Rare photo of frontline South Africans in World War 1, and also one which shows compassion. This photo was taken from the Battle of Menin Road Ridge on the 21st September 1917. Here four South African “Scottish” from the 4th South African Infantry Regiment are carrying a wounded German on a stretcher to a medical station. Other wounded German prisoners are seen in the foreground.
The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge 20th to 25th September 1917 was an offensive operation, part of the Third Battle of Ypres on the Western Front, it was undertaken by the British 2nd and 5th Armies in an attempt to take sections of the curving ridge, east of Ypres, which the Menin Road crossed. This action saw the involvement of the South African Brigade – along with British, Newfoundland and Australian formations.
The attack was successful along its entire front, though the advancing troops had to overcome formidable entrenched German defensive positions which included mutually supporting concrete pill-box strongpoints and also resist fierce German counter-attacks. A feature of this battle was the intensity of the opening British artillery support and “leap frog” tactic used by the British to consolidate taken ground.
The South African Brigade saw most of its action at Borry Farm, easily overrunning the German strong points, except for four pill-boxes around Potsdam House, which were eventually attacked on three sides and captured, after inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers. The South African Brigade was also badly hit by German machine-gun fire from Hill 37, however in the end the South Africans managed to capture Bremen Redoubt and Waterend House in the Zonnebeek valley and extend a defensive flank.
Do note that the South Africans are wearing the “Murray of Atholl” (modern) kilts which was the dominant tartan worn by the South African Scottish in the 4th South African Infantry Regiment – Company A was made up of Cape Town Highlanders, Company B Transvaal Scottish and Company C was also Tvl Scottish in the main whereas Company D was made up of various caledonian regiments from the Orange Free State and Natal.
The tradition of the Murray of Atholl was carried over to The Transvaal Scottish Regiment and is still worn to this day, hopefully the SANDF will see its way clear to keeping the traditions of its fighting men and their sacrifice.
Image copyright and reference: Imperial War Museum