Weeping Delville Wood cross coincides with 100 year battle anniversary

Johann du Plessis, Allan Wilson Shellhole’s Old Bill stands next to the Weeping Cross of Delville at the MOTH Garden of Remembrance. This wooden memorial unexplainably oozes with sap every year around the anniversary of the battle at Delville in France during World War One Picture: Mark Wing

While July marks the 100th anniversary of the battle at Delville Wood, no one has ever been able to scientifically explain the phenomenon of this cross ‘weeping’ sap over this significant period every year.

In July 1916 South African troops were sent to France to fight alongside the British in World War One. The battle at Delville Wood that began on Friday July 14th 1916 was a devastating defeat for the British and the South African Infantry (SAI) Brigade. Of the 3032 men and 121 officers that were sent out to fight, only 755 officers and men survived the six day battle. The remaining 2400 men consisted of the dead, wounded or missing, of which only 142 were given a proper burial and only 77 of those were able to be identified.

On return to South Africa, Commanding officer of the SAI Brigade, General Lukin brought back some timber from the Pinus Sylvester Pine tree, one of the few things that had been spared from the destruction at the battle site. This wood was later used to make three crosses to serve as war memorials.

Today the three crosses are scattered across South Africa.  One cross is situated outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the other is in the Company Gardens in Cape Town, and the third, can be found in Pietermaritzburg in the MOTH’s Garden of Remembrance next to Winston Churchill Theatre.

Named the Weeping Cross of Delville, the Pietermaritzburg memorial holds extra special significance, as it unexplainably oozes with resin every year around the time of the anniversary of the Delville battle. With no scientific explanation of the occurrence, this phenomenon has been made into a legend, with people believing that the wood ‘weeps for all the lost soldiers.’

What adds significantly to the mystery of the weeping cross is that Pietermaritzburg’s cross is the only one of the three that weeps at this exact time every year. Also adding to the mystery is the fact that existing Pine trees in France ooze this resin during the heat of summer, while the cross situated in Pietermaritzburg does so only in winter and specifically over the period of the anniversary of the Delville battle.

The mystery has been thoroughly investigated by the Forestry Department, Scientific research council and University of Natal, but to no avail, as no one has yet been able to provide concrete insight into it.

As a result many theories and beliefs around the subject have been adopted by the locals. For many years it was stated that it would weep until the last survivor of Delville Wood answered the Sunset Call; however the last survivor died a few years ago in Australia yet the Cross continues to weep.

Others who still choose to lean towards science, consider Pietermaritzburg’s climatic conditions in winter as well as extra moisture from the alcove that the cross rests under, to be logical explanations for the ‘weeping’.

Johann du Plessis, Chairman of Allan Wilson Shellhole, who works hard at maintaining the Garden of Remembrance, has formed his own belief about the weeping cross. “My personal opinion is that the cross will only stop ‘weeping’ when there is real peace in the world, and especially our own beautiful Rainbow Nation,” du Plessis expressed.

He confirmed that the cross has started weeping again this year as of two weeks ago, as it does without fail annually at this time of year.

Jade le Roux

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