WHILE researching the Great War, Cannock-based historical group, The Chase Project, came across a gruesome story about a soldier "crucified" by Germans as they advanced through Belgium in 1914.
Initially, the group – Lee Dent, Ben Cunliffe and Richard Pursehouse – thought the report referred to a "Crucified Canadian" soldier that had been published in May 1915, which was dismissed after the war as an urban myth.
It had been claimed that a Canadian soldier, Sergeant Harry Band, had been pinned to the fence of a farm with bayonets and he had been tortured. The incident was immortalised in a 32-inch high bronze sculpture by Francis Derwent Wood in 1918.
The event became so firmly ensconced in Canadian military folklore that there was little quarter given by Canadians during the Great War, which continued into World War Two – especially when Canadians captured German S.S. troops during the vicious fighting in the thick hedgerows of the Normandy 'bocage' countryside after the D-Day landings of June 1944.
However, The Chase Project realised that despite some similarities, their story was somewhat different and first hand.
Corporal Sidney G. Stanton, from Tipton, a motor dispatch rider attached to 2nd Army HQ Staff, said in a interview to the Express and Star that on September 3, 1914: "The Huns had captured a fellow dispatch rider, and after crucifying him with the aid of lances for nails they had poured petrol from the tank of his machine over his body and set fire to him."
The most probable explanation would be that they were Uhlans if they had lances, who were advanced scouts, although most German cavalry had lances.
There was a voracious appetite in the opening months of the war for stories of Belgian refugees being shot and tortured by the "Brutish Hun" as the German army advanced and the newspapers, having little real news to publish, made what they could of such stories, especially as Belgian refugees who had fled across the channel began to be housed around the country.
The British Government had taken the country into the war to defend Belgian neutrality, and any stories that could reinforce the resolve of the country – and boost recruitment – were cynically manipulated. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?
The very fact the British version is first hand and pre-dates the Canadian one adds weight to Stanton's account. The three members of The Chase Project decided to research the story further.
At a meeting of the Wolverhampton Western Front Association, which meets on the second Saturday of the month at St Peter's School, Compton Park, Compton Road West, Richard and Lee spoke to a fellow member, Andrew Johnson, and asked for his help.
Andrew discovered further background information on Sidney Stanton as well as details of later promotions in the January 2 edition of the Tipton Herald in 1915.
It reported that Mr Sidney G. Stanton, fourth son of Mrs Stanton, of Dudley Road, Tipton, and the late Councillor James Stanton, is acting as a motor cycle dispatch rider in the present war. He was an articled pupil in the Borough Engineer's office at West Bromwich and joined the Special Reserve of the Royal Engineers as a Corporal.
At the end of the year Stanton was promoted, or "Gazetted", which implies he was deemed of good character. From his medal card, it looks like he was entitled to the 1914 Star (Mons Star) as he was in France from early 1914.
The London Gazette in January 1916 stated Stanton was now an officer. Dated December 31, 1915 it said that Corporal Sidney George Stanton, from Motor Cyclists, Royal Engineers, Army No. 29431, was promoted to Second Lieutenant.
If anyone has any information or photographs concerning this episode, or on Sidney George Stanton, The Chase Project can be contacted through The Bugle at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL, or email editor@blackcoun trybugle.co.uk