The Crucified Soldier (2002)
The Crucified Soldier refers to the widespread story of an Allied soldier serving in the Canadian Army who may have been crucified with bayonets on a barn door or a tree, while fighting on the Western Front during World War I. Three witnesses said they saw an unidentified crucified Canadian soldier near the battlefield of Ypres, Belgium on or around 24 April 1915, but there was no conclusive proof such a crucifixion actually occurred. The eyewitness accounts were somewhat contradictory, no crucified body was found, and no knowledge was uncovered at the time about the identity of the supposedly-crucified soldier. During World War II the story was used by the Nazis as an example of British propaganda.
On 10 May 1915, The Times printed a short item titled "Torture of a Canadian Officer" as coming from its Paris correspondent. According to the piece, Canadian soldiers wounded at Ypres had told how one of their officers had been crucified to a wall "by bayonets thrust through his hands and feet" before having another bayonet driven through his throat and, finally, "riddled with bullets". The soldiers said that it had been seen by the Dublin Fusiliers and that they had heard the Fusiliers' officers talking about it. Two days later, on 12 May, in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, Sir Robert Houston asked Harold Tennant, the Under-Secretary of State for War, "whether he has any information regarding the crucifixion of three Canadian soldiers recently captured by the Germans, who nailed them with bayonets to the side of a wooden structure?" Tennant replied that no information as to such an atrocity having been perpetrated had yet reached the War Office. Houston then asked if Tennant was aware that Canadian officers and Canadian soldiers who were eye-witnesses of the incidents had made affidavits, and whether the officer in command at Boulogne had not called the attention of the War Office to them. It was then stated that inquiries would be made.
On 15 May, The Times published a letter from a member of the army, according to which the crucified soldier was in fact a sergeant, and he had been found transfixed to the wooden fence of a farm building. The letter added that he had been repeatedly stabbed with bayonets and that there were many puncture wounds in his body. The unidentified correspondent had not heard that the crucifixion had been witnessed by any Allied forces and commented that there was room to suppose that the man had been dead when he was crucified.
On 19 May, Sir Robert Houston returned to the subject in the House of Commons, asking Harold Tennant:
"Whether he has any official information showing that during the recent fighting, when the Canadians were temporarily driven back, they were compelled to leave about forty of their wounded comrades in a barn and that on recapturing the position they found the Germans had bayoneted all the wounded with the exception of a sergeant, and that the Germans had removed the figure of Christ from the large village crucifix and fastened the sergeant while alive to the cross; and whether he is aware that the crucifixion of our soldiers is becoming a practice of the Germans?"
—Sir Robert Houston, 19 May 1915
Tennant replied that the military authorities in France had standing instructions to send details of any authenticated atrocities committed against British troops, and that no official information had been received. He added that inquiries were being made, and were not yet complete. Colonel Ernest J. Chambers, the Canadian chief censor, began investigating the story soon after it surfaced. He searched for eyewitnesses, and found a private who swore under affidavit that he had seen three Canadian soldiers bayonetted to a barn door three miles from St. Julien. However, the sworn testimony from the two English soldiers, who claimed to have seen "the corpse of a Canadian soldier fastened with bayonets to a barn door", was subsequently debunked when it was discovered that the part of the front involved had never been occupied by Germans.
The story made headline news around the world and the Allies repeatedly used the supposed incident in their war propaganda, including the US propaganda film The Prussian Cur (1918) produced by the Fox Film Corporation, which included scenes of an Allied soldier's crucifixion. It bears relation to other propaganda of the time like the Rape of Belgium and the Angels of Mons, and the "German Corpse-Rendering Works" (Kadaververwertungsanstalt).