Sir Henry Timson Lukin

We have found out, quite by chance, that Muizenberg was home to at least one distinguished officer. His story follows …Sir Henry Timson LukinTim Lukin led a fairy-tale life as a soldier. He was without doubt in the mould of the Great Heroes of the British Empire. As a young man he emigrated to South Africa from England and signed up for the Anglo-Zulu war in 1879. He was seriously wounded but recovered to take part in the Basutoland Gun War, whatever skirmish that might have been. He then joined in the Bechuanaland Campaign of 1897 (another obscurity) and in 1899 took part in the 2nd Boer War. By 1914 he had achieved the rank of Brigadier-General and fought against the Germans in German South-West Africa, now Namibia. In 1915 he sailed for Egypt to quell the Senussi Uprising (a minor affair) and at last set course for the Western Front.Sir Tim’s claim to very real fame, at least in South Africa, was that he was the Commanding Officer of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade, which in fact was a small army with its own artillery and its own ancillary units (medical, engineering, veterinary etc.). He was not a celebrated hero, because his big moment came at Delville Wood. Delville Wood was a horror, a slaughter of the type associated with the 1st World War, and to be fair to Sir Tim, he was just following orders from on high. He was ordered to send the South Africans into Delville Wood against the Germans and to hold the position at all costs. It was the biggest fight the South Africans were involved in, and the deadliest. The entire country was horrified by the result. Out of 123 officers only 19 walked out. The rest were dead or wounded. Of 3155 soldiers only 104 came out of the wood when relieved by fresh troops. The remaining few survivors were insensible due to exhaustion and lack of food and water, but they appeared for roll call the following day. This from Lt-Col Thackeray in the wood, to Lukin; “Urgent. My men are on their last legs. I cannot keep some of them awake. They drop with their rifles in their hands and sleep in spite of heavy shelling. We are expecting an attack. Even that cannot keep some of them from dropping down. Food and water has not reached us for two days … I am alone with Phillips, who is wounded, and only a couple of Sgts. Please relieve these men today without fail, as I fear they have come to the end of their endurance.” The casualties were 80% of their number. The men, having been sent in to this densely grown wood, could not dig trenches or shelters because of the thick roots that grew everywhere. They had to lie on the ground as the high explosive and gas shells burst all around them. German artillery fire reached 400 rounds per minute, all crashing into the little wood. There was no escape, and they died in their numbers. If you wish to imagine Hell, think on this. It was desperate work. Our South African losses were small compared to the millions who died in the war, but to the South African public it was a dreadful shock. The current generation may not have even heard of the battle, but between the wars babies were given the name Delville in memory of those who died. My wife’s mother was one of them.Sir Henry Timson Lukin was honoured for his service by the British Government. He was made KCB (Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath), CMG (Commander of the Order of St Michael & St George), and DSO (Distinguished Service Order), all high honours. He lived in Muizenberg, and in 1925 was buried in Plumstead Cemetery. Whether he was honoured or respected by the populace I cannot tell. There was nothing to celebrate about Delville Wood.

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