. On the 18th July, on the fourth day of the battle, things were getting critical and reinforcements from the 1st Regiment were again sent in. Portions of the 1st and 4th Regiments were relieved by mid-night of the 12th July.
On the 18th of July 1916 Alexander Ernest McCallum was seriously wounded while attending to a wounded soldier. He received a Mauser rifle shot wound to the left chest, just inches above his heart while bent over and assisting his comrade. He was withdrawn from action and taken to a Field Hospital and stabilised and then moved to Rouen No.1 Stationary Hospital on the 20 July 1916. He was operated on to repair a smashed clavicle and the repair of entry and exit wounds. (age 27).
This fourth day was the crisis of the battle for the defenders. In the night, a strong enemy attack was launched and Germans advanced as far as Buchanan Street and Princess Street. A costly counter-attack expelled them. At 3.45am, The 3rd Division succeeded in taking the orchard in the North of Longueval and the 1st SAI joined hands with the 1st Gordon Highlanders. But this sudden success was due to the fact that German infantry had evacuated the orchard for a barrage of its artillery. At 8.00 am, a bombardment of an unprecedented severity was opened on the wood and Longueval. Every part of the area was saturated by shellfire until 3.30 pm. The 3rd Division was expelled from the northern part of Longueval and fresh German troops began to enter the wood from all sides. To the great surprise of the attackers, the handful of South African survivors gave a stubborn resistance, with high losses on both sides. Throughout the day there were many hand-to-hand “duels” between attacking Germans and the defenders. It is not easy to reproduce the circumstances of events of this painful day, because many of the protagonists were killed. The South African soldiers, driven back to the southwestern part of the wood delimited by Princes Street and Buchanan Street, installed there a pocket of resistance, assisted by Highlanders of the division. A new German division was committed to expel them : it never succeeded.
(above) An artist’s representation of the hand-to-hand fighting at Delville Wood.
(above) A map showing the trench positions at Delville Wood.
(above and 3 images below) Delville Wood.
(above) Delville Wood photographed a year after the battle in 1917.
(above) Delville Wood Cemetery.
(above) Cross of Sacrifice, Delville Wood Memorial, West End Cemetery, Kimberley, Alexander Ernest McCallum’s hometown.
(above) A Memorial marking the entry point to Delville Wood.
Great War Memorial, Delville Wood Cross, Gardiner Street, Durban, Remembrance Day.
Throughout the 19th and 20th of July, the remnants of the SA Brigade in Longueval and Delville kept on fighting until relieved at six o’clock on the 20th July. Only 3 officers and 140 totally exhausted other ranks marched out of action that day. The SA Brigade’s first Victoria Cross was awarded to Private W. F. Faulds of the 1st Regiment on the 16th July. Casualties from the 14th to the 20th July amounted to 2320.
Alexander’s mother (Rosine Louise McCallum nee’ Zweig of 3 Wilson Road, Beaconsfield, Kimberley) was notified via telegraph from Pretoria on the 4 September 1916 that her son had been wounded in action, some 48 days after the casualty.
(above) The document sent to Alexander’s mother to notify her that her son had been wounded.
At some unknown time Alexander Ernest McCallum was returned to service after having recovered over the previous months from his chest wound, when the South Africans were billeted at, in and around Arras, France.
On the 12th October 1916 at 14:00 (with the 2nd and 4th Regiments leading) and with the 3rd and 1st in reserve, the SA Regiment crossed the parapets at the start of the Battle of Butte de Warlencourt.
On the 18th October 1916 the 1st SA Regiment (A, B and C companies) attack the German positions at Butte de Walencourt. Only around forty men from C Company survived this initial attack. A and B companies were almost wiped out. Alexander was in C Company and was fortunate indeed to have survived when contemplating these statistics.
(image above and below) Butte de Warlencourt.
On the 12th of January 1917 Alexander Ernest McCallum was wounded again in the head near Butte de Warlencourt while the Brigade was preparing for the Battle of Arras.
Alexander recovers at a Field Hospital and is returned to service.
(above) Alexander (Ernest) McCallum sporting a moustache.
On the 23rd January the 2nd and 3rd Regiments moved into the front line at Guache Wood, followed by the 1st and 4th Regiments the next day. Guache Wood, an extension of Quentin Ridge, was on oblong wood, some 300 by 700 yards in dimension, about 13 acres in extent. The objective was to dislodge the German forces in the wood.
(above) Looking towards Guache Wood. Photograph courtesy of David Hallam. See his – www.beeston-notts.co.uk/default.htm
Alexander Ernest McCallum is wounded yet again on the 9 February 1918 and admitted to a Military Hospital on the 15 February 1918 for treatment, having been received from the South African Field Hospital. During this time he also contracts influenza on the 19 March 1918. He is released on the 11 May 1918 for service.
On the 7th of April a large 1st SA Regiment raiding party successfully attacks the German trenches.
On the 16 May 1918 Alexander returns to the front lines.
On the 20 -21 September 1917, on a wet and misty morning at 05:40, the Battle of Menin Road began. Due to careful planning the SA Brigade took all its objectives. This great battle came at a cost of 263 killed and 995 wounded or missing.
(above and below) Aftermath of the Battle of Menin Road.
Menin Road, South Military Cemetery.
On the 12th of October 1917 the SA Brigade enters the support lines along the canal bank at Ypres.
On the night of the 16th October 1917 the 2nd and 4th Regiments were relieved by the 1st and 3rd Regiments, and for the next five days took part in no action but were bombarded constantly.
On the 23rd October 1917 the SA Brigade is relieved and enjoys some rest. In the ten days it had been in the Salient it had no less than 261 casualties.
On the 3rd of December the Brigade (after receiving additional drafts from South Africa) the 2nd and 4th Regiments moved into the front lines on the east slope of Quentin Ridge, extending from Guache Wood on the right, to a point near the head of Flag Ravine. The 1st Regiment were in support and the 3rd Regiment in reserve. Heavy shelling took place during December in this area. Casualties during this time cost the Brigade an average of 30 men a day. On the 8th of December 1917 the 2nd and 4th Regiments were relieved by the 1st and 3rd Regiments.
On the 17th of February 1918 the South African Brigade attends the Delville Wood memorial service.
(above) Delville Wood Cemetery, photographed in 1920. 160 South Africans lie buried in this cemetery, 65 of them unnamed.
(above) The Delville Wood Memorial.
Due to heavy losses to the 3rd Regiment, it is disbanded and its remaining troops dispersed between the other three regiments. The 3rd Regiment had been assembled from men from the Transvaal and Rhodesia.
On the 12th of March 1918 the Brigade moved up to the front east of Heudicourt. The South African sector covered 2,000 yards between Quentin Redoubt to just south of Gauche Wood. The 2nd Regiment on the right and the 1st Regiment on the left holding the forward zone, with the 4th Regiment in reserve (although still in the “battle zone”).
On the 21st of March 1918 (at 04:45 am precisely) the Germans with thirty-seven divisions started their attack. There was a major attack on the B Company of the 2nd Regiment in Gauche Wood but they held on bravely. The Germans reached a little height called Chapel Hill near the village of Epehy, but as this little hill commanded the area known as the Yellow Line it had to be retaken. Early in the afternoon A Company 2nd Regiment were sent forward but made no progress. At 05:30 pm A Company 4th Regiment made a spirited attack on Chapel Hill and took it. The Brigade fell back to the “Yellow Line” with the three companies of the 1st Regiment in the left of the front line with a company in the Brown Line. On the right three companies of the 4th Regiment were also in the Yellow Line and on Chapel Hill, and the remaining company was at Revelon Farm. Two companies of the 2nd Regiment were assisting the 4th Regiment at Chapel Hill and the remainder were in the Brown Line. So ended the first day of the German attack.
The ruined village of Epihy, near Chapel Hill.
On the 22nd March 1918 under cover of heavy artillery, the Germans advanced and retook Chapel Hill and Revelon Farm. By 4.30 pm the Brigade fell back to the Brown line. B Company of the 2nd Regiment with its heroic commander Captain Green of Delville Wood fame were destroyed, fighting to the last.
On the 23rd March 1918 at 02:00 am the SA Regiments fell back to “Green Line” and were in fact now a divisional reserve. Due to a wavering front all men were once again called back to the front. Withdraw was the order of the day and overnight the whole line withdrew to new positions. Casualties over the first two days of battle had been about 900 all ranks.
On the 24th March 1918, by dawn on Sunday, the South African regiments were holding an area near the northern point of the Marrieres Wood near the village of Bouchavesnes. The brigade was soon to add another broken woodland name to the already proud defences of Delville and Gauche Woods. The Brigade strength was now down to only five hundred. The Brigade was exhausted from a lack of sleep, grey with fatigue, poisoned by gas and tortured by a ceaseless bombardment. With limited ammunition the South Africans defended their positions all day. Some time around 4:15 pm there was a fresh assault on the last 100 troops still standing, many of them wounded and with virtually no ammunition left. The brigade almost ceased to be. The survivors were taken prisoner. The Officer Commanding the 1st Regiment Lieutenant-Colonel F.H. Heal D.S.O. had died alongside his men.
(above) The ruined village of Bouchavesnes, near Marrieres Wood.
On the 25 – 27th March 1918 the final remnants and depleted SA companies that had gone astray, continued to fight alongside other brigades. On the night of the 27th March the whole division was withdrawn from the line.
During April 1918, the Brigade was strengthened by 960 new recruits from South Africa in preparation for the Battle of Lys. The Brigade now consisted of 39 Officers and 1473 men.
On the 8 – 9th April 1918 the reformed SA Brigade held ground between Messines Ridge and Lumm’s Farm.
(above) Captured German trenches at Messines Ridge.
On the 10-13th April 1918 at 5:45 pm, the SA Brigade deployed for the attack on Messines Ridge. The 1st Regiment was on the right and the 2nd on the left. The 4th Regiment was in support of both with one of her companies attached to the 1st Regiment for the initial thrust. D Company of the 2nd captured Lumm’s Farm whilst the other companies together with the 4th Regiment took Four Huns Farm, Middle Farm and Swayne’s Farm. Taking these objectives cost the 2nd Regiment dearly with close to fifty per cent losses.
The 1st Regiment took part in a bayonet charge with severe hand-to-hand combat that pushing the Germans back, but were they were compelled to withdraw owing to a shortage of men. On the 11th the Germans attacked making some ground and by the 12th April had gained the Ridge. For thirty hours the brigade had held up the German advance and they did not break through. These last 3 days had cost the Brigade 639 casualties.
On the 14th of April 1918 the SA Brigade was withdrawn for a short rest.
On the 16-21st April 1918 the SA Brigade moved into a position just east of Kemmel Village with the 1st Regiment on the right and the 4th Regiment on the left. Both regiments were now reduced to approximately 250 men each. The 2nd Regiment with 292 men were disposed in the second line along the front. Fighting started at 3:30 pm and continued late into the night. Fighting continued on the 17th April. On the morning of the 18th April the Germans attacked the 1st Regiment’s positions and they suffered 49 casualties. On the 19th April the 4th Regiment were still fighting.
(above) Route to Mont Kemmel.
(above) Mont Kemmel.
(above) A ruined church in the village of Mont Kemmel.
(above) Artillery Shells, Mont Kemmel.
(images above and 2 images below) The effect of shell fire on the trees of Mont Kemmel.
On the 23rd April 1918 the SA Brigade had been withdrawn out the front line and were all assembled at Hopoutre. Due to the severe losses the Brigade had sustained it had reached an all time low regarding its muster and could no longer be considered a full strength brigade. On the 23rd April 1918 it was reformed as a ‘Composite Unit’ but it would still be referred to as the SA Brigade. Included in the Composite Battalion were the 9th Scottish Rifles and the 2nd Royal Rifles. It was commanded by Lieut.-Colonel H.W.M. Bamford, M.C. of the 2nd Regiment.
On the 27 – 29th April 1918 the South Africans were once again in action around Mont Kemmel in an attempt to repel the rapidly advancing Germans. The Scottish Regiments suffered heavily but by the 29th the battle was over and the Germans had been repulsed with around 20000 casualties. The final attack on the 29th was effectively the last great episode of the Battle of the Lys, although the 5th of May is officially the final day.
On the 5th May 1918, the SA Composite Battalion was relieved from the front line on the final day of the Battle of Lys. In the previous forty-five preceding days the SA Brigade had twice been destroyed as a unit but had continued to serve to the final man.
On the 24th May 1918 after training in the Heuringhem area, the SA Composite Battalion (now with too few men to be a Unit) moved in to support lines at Hondeghem where they assisted the Australians who were on their right to straighten their lines on the 2nd June 1918. The SA Composite Battalion suffered minor losses.
(above) The village of Heuringhem
(above) An aerial view of the village of Hondeghem.
On the 24th June 1918 the SA Battalion and 1st Australian Brigade attacked the German positions about Meteren Village and took twenty-nine prisoners and captured six machine guns. Losses were seven killed and twenty-one wounded.
(above) The Village of Meteren.
On the 25th June 1918 the SA Composite Battalion was relieved and moved back to Hondeghem. On the 19 – 29th July 1918 they took part in some heavy action, which resulted in the capture of Meteren Village, ten trench mortars and twenty-three machine guns. Casualties sustained by the Battalion were 27 killed, 2 died of wounds and a further 101 wounded.
On the 30th of July 1918, the 5th Camerons relieved the South Africans and on the 5th of August 1918 the Composite Battalion moved back into the front line, on the right of the division near Meteren Becque. On the 18th of August 1918 they took part in the capture of Hoegnacker Mill, taking 240 prisoners. On the 18th of August 1918, during the night of the 18th, the SA Battalion were withdrawn from front line.
Since it’s formation on the 24th April 1918, the Composite Battalion had 7 officers killed and 11 wounded. It had lost 84 men killed and 27 dying of wounds with a further 329 being wounded and 1 missing.
On the 11th of September 1918 the SA Battalion (now re-formed with 1000 Reserves from England into a Brigade) was withdrawn from the 9th Scottish Division, and on the 22nd September it was transferred to VII Corps, joining the 66th Division. They had fought alongside the Scots since having first arrived in France in 1915. It was to finish the war alongside the men of Ireland and North England.
South African Scottish – 1918
On the 6th of October 1918 the South Africans once again prepare to go into battle with the 2nd Regiment on the right and the 4th on the left with the 1st Regiment in support, to destroy the remnants of the Beaurevoir line in the Siegfried zone.
On the 7 – 8th October 1918 the SA Brigade moved into the Siegfried lines at Bony and by 3.30 am on the 8th had occupied its battle position. Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford, the commanding officer of the 2nd Regiment was wounded during this movement. Supported by Whippet tanks the 2nd Regiment made it’s objective by 7 o’clock taking 500 prisoners, two anti-tank guns, seventeen machine guns and four field-pieces.
The 3-4 mile advance by the allied forces had not come cheaply, the 1st Regiment had been caught in a barrage and suffered 23 casualties, and the 4th Regiment faced heavy machine gun fire and suffered 49 deaths and 194 wounded.
On the 9th of October 1918, starting in the reserves but by 10:30 the Brigade moved forward to the second objective of the day, a line east of Maurois and Honnechy and Gattignies Wood. Strong opposition faced the 2nd and 4th Regiments but they progressed so well that they moved beyond their objectives. The 1st Regiment occupied Reumont Village.
It had been a day of distinguished achievement with the Brigade taking 150 prisoners, more than twenty machine guns, several anti tank guns and at Bertry a motor car containing a German officer. Losses for such a day were light, with the 4th Regiment having 27 killed and 75 wounded and the 2nd Regiment had only one officer casualty.
On the 10th of October 1918 the SA Brigade was in the reserves at Reumont and Maurois.The 1st Regiment still sustained some 20 casualties due to continuous shelling.
On the 11th of October 1918 the SA Brigade prepares to attack the “Herman Line” near the village of Le Cateau. The 1st Regiment held the line opposite Le Cateau with the 2nd and 4th Regiments in support on the right and left.
(above) The ruined town of Le Cateau.
On the 12 – 15th of October 1918 the 1st Regiment pushed forward up to the River Selle, which flowed through the town. The 2nd Regiment was assigned the task to establish a bridgehead in the town and hold the two ruined bridges, whilst under constant machine gun fire. The 1st Regiment suffered 20 casualties and 8 men missing.
On the 16th of October 1918 the 2nd Regiment detail continued to hold out, only rejoining the Brigade late in the day after bravely holding out for thirty-six hours. The rest of the Brigade attacked at 5:45 pm to win positions on the eastern bank of the Selle, so that eight bridges could be thrown across the river. By 4:30 on the morning of the 17th made their positions secure, some within fifty yards of the enemy.
On the 17th of October 1918 there was heavy fighting all day, with the Brigade taking many casualties and by the end of the day the town of Le Cateau had been won, but not the vital ridge to the east of the town. All night enemy bombing patrols were busy together with unceasing artillery and machine gun fire. This day would go down in the annals of the Brigade along with their advance at Third Ypres as a brilliant piece of offensive warfare.
On the 18-19th October 1918 the final objective of the Brigade were established. The Crossing of the Selle was to be the last of the Brigades great battles. Between the night of the 7th October and the night of the 19th October they had taken prisoner 4 officers and 1,238 other ranks, captured 367 machine guns, 19 trench mortars, 22 field guns, 4 anti tank guns and a mass of other equipment. Their casualties were 47 officers and 1,229 men, of whom 6 officers and 187 other ranks were dead.
Alexander Ernest McCallum is wounded in the leg on the 19 October 1918 during the Battle of the Selle and was treated at a Field Hospital.
A Bridge over the river Selle, World War 1, Battle of the Selle.
(above) The Pursuit to the Selle.
On the 20th of October to the 2nd of November 1918 the SA Brigade was in rest billets at Serain. On the 2nd of November 1918, the SA Brigade left Serain for the front.
On the 10th of November 1918 the column moved out from Solre-le-Chateau on the Beaumont Road with the 1st Regiment forming the advanced guard. They faced rearguard action and the retreating Germans had opened the sluices of a reservoir upstream causing a delay in the advance.
On the 11th November 1918 the 1st Regiment were in action early on this last day of the war, but little progress was made. The Germans on hearing of the armistice increased their bombardment “as if they had resolved to have no surplus ammunition left when the hour of truce arrived!” At the hour of armistice the line reached by the advance guard represented the easternmost point gained by any troops of the British Armies in France.
Alexander Ernest McCallum photographed in the town of Eastbourne.
It is during these last engagements that Alexander Ernest McCallum is wounded and gassed, and is withdrawn to a South African Military Hospital, and then transferred to England on the 1 February 1919 to a Military Hospital in Grove Road, Eastbourne. He had also contracted Spanish Influenza. (In Alexander’s documents he writes… “Sent to England – Rest for all my wounds”). Alexander was suffering from shell-shock and received psychological treatment back in England. In his own words he related that the playing of violin music soothed his nerves and helped him recover.
Summerdown Camp, Eastbourne, Convalescent Hospital.
(above) Alexander Ernest McCallum photographed wearing his ‘Hospital Blues’, Eastbourne. This uniform consisted of a red tie and blue jacket and was worn to distinguish the patients when they visited the town as serving men, thus saving them from being harassed by civilians thinking they were avoiding enlistment.
Alexander Ernest McCallum (top left) photographed in Eastbourne with two fellow servicemen. Alexander fell in love with the young nurse (left) shown in this image. He marked the same women with a X on the image below. The older woman to the right can be seen in the following image (left).
Alexander Ernest McCallum (seated) with a friend called Howard, recovering in hospital. He posted this photograph to his mother Louise (Rosine) McCallum in his hometown Kimberley, South Africa.
(above) Back in Kimberley, Alexander was photographed with his brother Albert Joseph McCallum.
(above) Alexander married several months after returning from France. Here he is photographed with his new wife, Sophia Maria Badenhorst (centre) and his 4 siblings, (L) Albert Joseph McCallum and Grace Ann Sophia McCallum, and (R) John Frank William McCallum and Evelyn Rosina Mabel Pheiffer nee’ McCallum, Kimberley, 29 Dec 1919.
(above) Alexander enlisted again in 1939 at the commencement of World War 2. Here he is photographed in uniform with his wife Sophia Maria McCallum and his two youngest children George Edward McCallum (my Father) and Lily Rose McCallum.
(above) Photograph of Alexander during World War 2.
(above) The brass pinky ring that Alexander Ernest McCallum made in the trenches. Notice how the ring has worn on its one side. It is fashioned in the shape of a rose and leaf. Alexander was very attached to his mother who was called ‘Rose’ (Rosine). Rose died just short of her 100th birthday on the 16 November 1960 in Kimberley, having survived her husband by 54 years.
(above) Alexander’s trench whistle.
(above) Three of Alexander’s war medals.
(image above and below) Survivors of the 1st South African Infantry, Overseas Brigade, 9th Scottish Division.
The Shield of the 9th Scottish Division, 1st South African Infantry, Overseas Brigade, listing the battles that the division fought. Agagia (Egypt)/ Delville Wood/ Wallencort/ Arras/ Menin Road/ Passchendale/ Guache Wood/ Marrieres Wood/ Messines/ Le Cateau.
(above) A newspaper excerpt from 1969 showing the 7 survivors of the Kimberley Regiment.
(above) Alexander Ernest McCallum with Comrades in front of Kimberley Great War Memorial, 1969.
(above) The Great War Memorial, Kimberley.
The 1971 Reunion of Survivors – down to 5.
Alexander Ernest McCallum with my father George Edward McCallum.
My Grandfather Alexander Ernest McCallum in old age.
(above) Alexander and his wife Sophia, Kimberley.
The photograph (above) is of Alexander in the latter years of his life. He loved flowers and gardening and would have been in his element in this setting.
He was always neatly shaved and as a rule dressed smartly in dress shirt, tie and blazer. He was incredibly fit and healthy throughout his long life and thought nothing of walking many miles to an appointment right up and into his nineties.
I remember my grandfather with affection. Whenever he visited, he would always arrive with a large brown paper bag of sweets which he would distribute to my brothers and sisters.
Several weeks before he died in 1982, my family took a trip to Kimberley to visit him. When we took leave to return home, he walked onto the pavement, stooped over with old age, and with tears streaming down the cheeks of his face took leave of us. From the back seat of the car I looked back and noted that he took a white handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his tears and then waved it as we rode away. So poignantly sad was this goodbye for me that when I returned back home to Natal I wrote a short poem. I some how knew I would never see him again. I have kept the childlike poem all my life …
Bent back against summer skies
Wiping tears from wrinkled eyes
I had known him all my sixteen years
Our parting caused those many tears.
I wondered as the car rolled on
Would he in the year be gone
Dear God – lend him all your grace
And light upon his face.
After a long life, Alexander died on the 21st of June 1982 in Kimberley, aged 93, in spiritual ecstasy, relating to those in the hospital how the angels surrounded his bed and that his beloved mother had come to take him home. Alexander is buried alongside his wife in the Westend Cemetery, Kimberley.
RIP – Alexander Ernest McCallum
Graham Leslie McCallum
9th Scottish Division Memorial at Point du Jour.
The Inauguration of the Delville Wood Memorial.
Warlencourt Cemetery – 130 South Africans lie buried here.