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I noticed a soldier pinned to a barn door . . there was a bayonet through each wrist. His head hung foward on his breast as though he were dead; SCOT MAY HAVE BEEN SERVICEMAN SEEN CRUCIFIED DURING WORLD WAR.


THE sickly, yellow-green clouds of gas had cleared and the air was no longer thick with the odour of chlorine. All that the men of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) could smell as they trudged wearily along a road close to the Belgian village of St Julien, near Ypres, was the overpowering stench of death. It was April 24, 1915. Two days earlier, the Germans had used poison gas for the first time to drive the Canadians out of the area. There had been ferocious fighting between the two sides, with thousands of lives lost and the picturesque farmland had turned into devastated, shell-cratered ruins. Now, the Canadians were back. All the horrors William Metcalf had witnessed during the last few days of savage fighting hadn't prepared the young corporal - an American who volunteered for the Canadian Army upon the outbreak of war - for the sight that greeted him as he walked past a barn a century ago. "I noticed a soldier pinned to a barn door," he recalled after the war. "There was a bayonet through each wrist and his head hung forward on his breast as though he were dead." It appeared the unidentified soldier, wearing Canadian uniform, had been deliberately crucified by the Germans. But was the story true? For 100 years the case of the crucified soldier has been shrouded in myth and mystery, with many dismissing it as another example of hysterical anti-German war propaganda. But research in the last few years has suggested the story was true and the near century-long quest to identify the soldier would eventually lead to Scotland. Reports of an Allied soldier being found crucified on the Western Front were first published in The Times on May 10, 1915. They reported that Canadian soldiers had found the body of one of their comrades "crucified by the Germans" near St Julien. Citing several witnesses, thesaid he had been "pinned to a wall with bayonets thrust through his hands and feet," with another bayonet "driven through his throat". More stories followed in British, Canadian and US newspapers over the next few days, quoting a number of people who claimed to have seen the crucified soldier. But no two accounts were the same. A New Zealander serving with the Red Cross claimed a dying Canadian private told him he'd seen the soldier crucified to a tree, rather than a barn. Others insisted there were two crucified soldiers, not one. In another version, the crucified soldier was said to have been an Argyll & Sutherland Highlander. But no-one could positively identify the soldier who had suffered such an appalling death. Appearing just days after the controversial sinking of the liner Lusitania by a German U-boat, with the loss of almost 1200 lives, the reports sparked a public outcry as mobs took out their anger on the Anglo-German community in Britain. "The people are stung to fury partly by the Lusitania murders but still more by the torture of the Canadian," an Essex Reverend observed. "They have been attacking Germans and German shops everywhere." Amid this febrile atmosphere, an investigation was launched by the Canadian Army, headed by the Deputy Judge Advocate General, who found that many of the "witnesses" had only heard the story second-hand. With only hearsay and often contradictory witness statements riddled with inconsistencies to go on, the investigation proved inconclusive. But by now, the story of the crucified soldier had acquired a life of its own. In 1918, the Hollywood director Raoul Walsh made a film dramatising the incident, The Prussian Cur. And Canadian newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook commissioned a sculpture of the crucified soldier by artist Francis Derwent Wood to commemorate Canada's sacrifice in the war. Called Canada's storyGolgotha, the bronze sculpture caused consternation in Germany when it was put on public display in January 1919. The post-war German government rejected accusations their soldiers had crucified an Allied serviceman and challenged the British and Canadian authorities to back up their claims with hard evidence. In response, the Canadians launched a second, more-thorough investigation - headed by Canadian minister Sir Edward Kemp. He acquired sworn testimony from two apparently credible eyewitnesses - Corporal Metcalf, who had won theVictoria Cross in September 1918, and Leonard Vivian, an English stretcher-bearer. The latter testified: "I saw what appeared to be a Canadian sergeant crucified to the door. There was a bayonet through each hand and his head was hanging forward as though he were dead or unconscious." Others remained sceptical. In a letter to Kemp, dated March 1919, General Sir Arthur Currie, commander of Canadian forces at Ypres in 1915, wrote: "I have never come across any positive evidence a crucifixion ever took place." As before, the investigation failed to either confirm ordisprove the story and the case against the Germans was found to be "not proven". To the British and Canadian governments, however, the case of the crucified soldier was becoming a political embarrassment. True or not, it was now time, London and Ottawa felt, to bury the story. In June 1920, Canada's Golgotha was removed from public display. It wouldn't be displayed again until 1992, when it was exhibited at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. But there was to be another twist in the mystery of the crucified soldier. Inthe 1980s, a note written by British nurse Ursula Chaloner, who worked in a hospital for wounded servicemen during the war, surfaced. She described how she had treated a wounded Canadian corporal and learned from him that the victim was one of his comrades. But this account was different. For the first time, it put a name to the crucified soldier - Sergeant Harry Band. Band was born in Montrose in 1885, one of seven children, and grew up in Dundee. After serving in the British Army for three years, he emigrated to Canada, settling in the town of MonctonNew Brunswick, where he found a job as a fireman. Within weeks of the outbreak of war, he joined the 15th Battalion of the 48th Highlanders of Canada, which mainly consisted of Scots immigrants. The regiment was heavily involved in the fighting at the second battle of Ypres in April 1915. About 70 per cent of the battalion were injured, among them Band, who was posted missing in action on April 24. More substance to rumours that Band was the crucified soldier came in 1987 when a letter his sister Elizabeth wrote to another of her brothers in 1916 was discovered. She revealed that a soldier from Band's regiment had written to her, expressing his condolences and, after apparently being pressed by Elizabeth, confirmed the macabre circumstances of his death. "I've got another letter admitting the crucifixion of Harry," she wrote. "I have got it at last, the horrible details." After the passing of 100 years, whether Band really was the victim of an abhorrent war crime, or whether the crucifixion story was another World War I myth - perpetuated by Allied propagandists to drive up recruitment - will perhaps forever remain a mystery.

I saw what appeared to be a Canadian sergeant crucified to the door stretcher-bearer leonard vivian


A CENTURY AGO 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) in Belgium during World War I, main picture, soldiers returning after lethal gas attacks at Ypres, above, bronze sculpture Canada's Golgotha, left. Main picture: UGC

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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 18, 2015
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