Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

Monday Monuments and Memorials – Canada’s Golgotha, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

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Canada’s Golgotha, a 1918 sculpture by Francis Derwent Wood, documents the power of wartime propaganda. Its story documents what we want to remember – and forget – when the war is over.

The bronze sculpture is now on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa (part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art) with this description:

During the Second Battle of Ypres, rumours circulated that a Canadian soldier had been crucified on a Belgian barn door, a story the Germans denounced as propaganda. Whether truth or fiction, Canada’s Golgotha illustrates the intensity of wartime myths and imagery. The crucifixion remains unproven.

Accounts of the crucifixion circulated throughout the war, heard from someone-who-knew-someone-who-had-witnessed-it. Newspapers reported the torture of a Canadian officer (or a sergeant). Details varied about the form of death and identity of the victim, but the image was useful to promote recruitment and to sell war bonds.

Wood’s sculpture was part of the 1919 Canadian War Memorials exhibition, first in London, then travelling to the US and Canada. The German government objected to the sculpture, asking for proof of the incident or an acknowledgement that it was false. It was withdrawn from the exhibition. (In the New York exhibit, it was shown in a separate room because of the grotesque subject.) Then it was locked away until the 1990s, by government order, to avoid government embarrassment.

Maria Tippett offers another interpretation: “the sculpture was a tool of war, and the war was now over. The public wanted … sculptures that embodied an idea that could reflect any meaning the viewer wished to give it – sacrifice, waste, sorrow, pride and even redemption – rather than a realistic portrayal of an event.” (Sculpture in Canada: A History, ch 4)

Author: greatwar100reads

Canadian crusader for equality and justice. Connoisseur and creator of the written word. Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books and monuments. Read more at

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