Did the Germans Crucify a Canadian Soldier During the First World War?
A tale as old as World War One itself, the historic story of the Crucified Canadian speaks of the brave Canadian soldier as he is martyred by the Germans and crucified with bayonets on a barn door. However, many have questioned if this modern day Jesus Christ is an account of Germany’s cruelty, or just another attempt of anti-German propaganda. Ultimately, this age-long tale makes historians ask: did the Germans crucify a Canadian soldier during the First World War? In order to answer this question, sources from a number of perspectives have been consulted. Representing a Canadian perspective is Flavelle’s “The Second Battle of Ypres and 100 Years of Remembrance” (2015) and Noris’ “WWI and the Myth of the Crucified Soldier” (2013). Representing a American perspective is Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory (1975), while the article “Torture of A Canadian Officer” published by The Times (1915) and Ponsonby’s Falsehood in War-Time (1928) both provide a British perspective. After examining these sources, this investigation argues that the Germans did not crucify a Canadian soldier during the First World War because of the lack of sufficient witness testimonies, the multitude of variations found in important pieces of the story, and the heavy bias in all available evidence.
The story of the Canadian crucifixion did not occur due to insufficient witness testimonies given by various soldiers. Although under oath, many stories told by the soldiers who “witnessed” the crucifixion were all later proven to be false. Among these testimonies include Private E. Loader, whose claim to have known the name of the crucified soldier was later discovered to be false. Private Loader was serving in India the whole time during the war (Ponsonby, 1928). The hundreds of false identifications can be attested to the fact that the Christian soldiers were constantly exposed to various religious symbols of crucifixion during their time on the battlefield.
Moreover, according to Fussel, “the image of crucifixion came naturally to soldiers [...] almost daily they could see some Other Ranks undergoing ‘Field Punishment No.1’ for minor infractions” (Fussel, 1975). During their time in Ypres, the soldiers would have constantly passed by various forms of crucifixes including “Crucifix Corner”: a section of Ypres consisting of statues depicting Christ, and the aforementioned “Field Punishment No.1”: a punishment in which soldiers are strapped to a fence post by their arms and legs, appearing much like Christ did on the cross. Upon witnessing the horrors of war, the Christian soldiers began praying to God for his saving grace. Their deep desire for divine intervention and their constant exposure to Christian symbols easily caused them to personify one of the statues or punishment activities as the Germans crucifying a soldier. As Noris states: “the sacrifice had a purpose, to save the world; on the other hand [...] The soldier was not a modern-day crusader [...] the soldier was Christ” (Noris, 2013). To many, the story of the crucified soldier is about Jesus himself, a divine being who was placed on the cross in order to save others. This is another piece of evidence to prove that the witnesses were hallucinating due to the constant exposure to religious crucifixes, death, and the need for a saviour. Therefore, the story caused them to give what they believed to be true testimonies, which were insufficient. Thus, the Germans did not crucify a Canadian soldier during the First World War.
Furthermore, the inconsistency of important information in the story can also prove that the crucifixion did not occur. The story about crucifixion at the hands of the German was quite popular at the time. Although The Times’ published story describing the crucifixion of a Canadian sergeant is one of the most popular, it is still one of the many variations told by different “witnesses.” As stated by Fussel, “The victim was not always Canadian” (Fussel, 1975) and one important inconsistency found was the inability to identify the victim itself. Although they all claim the suspect to be the Germans, Hay accounts that the soldier was British (Fussel, 1975) while another published in the Pittsburgh Sunday Post claims that the victim was in fact a young girl (Ponsonby, 1928). Another account was published in the Los Angeles Times from a soldier claiming the victim was in fact American (Ponsonby, 1928).
Other than identity, the location of the crucifixion was scattered all around western Europe with many claiming that it occured in Ypres near Maple Corpse while others claimed that the crucifixion occurred in France in St. Julienne or Suippes. Some even said that it occurred in the German city of Bonn (Flavelle, 2015). Upon an investigation into these claims, it was later confirmed that all the testimonies were all false. As stated by Flavelle, “after the Canadian government sponsored a report on the atrocity, they found that the evidence was inconclusive” (Flavelle, 2015).
Due to the inconsistencies of important facts, such as the inability to identify the victim and a location, investigators were unable to prove the claim occurred. Rather than performing one large investigation based on a specific claim made by one witness, each country performed individual investigations regarding one of the claims reported. Thus, the investigations were unreliable due to the contradicting evidence each investigation uncovered. These inconsistencies led to many dead-end investigations with no connection to the idea of crucifixion at the hands of the Germans. Ultimately, the Canadian crucifixion did not occur due to the inconsistency of information found in the story.
Finally, the Germans did not crucify a Canadian soldier during the First World War because all available evidence is tinged with a heavy amount of bias, and therefore, unreliable. During the time of the war, the Allies' hatred against Germany was at an all-time-high and soldiers were volunteering themselves to go to war because Noris reasons, “to step up to the fight against evil, which, of course, in WWI was seen as the fight against Germany,” (Noris, 2013). In their extreme hatred for Germany, the allies unconsciously cloaked all evidence created about the crucifixion under a veil of unconditional bias, ultimately limiting the reliability of said sources to further the investigation. For example, as Noris states, “The story is tinged with propaganda [...] It partakes of anti-German Propaganda which depicts the Germans as monsters” (Noris, 2013). This was also visible in all articles that were released to the general public, including the Touture of the Canadian Soldier created by The Times. They all contained little to no evidence supporting its statements, only supporting themselves with witness testimonies, which are highly unreliable due to the heavy bias present in all testimonies. Thus, these pieces of evidence were ineffective in investigations, as it became an attempt of anti-German propaganda rather than providing important primary evidence. Finding unbiased evidence to investigate the allegation was very difficult and officials were unable to further the investigation. All primary evidence contained so much bias that both historians of the time and future historians were unable to perform an investigation due to the inability to find unbiased evidence, making the story of the Canadian soldier untrue.
Whether further evidence can be uncovered to finally answer this age-long question, the Crucified Canadian will always remain in the hearts of many as a story of hope and sacrifice. Ultimately, due to the lack of sufficient witnesses, the lack of consistencies in elements of the story, and the heavy bias in all available sources, it can be expressed that the myth of the Canadian Crucifixion is and forever will be, a myth.
About the author:
Yangling is a grade 11 student studying at St. Robert CHS. Besides his endless desire to take naps, watch Netflix, and listen to Olivia Rodrigo, Yangling enjoys bullet journaling and being an amateur writer. Aside from studying, Yangling also is the president of his school’s Arts Council and routinely volunteers at a community youth program.
Fussell, P. (1975). The Great War and modern memory. Oxford University Press, USA.
Ponsonby, A. (1928). Falsehood in war time: Containing an assortment of lies circulated throughout the nations during the Great War. Unwin Brothers, Ltd. London.
Nanette, N. (2013). WWI and the Myth of the Crucified Soldier. Fisher Imprints
London Times Correspondent. (1915). Torture Of A Canadian Officer. The Times, http://www.canadiangreatwarproject.com/transcripts/transcriptDisplay.asp?Type=N&Id=202
Flavelle, R.B. (2015). The Second Battle of Ypres and 100 Years of Remembrance, Canadian Military History, (24) https://scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.ca/&httpsredir=1&article=1758&context=cmh