In 1983 the Ex-Servicemen’s Organizations of SA decided to erect a museum at the Delville Wood Battle Site and Cemetery near Longueval, France.
Mike Edwards was one of four sculptors chosen to design and produce bronze relief panels to depict aspects of South African international military involvement from 1914 to 1983. Mike’s is the first panel to the left of the entrance door, with the theme being the First World War and specifically the African Campaign. The panel measures 3M x 12M and is in high relief.
A PERSONAL STATEMENT ON HIS BRONZE PANEL.
Military Art is always part of a propaganda program, or a focused propaganda program and the Delville Wood Museum project was no exception. However, the brief was open and non-prescriptive (other than mine being restricted to the African Campaign of 1914-1918). My acceptance of the brief and willingness to participate was for very personal reasons, these being, firstly because members of our family had been involved in the historic confrontations from 1899 to1939/1945 WW2, and secondly to make known the fact that South African participation in these major 20th Century confrontations was on a voluntary basis and thirdly to honour all the people who had volunteered and who had taken part. The South African commitment to these world conflicts relied on volunteers who came from all sectors of our diverse society and could truly be seen as the ‘Rainbow Nation’ working together for a common cause. It was this story that I wished to unfold and emphasize in my panel. It is a sad fact that had ‘we’, South Africans, worked together in the same way during ‘peace time’ as we did in ‘war time’, much, or perhaps all, of our sad history could have been avoided.
Briefly the panel depicts, through a series of portrait-renderings, the story of the SA involvement in Africa during the First World War.
The panel as a whole is divided into four horizontal ‘registers’. The panel is lit from above by a clear roof-light, running the entire length of the panel, thus giving a soft natural light throughout the day. To make use of this light each ‘register’ has a different slant relative to the light source thereby reflecting light where forms slope inward towards the top of the panel and casting soft or deep shadow where the slope is towards the bottom of the panel. Soft shadow is achieved where the surface is concave or slightly convex. In this way emphasis and visual variety is achieved as a viewer moves past the panel.
The top ‘register’ is mostly rendered in low-relief and plots the movement of the SA Forces from Cape Town through the Namibian Desert to Windhoek then on to the jungles of East-Africa and the Senussi ending with a rendering of things to come, namely the devastation of the Wood on the Somme. Running the length of the panel is an inscription of a statement by Genl. Jan Smuts writing to a member of ‘The Society of Friends’, a pacifist group in England, saying
“I do sincerely believe that we are struggling for the preservation against terrible odds of what is most precious in our civilization”
Genl. Jan Smuts
In the left hand picture are six related vignettes. In the second register the field guns are being ridden into action by the Cape Coloured Corps. In the lower register on the left are depicted the four main army leaders, all having had previous combat experience during the Boer War. To the right of these four is depicted the Rebellion of 1914 when Afrikaans speaking ex-Anglo Boer War veterans objected to South African participation and took up arms against the government. Then in the lower register is firstly the surrender of the German Forces in South West Africa and following this a depiction of the total commitment of South African volunteers to the war effort with a marching group of men and woman from non-combatant engineers, to a curate, nurses and the armed infantry. On the right is seen a 25pounder field gun in action.
In the right hand picture are life size depictions of the two well-known South African leaders of the time Generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts. On the right, the infantry struggle through the East African bush with the Medical Corps carrying out the sick and the wounded. The lower register is completed with the surrender of the Turks in the Senussi. In the last of the lower register, as with the last of the top register, is a small depiction of things to come, the infantry marching equipped with ‘Tin Hats’ as opposed to the ‘Pith Helmet’ of the African Campaign and wearing Gas-masks that were needed in the trenches of Northern France.