top of page
  • Writer's picturejoyce hampton

Huguenots - in South Africa Part two

Last month I wrote about the Huguenots who left France and settled in South Africa, this month I will continue their story which is of course given the passage of time since their arrival, woven into South Africa's history.

In the early part of the 20th century, war clouds began to descend over Europe and the Great War, as it was known until the second global conflict, began in 1914. Descendants of those early Huguenot refugees who had settled at the Cape now joined the first South African Infantry Brigade and fought one of its most renowned battles on 20 July 1916 in thickly covered woodland near the village of Longueval on the Somme.

The fierce fighting between the Germans and a battalion of South Africans is shown by all that remained after the battle; just one tree, a hornbeam, still standing in defiance of the carnage. Two years after the Armistice of 11 November 1918, the South African government, mindful of the general clamour for a fitting memorial to its fallen sons of World War I in northern France, agreed that Delville Wood should be purchased and given to the nation.

Then began the clearing and replanting of the wood, with a suitable memorial to those South Africans who had fallen. But the saplings that now grow on this site have a special provenance. Franschhoek, near the Cape, had been a settlement for Huguenots, including one family in particular, who in the 1680s had left La Coste near the Luberon mountains in Provence: the Guardiols. Antoine Guardiol and his family set off on the long voyage to the Cape with a pocketful of acorns, but sadly, Antoine died before they reached their destination. His 14-year-old son Jean planted the acorns on what became the family farm, La Cotte. It was a poignant and appropriate tribute to the fallen, especially those of Huguenot descent, that the reforestation of Delville Wood was undertaken with acorns gathered from the Luberon oaks of Franschhoek, which in turn had grown from the acorns that Jean had planted in 1688.

I recently visited Delville Wood to learn more about those who came to fight and die far from their homeland. There is a beautiful memorial museum on the site of the battle which tells the story of the lives of those who paid the ultimate price and now sleep in the well-tended war cemetery across the road.

You can also walk among the trees that were planted to restore Delville Wood. the little saplings are now majestic trees framing and standing sentinel over the memorial museum and I also visited the 'last tree standing' after the fierce and terrible battle that took place there in 1914.

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page