Five years ago, I started some family research. In pursuing that long road, I came across the file of Aubrey Neville Hutchinson, no 3199. Killed in action on the Somme, in the battle of Delville Wood on 15 July 1916. One among so many. For reasons that I have never been able to understand, I knew that I had to learn more about this young man, and to try after all this time to discover the story of his last years. Something about his file held my attention, and would not let go….
And so, this narrative represents the results of my efforts. It is a story that was typical of so many young Victorian Englishmen of that doomed generation. It was a time of optimism – of Biggles and “ Derring do “ for most young men of the realm. It is difficult to illustrate at this present time – just how much more positive and adventurously minded young men were 100 years ago. It was the apogee of the public schoolboy mentality – the world was a British oyster ! To many young Englishmen, the Empire represented truth and light – it was a force for good, civilising the world in a British manner. That was their firm conviction – and they had no intention of apologising for it either. The German empire on the other hand represented brute force and injustice. Consequently it was the basic duty of every British male worth his salt, to take up arms and defend the empire to the death – “ for King and country “.
Locating records of the last two years of Aubrey`s life was not always a simple exercise. Immigration documents and shipping records are either non existent – or incomplete at best. The accessibility of personal documentation in the UK, is good. Records in South Africa in general – are erratic and not computerised. As far as I could ascertain, the Hutchinson family has died out, except for a branch by Eirene`s first marriage by the name of Buchanan – I am unable to ascertain any further details.
Inevitably, trying to complete this story meant that I also had to try to decipher events in Delville Wood on the fateful opening day, of 15 July 1916 – to a much greater degree than is generally discussed in contemporary histories on the matter. And this in turn meant that I had to rely on conjecture and logic in parts – because no record to the contrary is evident at present. But my purpose was to cover Aubrey`s life – of which the battle of Delville wood represented the final curtain.
There are many fine works and documents about the South African brigade in Delville wood, that adequately cover the whole panoply of the battle and it`s sacrifice. I have no intention of competing with any of these, or being in any way a rival chronicler. My emphasis is solely the happenings that surrounded B Coy of the 2nd regiment, on the day of 15 July 1916. Others have covered the whole saga of the first South African Brigade there, and elsewhere, better that I ever could.
If this work should lead in any way to remembrance of Aubrey Hutchinson, or any men of the South African Infantry Brigade in WW1 – then mission accomplished.
In completing this I have many person`s and organisations to thank.
- Google maps for permitting use of their excellent software
- Audrey Portman and associates for the many, many hours researching various archives in South Africa and elsewhere.
- Steven Trinder – Smith for his illuminating comments about the history of DeWetsdorp, and fascinating photographs.
- SADF and SAMMH archives for much information , which even though in the public domain, was not always easy to locate.
- Ian Uys for sage advice and permission to quote his notable works on Delville Wood.
- Richard Porter for his help with our battlefield tour as well as superb drone photographs.
- Kevin for his untiring efforts to correct my amateurish use of software.
- The National Archives in Kew, London.
- Pam McFadden, Curator of the Talana Museum in Natal for the excellent photographs of No 7 and no 8 platoons B Coy, 2nd Regiment – and much other interesting background.
Any mistakes or oversights are mine alone.
All rights reserved.