26 May 2009, JellyBean @ 3:24 pm

A bloody battle started on July 15, 1916. Out of the over 4 000 troops who defended Delville Wood, only 750 were left standing.
Delville Wood Cross
The South African brigade was ordered to occupy the French wood and hold it at all costs to protect British troops who had just taken the adjacent village of Langueval.

Shells razed the woods, slamming into trees at a rate of 400 per minute and leaving only a few tree stumps intact. By July 18 the South Africans had been driven from their trenches, the wounded could not be evacuated and reinforcements could not get through.

At 6pm on 20th July, only 3 officers and 140 men, many of them wounded, marched out. General Lukin survived to take the salute. Six days earlier, on moving in, the strength of the brigade was 433, including all ranks.

Following the battle three wooden crosses were cut from a few of the remaining stumps and were presented to the cities of Durban, Cape Town and Pietermaritzburg as memorials to the losses they suffered in this battle.

As time went on it became apparent that one of these crosses – the Pietermaritzburg one, was different. The cross has wept resin “tears” almost every year, coinciding with the anniversary of the bloody battle.

92 years after the battle, the Scots Pine cross still bleeds and scientists are completely baffled.

Analysis of the resin reveals that it has traces of lower linseed oil fragments and pine resin. This was expected as the carpenter, William Olive, had soaked the wood in linseed oil before making the crosses. However, this resin should have long ago dried up and this continues to astound scientists.

Dr Ashley Nicholas from the school of Biology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville campus said once “Many theories have been put forward but until someone scientifically tests it, we are just guessing.”

Sergeant Major Eddie Hoffman has been keeping tabs on the state of the cross over the years. He has noticed that by the end of June the sap is clearly visible, after being totally absent a week or so earlier. By the end of July the cross is once again dry.

The cross originally stood at the intersection of Durban and Alexandra Roads in Pietermaritzburg but was seen to be a traffic hazard and was moved to the Natal Carbineers Garden. In July 1956 it was moved to the Moth Remembrance Garden, where it has been ever since.

DelvilleWood.com: Delville Wood

News24.com: Weeping cross still a mystery

Encounter.co.za: The Weeping Cross

SouthAfrica.com: Garden of Remembrance and the Weeping Cross of Delville Wood

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