In the MOTH Remembrance Garden in Pietermaritzburg, is a cross made from a Scots Pine which remained on the battlefield after the carnage of the Battle of Delville Wood, July 1916. Almost every year in June and July, sticky red resin oozes from the cross seemingly weeping ‘tears’ for the South African lives lost in one of the greatest sacrifices of the First World War.
“The battle takes place in the opening weeks of the Somme Offensive. On the 14th July 1916 the South African Infantry on the Somme were ordered to protect British troops who had just taken the village of Langueval and hold the adjacent wood about a square mile in size … against German attack “at all costs”.
Of the 121 officers and 3,032 men of the South African Brigade … only 29 officers and 751 men eventually walked out six days later… These men held their objective at a massive cost, even reverting to hand to hand combat to hold the wood. When the endless barrages of German artillery file abated – artillery fire rained down on the South African positions at 400 to 500 shells/minute razing the wood to just shattered tree stumps … only one original tree survives to this day – the depth of bravery required to do this under this fire power is simply staggering to contemplate.
At the end of World War 1 … the Commanding officer of the South African Infantry Brigade in France, General Lukin brought back some timber” cut from a Scots Pine tree. Three crosses were made but only this cross in Pietermaritzburg weeps around the time of the anniversary of the battle. Baffled scientists and the forestry commission say it should not seep resin for so long. One explanation is that the cold at this time of the year makes the wood compress and squeeze the resin out… but 106 years later???
The original photos show the wood after the battle and 2 years later, Commander Major General Lukin giving awards in 1918 on the battle field remains