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Book recommendations about the crucified soldier


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Guest foreign

Hi, I was wondering if anyone could offer any book suggestions with references to the rumor of the Canadian soldier who was crucified by the Germans. Thank you very much.. it would be great if they could offer different opinions/perspectives of this issue.

Thank you!

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Welcome to the Forum.

I don't have any specific recommendation but would suggest that you look for any titles along the lines of "Great Myths of the Great War".

It'll probably also have chapters about the Angel of Mons, Russians tramping through Britain with snow on their shoes, raped nuns and bayoneted children.

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Yeah, I think that John is probably much more right than wrong. Canadian Corps commander, Arthur Currie, looked into this fairly relentlessly after the war, I believe, and was forced to the conclusion that it never happened.

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Hi Foreign,

It's not delt with specifically, but Desmond Morton makes some interesting comments on how the myth affected the post-war experiences and public memory of Canadian prisoners of war. See the introduction (or first chapter?) to his Silent Battle: Canadian prisoners of war in Germany 1914-1919.

Al - perhaps you might be interested in this one too, if you already haven't looked at it?

Also, try checking out Tim Cook's At the Sharp End: Canadians fighting the Great War, 1914-1916. My copy is making its way out here to the antipodes, but I'm sure it'll get a guernsey.

A bit off topic, but I laughed hard when this old chestnut was trotted out in the final scene of the recent movie Passchendaele!

All the best,

Aaron

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A bit off topic, but I laughed hard when this old chestnut was trotted out in the final scene of the recent movie Passchendaele!

All the best,

Aaron

Oh no....wasn't there a forum member who advised on this film?

Mick

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Dunno. But the movie was spoiled by this woeful scene. I watched Passchendaele with my Canadian girlfriend - who isn't impartial to the odd war movie mind you (she actually got the copy for me) - and even she laughed!

A.

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And entering "crucified" in to the Forum searchbox will lead to a large number of threads, some of which relate to this tale.

Moonraker

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I have read a first hand account that I found on the internet; either Gutenburg or on Archive.org.. I forget.

He describes hearing a battle spark up unexpectedly from along the line around the time of stand-to at sun up.

He then goes on to explain that the noise was caused by a Canadian Battalion who upon seeing one of their own crucified above the German trench immediately put in an attack. I also seem to remember that the Canadian sentries had shot dead the crucified soldier mistaking him for German in the early morning gloom.

Crucially I don't remember the name of the book, whether the author actually saw what he reported or which Canadian unit was involved.

I'll endeavor to find this information.

I also read another account which is even hazier.... where a Canadian Sergeant was nailed to a Barn door with Bayonets and subsequently discovered by his own side. Again I'll endeavor to provide source information.

But yes, these stories do seem rather fanciful especially having read a number of German first hand accounts that read exactly the same as their British and French counterparts.

Interestingly Frank Richards puts such myths down to simple fatigue playing tricks on the mind (certainly as far as the Angel of Mons is concerned).

Also I liked the explanantion given in the film Passchendaele.... made a lot of sense to me even if the portrayal left a little to be desired. The nod to common humanity was a nice touch though.

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I have found a couple of references but by no means eye witness accounts, and not the two accounts I referred to earlier; these I am having problems tracking down for the time being.

CHAPTER II

THE BOMBING RAID

When we took our position in the front line trenches in Belgium, we relieved the

Twenty-sixth Canadian Battalion. The Twenty-sixth belonged to the Second divi-

sion, and had seen real service during the battle of Hooge and in what is now termed

the third battle of Ypres, which occurred in June, 1916. The organization was made up

almost exclusively of French Canadians from Quebec, and it was as fine a fighting

force as we had shown the Fritzes, despite the fact that men of their race, as develop-

ments have proved, are not strongly loyal to Canada and Britain. Individually, the

men of this French Canadian battalion were splendid soldiers and the organization could

be criticized on one score only. In the heat of action it could not be kept in control. On

one occasion when it went in, in broad daylight, to relieve another battalion, the men

didn't stop at the fire trench. They went right on "over the top," without orders, and,

as a result, were badly cut up. Time and again the men of this battalion crossed "No

Man's Land" at night, without orders and without even asking consent, just to have a

scrimmage with "the beloved enemy."

Once, when ordered to take two lines of trenches, they did so in the most soldierly

fashion, but, seeing red, kept on going as if their orders were to continue to Berlin.

On this occasion they charged right into their barrage fire and lost scores of their

men, struck down by British shells. It has been said often of all the Canadians that

they go the limit, without hesitation. There was a time when the "Bing Boys" the

Canadians were so called because this title of a London musical comedy was suggested

by the fact that their commander was General Byng were ordered to take no prison-

ers, this order being issued after two of their men were found crucified. A Canadian pri-

vate, having penetrated a German trench with an attacking party, encountered a Ger-

man who threw up his hands and said:

"Mercy, Kamerade. I have a wife and five children at home.

"You're mistaken," replied the Canadian. "You have a widow and five orphans at

home."

And, very shortly, he had.

Extract from:

BEST O' LUCK

HOW A FIGHTING CANADIAN

WON THE THANKS OF BRITAIN'S KING

BY

ALEXANDER McCLINTOCK, D.C.M.

Late Sergeant, 87th Battalion, Canadian Grenadier Guards

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

How I managed to live through those four days I don't know. Why I was not put to death

by the Germans I can never understand. A great number of our boys who fell into the hands of

the Germans in that battle were bayoneted. I saw, with my own eyes, two of our wounded

boys done to death by the Germans. The enemy was very bitter towards us then. It was in this

same battle that two Canadian sergeants were crucified by the Germans. And, as I have pre-

viously stated, during the whole time I was lying wounded I was subjected to kicks, blows and

curses from nearly every German soldier who passed.

Extract from:

A GUEST OF THE KAISER

The Plain Story of a Lucky Soldier

By

SERGEANT ARTHUR GIBBONS

Toronto Regiment, 1st C.E.F.

Returned Prisoner of War

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Nayles

The bayonetted to the barn door is the usual one trotted out. And was the one there was a TV programme about - it purported that someone had received a letter identifying their loved one as the said Canadian. But I recall that, when we discussed it here, Tom Morgan was able to comprehensively attack the likely accuracy of the letter. Perhaps a search on "crucified" would find that earlier thread.

John

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James Hayward 'Myths and Legends of the First World War' is a good book examining this and numerous other 'trench myths'.

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Nayles

The bayonetted to the barn door is the usual one trotted out. And was the one there was a TV programme about - it purported that someone had received a letter identifying their loved one as the said Canadian. But I recall that, when we discussed it here, Tom Morgan was able to comprehensively attack the likely accuracy of the letter. Perhaps a search on "crucified" would find that earlier thread.

John

I, like most, remain unconvinced by the accounts I have read but there is no denying that it appears to be a fairly common anecdote doing the rounds at the time. What is more it would appear that a fair amount of credibility was attached to these stories by front line soldiers.

To be fair this is my perception having read many first hand accounts by WW1 veterans; although I don't necessarily believe everything I read (or see on TV for that matter).

And when all is said and done I have yet to find an actual eye-witness account, these anecdotes being at least second hand if not even further removed from the source despite their accounts being contemporary to the events described.

On the other hand will armchair historians 90+ years after the events described ever be able to arrive at a satisfactory answer? I doubt it.

Which leaves us with contemporary anecdotes versus later conjecture. No doubt it was great propoganda at the time which further muddies the waters.

An interesting facet to the Great War, however unsavoury, and one which no doubt will spark debate for many years to come (I hope).

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And when all is said and done I have yet to find an actual eye-witness account,

And, of course, if there was a credible actual eye-witness account, this would be proof that the event had occured. The lack of any such account leads us to the probable conclusion that it never happened.

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And, of course, if there was a credible actual eye-witness account, this would be proof that the event had occured. The lack of any such account leads us to the probable conclusion that it never happened.

Agreed!

However without a definitve conclusion there will always be debate.

Got to say it is far more interesting that way. :D

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have been reading A Yankee in the Trenches by R. Derby Holmes and he references this occurence. According to Holmes he was holding the trench next to the Canadians. All of a sudden he hears Lewises start to go off and a "kind of low, growling shout". Upon hearing this he and a corporal "climbed out of the trench at the rear, over the parados , and ran across lots down to a point opposite where the Canadians had gone over and watched." After clearing out the German trench the Can. come back carrying crucified and bullet riddled body of their comrade. Additionally, Holmes claims to have met the Can. who was actually crucified the night before out on a raid.

I do not know how believable Holmes is, but according to him he served with the 22nd Batt. Queens Royal West Surrey Reg.? He does not give any dates to pin it down, but if I am not mistaken it took place in the Vimy sector.

Jon

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Here is the extract in full:

"While we were at the "char" it

kept getting lighter, and presently a pair of Lewises started to

rattle a hundred yards or so away down the line. Then came a sudden

commotion and a kind of low, growling shout. That is the best way I

can describe it. We stood up, and below we saw men going over the

top.

"What the dickens can this be?" stuttered the corporal. "There's

been no barrage. There's no orders for a charge. What is it? What

is it?"

Well, there they were, going over, as many as two hundred of

them--growling. The corporal and I climbed out of the trench at the

rear, over the parados, and ran across lots down to a point

opposite where the Canadians had gone over, and watched.

They swept across No Man's Land and into the Boche trench. There

was the deuce of a ruckus over there for maybe two minutes, and

then back they came--carrying something. Strangely enough there had

been no machine-gun fire turned on them as they crossed, nor was

there as they returned. They had cleaned that German trench! And

they brought back the body of a man--nailed to a rude crucifix. The

thing was more like a T than a cross. It was made of planks,

perhaps two by five, and the man was spiked on by his hands and

feet. Across the abdomen he was riddled with bullets and again with

another row a little higher up near his chest. The man was the

sergeant I had talked to earlier in the night. What had happened

was this. He had, no doubt, been taken by a German patrol. Probably

he had refused to answer questions. Perhaps he had insulted an

officer. They had crucified him and held him up above the parapet.

With the first light his own comrades had naturally opened on the

thing with the Lewises, not knowing what it was. When it got

lighter, and they recognized the hellish thing that had been done

to one of their men, they went over. Nothing in this world could

have stopped them.

The M.O. who viewed the body said that without question the man had

been crucified alive. Also it was said that the same thing had

happened before.

I told Captain Green of the occurrence when I got back to our own

trenches, and he ordered me to keep silent, which I did. It was

feared that if the affair got about the men would be "windy" on

patrol. However, the thing did get about and was pretty well talked

over. Too many saw it.

The Canadians were reprimanded for going over without orders. But

they were not punished. For their officers went with them--led

them."

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I was just browsing Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory and this rumour - as well as the Angel of Mons and the German corpse rendering works - gets a good dishing. See p.117-118.

Cheers,

Aaron

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"The Crucified Soldier"

This will feature as a programme on the Military Channel on Sky 531 on Easter Sunday 12/04/2009 at 9pm. Programme details are:-

On the 24th April 1915 it emerged that a Canadian Soldier had been found crucified against a barn door at St Julien near Y pres. The story of The Crucified Soldier caused international outrage until the outcome of a post-war investigation by the British Government declared the account untrue, claiming it was nothing more that a myth of the trenches and war propaganda.

The crucified Canadian is one of the most infamous of all war atrocity stories. Yet despite its dominant presence in atrocity accounts, and its ripple-effect in post war debate, memorials, art and film - historians have never attempted to fully investigate the story.

Now more than 80 years later, a letter, a statue and a fresh assessment of the psychology of war provide compelling new evidence that turns the myth back into reality and reveals the identity of The Crucified Soldier.

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"The Crucified Soldier"

This will feature as a programme on the Military Channel on Sky 531 on Easter Sunday 12/04/2009 at 9pm. Programme details are:-

On the 24th April 1915 it emerged that a Canadian Soldier had been found crucified against a barn door at St Julien near Y pres. The story of The Crucified Soldier caused international outrage until the outcome of a post-war investigation by the British Government declared the account untrue, claiming it was nothing more that a myth of the trenches and war propaganda.

The crucified Canadian is one of the most infamous of all war atrocity stories. Yet despite its dominant presence in atrocity accounts, and its ripple-effect in post war debate, memorials, art and film - historians have never attempted to fully investigate the story.

Now more than 80 years later, a letter, a statue and a fresh assessment of the psychology of war provide compelling new evidence that turns the myth back into reality and reveals the identity of The Crucified Soldier.

I watched this on www.video.google.com last night and found it very interesting and, to some extent, quite compelling. I'd link but I'm currently unable, although easily found.

What was most fascinating was that the Canadian Sergeant is named in the documentary as Sgt. Harry Band who went MIA 24/4/15. He is identified from correspondance between Band's Sister and one of his platoon.

Sorry for spoiling the ending, but well worth a watch.

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Hi Nayles,

I watched this based on your solid recommendation, and Im still unconvinced. Second hand and anecdotal, I really cant see how the 'new evidence' was any different from the reports given earlier on in the doco. I'm also unconvinced about the hundred and four year old lady who was just a tot at the time the Germans slaughtered civilians from her town. She may very well be the only living survivor of the massacre, but just how reliable, let alone perceptive, is a four year old eyewitness nearly a century down the track? Also, the doco neglected to mention that the Germans had good cause to be weary of Francs-tireurs who had been so profound in diminishing morale during the Franco-Prussian War.

I dont believe this myth to be true. There probably was an incident involving a Canadian Sergeant - bayoneting of prisoners, the wounded and defenceless happened all the time in the heat of close quarter combat, for example - but here was a climate suitable for these sort of horror stories: Schrecklichkeit during the invasion of Belgium, the sinking of the Lusitania, the execution of Nurse Edith Cavell, the POW camp at Wittenberg, use of chemical warfare etc. These events did take place, but the crucifixion story additionally proved to (a) dehumanise and instil a bloodlust for the enemy, and (B) act as a disincentive for men to surrender (I think more Canadian prisoners were taken at St Julien than at any other time during the war - but dont quote me on that though). That bizzare sounding bloke from Cambridge also made the point about the attack at St Julien taking place at Easter, and that the seed for rumour of a crucifixion could have its genesis in the countless Catholic statues and symbols all over rural Belgium.

I may be being a bit contentious here, and I dont mean to be. But perhaps the crucifixion story gave those who believed it a purpose to continue fighting? I dont suspect that the family at the end were the only family in Canada to believe that their relative was the Sergeant crucified by the Germans. Perhaps believing in the myth gave them solace that their loved one didn't die in vain.

Sorry for the rant guys, and my apologies if I've managed to offend anyone.

Cheers,

Aaron

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Well, it’s gone rather quiet around here since the video showed up on Google... The Crucified Soldier

I don't have any specific recommendation but would suggest that you look for any titles along the lines of "Great Myths of the Great War"....

It'll probably also have chapters about the Angel of Mons, Russians tramping through Britain with snow on their shoes, raped nuns and bayoneted children....

And, of course, if there was a credible actual eye-witness account, this would be proof that the event had occured. The lack of any such account leads us to the probable conclusion that it never happened.....

So Cpl. Metcalfe VC MM* is not “credible” then?

Presumably you missed the bit about the bayonetted children? Start at 34:00 minutes if you can’t bear to watch the rest. :rolleyes:

As for angels, while I don’t know what was seen in France, pry the lid on the old brain box open a crack and watch this:

Getting back to the documentary, “But was the record of the German army in the First World War as clean as it appeared?” Double entendres anyone!? :D “The crucifixion of a Canadian soldier at Ypres was not the only atrocity the German army was alleged to have committed.” Shurley not?! As Private Eye used to say. :D

Dr. Gregory has the usual air of detached superiority, redolent with overtones of condescension: ‘the men you know, they see crucifixes and then they imagine things...’ Perhaps the Germans got the idea from all those crucifixes, but that doesn’t seem to have occurred to the writers.

It would seem from the various accounts that there may have well been at least two such cases, and that would not be surprising at all. Atrocities become easier the more one commits them as Dr. Bourke would say, and the same men or unit which did Sgt. Band may well have done others, particularly if, true to type, they thought their ‘schreklichkeit’ would intimidate their opponents.

There is some very interesting evidence recounted, which naturally will do no more to convince the habitual nay-sayers than any other ever would.

The ignorance of the writers regarding the historical and social context rather detracted for me. They are even so witless as to suggest that Harry Band was sending his pay to “possibly a former girlfriend.”, apparently being quite unaware of then custom of engaged couples separating sometimes for long periods. (There is a reference probably to this fiancé in the quoted letter by Sgt. Band’s sister.)

They could have picked up any number of books which document German atrocities in France and Belgium, not to mention a few brought to light on this forum. One might wonder if this tone of guileless ignorance is affected to maintain an air of breathless revelation, but sadly it has the ring of genuiness to me!

I see the writers skipped over Band’s sister’s letter saying “his eyes were [put] out and he was all spat on”.

We wouldn’t want to stir up ill feelings of course.

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Whilst I still do recommend interested parties watch this documentary I make no claims as to the impact it will have on those people's opinions about the veracity of this famous "myth".

I personally found it quite interesting that Band's circumstances fitted, more or less, with the previously documented first hand evidence collected for the immediate post war investigation. First hand evidence that would apear to come from creditable sources such as the VC winner. Added to which I can't work out a reason why a soldier would write to relatives of a dead comrade stating that their loved one was the crucified soldier if it wasn't true. That doesn't mean it is true necessarily but I found it somewhat compelling nonetheless.

Those that have made up their minds will always be able to put up good arguments for and against. This latest documentary has, for me anyway, put up the best argument to date for the "myth" being based on fact.

Having said all that, I have yet to make up my mind completely. The 'nay-sayers' make some very good points that are as compelling but I can't help but feel that the main pillar of their argument - the absence of proof - has been challenged by this documentary.

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What was most fascinating was that the Canadian Sergeant is named in the documentary as Sgt. Harry Band who went MIA 24/4/15. He is identified from correspondance between Band's Sister and one of his platoon.

I don't know if this was a newly made programme or just a reshowing of an original Channel 4 documentary. Upthread I mentioned Tom Morgan demolishing the "evidence". I've now found 2002 thread which is HERE. The relevent post numbers are 15, 16 & 17.

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