Battle of Delville Wood cross ‘weeps’ for fallen soldiers

2016-07-18 14:46
The Pietermaritzburg Caledonian Pipe Band performed at the centenary of the Battle of Delville Wood, at the Moth Garden of Remembrance in Leinster Road yesterday. Members of the South African Legion, the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (Moth) and defence force units, as well as family of the soldiers who died in the battle, paid tribute.

The Pietermaritzburg Caledonian Pipe Band performed at the centenary of the Battle of Delville Wood, at the Moth Garden of Remembrance in Leinster Road yesterday. Members of the South African Legion, the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (Moth) and defence force units, as well as family of the soldiers who died in the battle, paid tribute. (Fundo Majozi, The Witness)

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Pietermaritburg - A century after the 1916 World War 1 Battle of Delville Wood, where over 2 500 South African soldiers died, the wooden cross taken from there is weeping again.

Surviving South African soldiers brought back timber from the woods that they fashioned into three crosses placed in Durban, Cape Town and Pietermaritzburg’s Remembrance Garden.

Almost every year for a century, the timber cross standing in Pietermaritzburg weeps sap from the end of June until the end of July, the time in which the battle took place.

During World War 1, South African troops were called to assist the British in the war in the village of Longueval, France.

A statement by the SA Legion said that out of the over 4 000 troops who defended Delville Wood, only 750 survived. “The South African brigade was ordered to occupy the French wood to protect British troops who had just taken the adjacent village of Longueval,” said the statement. “Shells razed the woods, slamming into trees at a rate of 400 per minute and leaving only a few tree stumps intact.”

The phenomenon of the weeping cross, according to the South African Legion, has been examined by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Forestry Department and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“No rational explanation can be found for why the pine cross still oozes sap,” said a statement by the Legion.

“The phenomenon baffles forestry experts as it is unusual for wood to continue producing resin for such a long time.”

It has been suggested by scientists, according to the Legion, that the cold weather around this time of the year causes the wood to shrink, forcing resin out.

South African Legion and the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (Moth) committee member Dean Arnold said that although a legend said the cross would stop weeping when the last survivor of the battle died, the cross continues to weep after the last soldier died years ago.

Arnold said a number of South African troops who had fought in the battle had come from Pietermaritzburg and surrounding schools, such as Michaelhouse, Maritzburg College, St Charles and Hilton College.

Around 100 members of the SA Legion and Moth commemorated the 100th anniversary by parading outside King’s Park Stadium before the Sharks rugby game on Saturday. “In this war, many South Africans died. We must remember the fallen,” said Arnold.

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