The Canadian Cross of Sacrifice at Arlington National Cemetery

And the last land he found, it was fair and level ground
About a carven stone,
And a stark Sword brooding on the bosom of the Cross
Where high and low are one.

Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, Arlington National Cemetery
Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, Arlington National Cemetery

Rudyard Kipling’s verse from The King’s Pilgrimage—the visit of King George V to war cemeteries in France and Flanders in 1922—highlights three iconic aspects of the commemoration of the war dead of the two world wars by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.[1] Firstly, the huge Stone of Remembrance in the larger cemeteries—the ‘great war stone’ was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to be abstract and to avoid association with any particular religion. Secondly, and in contrast, the elegant Cross of Sacrifice designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield. Finally, the equality of treatment for all war dead regardless of rank, nationality, creed or race.

In the United States there are no Stones of Remembrance. There are, however, two Crosses of Sacrifice. The cross is in all CWGC cemeteries where there are more than 40 war graves, which explains its presence in Oakwood Cemetery Annexe in Montgomery, Alabama. There are 78 graves from the Second World War in the cemetery, all airmen who died during training.

The other cross is in Arlington National Cemetery. There are only 32 graves in Arlington and that cross serves another purpose. It is a memorial, specifically to the citizens of the United States who gave their lives while serving in the armed forces of Canada in the First and Second World Wars and in Korea.

The memorial was proposed originally to commemorate those who had died in the First World War. Men from the United States began to enlist for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force soon after the war began. These men included first generation immigrants, mainly from the United Kingdom, but over 35,000 men recorded their country of birth as the United States. This figure should be taken as an underestimate—United States citizenship was at risk and men are known to have falsified the information they provided on attestation, and a number of men enlisted for service with the British Army and Royal Navy.[2] Similarly, the number of American war dead commemorated by the CWGC is difficult to establish with certainty.[3] The British Empire suffered a little over 10% of its mobilised manpower killed; if that figure is applied to those who declared themselves as being born in the United States it indicates that the total war dead may approximate 3,500, with a sizeable majority being men of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. It must be emphasised that this figure is conjecture.

The proposal for a memorial to the war dead was made in 1925 by the Canadian Prime Minister, MacKenzie King, and approved on 12 June by President Calvin Coolidge. The style of memorial caused some debate but the chosen design was an Imperial War Graves Commission Cross of Sacrifice, mounted on an inscribed, octagonal base.[4]

The key aspects of GWGC cemetery design were not derived without considerable debate and this included the use, or not, of religious symbology, in particular a Christian cross. Public support for this huge national undertaking was essential. Also important was the agreement, or at least acquiescence, of the Church of England. A decision to include a cross in each cemetery was finally reached, driven by the compromising and effective leadership of Sir Frederick G. Kenyon, the director of the British Museum, who had been appointed to the Commission in November 1917. Sir Edwin Lutyens, one of the principal architects of the Commission, Reginald Blomfield, appointed as one of the senior architects of the Commission in March 1918, and Sir Frederick Kenyon, all produced designs for the cross; Kenyon, in fact, produced two.

Sir Reginald Blomfield
Sir Reginald Blomfield

It was Blomfield’s design that was selected. Historian Allen Frantzen records that Blomfield said of it:

What I wanted to do in designing this Cross was to make it as abstract and impersonal as I could, to free it from any association of any particular style, and, above all, to keep clear of any sentimentalism of the Gothic. This was a man’s war far too terrible for any fripperies, and I hoped to get within range of the infinite in this symbol…[5]

The cross is of Celtic proportions, i.e. the crossarm being one-third the length of the shaft, and is carved in three octagonal parts: the lower shaft, the cross arm and the upper shaft. These are fastened by two bronze dowels and the lower shaft is set into the base and fastened by a third dowel. The cross in Arlington National Cemetery, which stands behind the Memorial Amphitheater,  is carved from Canadian granite. On the face of the cross is a stylized bronze longsword. In CWGC cemeteries, the cross appears in one of four heights in order that it may be scaled to the size of the cemetery and not unduly dominate the war graves. The memorial at Arlington is the largest of these types, 24 feet high, but it is not the largest of the 29 crosses in the Americas—the Halifax Memorial in Nova Scotia, which stands in Point Pleasant Park and commemorates those from both world wars who are buried at sea, stands 40 feet tall.[6]

‘It is no light thing that you reserve for our mission
 a portion of this sacred ground.’

The memorial at Arlington was dedicated on Armistice Day 1927 in front of a huge crowd and an impressive guard of honour of Canadian and United States soldiers.[7]

The Canadian contingent comprised 56 men from The Royal Canadian Regiment and 52 men from the Royal 22nd Regiment.[8] Music was to be provided by the band of The Royal Canadian Regiment, the pipes and drums of the 48th Highlanders of Canada, and three trumpeters each from of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery and The Royal Canadian Dragoons. The guard was commanded by Major M. K. Greene RCR,[9] who had served in France and Flanders, with Captain A. Grenier R22ndR as second-in-command. The Colours of both Regiments were on parade, that of The Royal Canadian Regiment borne by Captain W. S. Fenton.[10] The massed bands were directed by Captain C. O’Neil, the renowned Director of Music of the Royal 22nd Regiment,[11] assisted by Lieutenant L. K. Harrison,[12] Director of Music of The Royal Canadian Regiment.[13]

For two weeks the guard and band had rehearsed in Toronto, where the men had been fitted with pre-war ceremonial uniforms and suffered seemingly endless inspections. The contingent left Toronto by a specially commissioned train on the afternoon of 10 November and arrived in Washington DC early the following morning. Before lunch the band played a concert at Keith’s Theatre[14] and were then hosted for lunch by the American Legion.[15]

The Unveiling, 11 November 1927
The Unveiling, 11 November 1927

By 3.30pm the guard was formed, faced by an equal guard provided by 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, United States Army with buglers from 3rd Cavalry Regiment.

Having laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown that morning, President Coolidge returned to Arlington for the ceremony. The unveiling was conducted on behalf of Canada by Dr James Horace King, Minister of Soldiers Civil Reestablishment,[16] Vincent Massey, Canada’s first ambassador to the United States, and Colonel J L Ralston CMG, DSO, Minister of National Defence.[17]  The cross was accepted on behalf of the United States by Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis, and Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg.

President Calvin Coolidge, Canadian envoy Vincent Massey and Guard Commander Major M K Greene
President Calvin Coolidge, Canadian envoy Vincent Massey and Guard Commander Major M K Greene

The cross’s inscription read:

Erected by the Government of Canada in honour of the citizens of the United States who served in the Canadian Army and gave their lives in the Great War, 1914-1918.’

In his address after the unveiling of the memorial, Colonel Ralston concluded:

Of the United States, Canada asked to be permitted to raise this stone to help keep forever vivid in American hearts Canada’s sense of the comradeship, courage and faithfulness of these sons of the United States who had joined the Canadian forces. We thank you for your quick and generous response. It is no light thing that you reserve for our mission a portion of this sacred ground. What could be more meaningful in the relations between us than the fact that you bring us in with you in the place where only friends may come and bestow on us an interest in this, your dearest national possession.   

In his reply Dwight F. Davis, the Secretary of War, said:

So the Canadians who in the past gave their lives in the United States armies and the Americans who in the world war gave their lives while serving in the Canadian forces, have consecrated and hallowed the ties of friendship that have united our countries for more than a century. This memorial will always be a source of pride to the citizens of the United States.

In the evening after the ceremony the officers of the contingents had dinner at the new Canadian Legation on Massachusetts Avenue,[18] where the band provided entertainment. The soldiers of the guard were hosted by the American Legion at a performance in the newly-opened Fox’s Theatre[19] and then a supper and dance in the Willard Hotel.

The Canadian contingent’s final parade took place the following morning when it marched through the streets of Washington to the White House, where it was reviewed by the President. After tea at the Canadian Legation, the Canadians returned to Toronto by train, arriving on the morning of 13 November.[20]

Princess Anne at the Cross of Sacrifice, November 2014
Princess Anne at the Cross of Sacrifice, November 2014

Since its unveiling, the cross has been visited regularly by the The Sovereign of Canada, by the Governor General and by others. King George VI laid a wreath there during his visit in 1939—the first visit of a reigning monarch of the United Kingdom to the United States. Most recently, Princess Anne visited the memorial during her visit to Arlington in November 2014 when she unveiled a plaque commemorating the United States’ recipients of the Victoria Cross.[21]

Somewhat surprisingly, with no mechanism to fund repairs, the cost of work on the gifted cross has in the past fallen to the Canadian Department of Veteran Affairs.[22]

The First World War was not the last time that citizens of the United States travelled north to join the Canadian Armed Forces—following the Second World War and the war in Korea, two additional inscriptions were added:

In honour of the citizens of the United States who served in the Canadian Armed Forces and gave their lives in the Second World War, 1939-1945.’

In honour of the citizens of the United States who served in the Canadian Armed Forces and gave their lives in the Korean Campaign, 1950-1953.’

Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, Arlington National Cemetery
Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, Arlington National Cemetery

Acknowledgement:
The Regimental Rogue for the photographs of Major M. K. Greene and Captain W. S. Fenton.


1. (Back) Rudyard Kipling, the Indian-born, British Nobel laureate, lost his only son, John, killed in action in 1915 while serving with the Irish Guards. Kipling joined the nascent Imperial War Graves Commission in 1917 and in this context is best known for the simple phrase that he suggested that now adorns the gravestone of so many—‘Known unto God’. In addition to his words on the gravestones of the unnamed, he suggested the wording on the Stone of Remembrance—‘Their Name Liveth For Evermore’ (taken from Ecclesiasticus 44.14, King James Version); and the inscription on all of the major memorials to the missing, to those ‘…whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death’. He also suggested the inscription on the Cenotaph in Whitehall—‘The Glorious Dead’. More about this poem and the King’s visit may be found here. The book produced after the visit is worth reading and may be found here.
2. (Back) For more detail on this see: Dickon, C. (2014). Americans at War in Foreign Forces – A History, 1914–1945. Jefferson NC: McFarland.
3. (Back) Although a little under 3,000 CWGC records may be found using the search term ‘U.S.A.’, many more have additional records that show a state (either in full—‘New York’—or abbreviated—‘NY’) and these cannot be searched for. Additionally, men known to have been born in the United States have no additional information on their CWGC record to indicate this connection. Finally, it cannot be assumed that any of the men with a connection to the United States were born there.
4. (Back) See: Library and Archives Canada. (1925-1928). Proposed Memorial In Arlington Cemetery For United States Citizens Who Enlisted With Canadian Military Forces. RG25-4.
5. (Back) Frantzen, A J. (2004). Bloody Good: Chivalry, Sacrifice, and the Great War , p 253. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
6. (Back) In addition to the cross in Alabama, there are 27 CWGC crosses in the Americas: 25 in Canada, and two in the Caribbean (in Saint Lucia and in Trinidad and Tobago).
7. (Back) In the United States, Armistice Day was commemorated until 1954 when the day became Veterans Day—honouring those have served in the Armed Forces. Memorial Day, the last Monday of May, honours all Americans who died while in military service.
8. (Back) From 1928, Royal 22e Régiment.
9. (Back) Colonel Murray Kirk Greene. Born on 17 February 1888, he graduated from the Royal Military College in 1910 and joined The Royal Canadian Regiment. He served in France and Flanders during the First World War, largely in staff appointments. He was wounded in 1915 and Mentioned in Despatches. He commanded the Regiment from 1935-1938 and served throughout the Second World War, again mostly on the staff. He retired in November 1945 and died in West Petersfield, Hampshire on 15 December 1956.
10. (Back) Lieutenant Colonel William Seabright Fenton OBE. Born on 4 August 1886, he was commissioned for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 1 October 1914. He served in France and Flanders and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre. He served as Adjutant of The Royal Canadian Regiment in 1920 and then in staff, training and regimental duty appointments. For his service during the Second World War he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. He died on Armistice Day, 11 November 1970.
11. (Back) Captain Charles O’Neill. Born on 31 August 1882 near Glasgow, Scotland.  He studied music (piano, organ and the cornet) and played with bands in England until he emigrated to the United States in 1901; he moved to Canada in 1905. He played cornet in the band of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery before returning to England to study at the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall. Following his graduation, he was appointed Director of Music of the Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery Band. He continued his musical studies and graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor of Music in 1914, and a Doctorate 10 years later. In 1922 he was appointed Director of Music of the Royal 22nd Regiment Band, which became very well known under his leadership. He was elected as the president of the American Bandmasters Association in 1933 and 1934 and was the conductor of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s orchestra from 1935 to 1937.  In 1937 he was a guest conductor at the coronation of George VI. That year he retired from the Army and took up a teaching position at the State University of New York at Potsdam and, from 1948, at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. He retired to Quebec in 1954 and died there on 9 September 1964. He is known as Canada’s finest composer of band music.
12. (Back) Captain Lawrence Kendall Harrison. Appointed as Bandmaster in July 1924 and later Director of Music of The Royal Canadian Regiment Band. He had served previously with The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and had graduated from the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall in 1918. He was a Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music. He was promoted to Captain in 1932. He retired in September 1939 but continued to engage in the musical life of London, Ontario. He later returned to England where he died in 1962.
13. (Back) ‘Visit of Canadian Guard of Honor to Washington, D.C.’ (December 1927). The Connecting File – The Regimental Journal of The Royal Canadian Regiment. Volume VI, No. 4.
14. (Back) The Riggs Building originally housed Chase’s Polite Vaudeville Theatre. The venue became a cinema in 1928 (with vaudeville acts ending completely in 1932) and was closed in 1978; only the facade remains today, the frontage of an office complex on the corner of 15th and G Streets.
15. (Back) ‘Visit of Canadian Guard of Honor to Washington, D.C.’ Op. Cit.
16. (Back) The Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment was established in 1918 to coordinate the return to civilian life by the soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Part of the Department was the Invalided Soldiers’ Commission. Upon discharge all officers and soldiers passed to the control of the Commission if they required ‘medical treatment on account of their suffering from tuberculosis, epilepsy, paralysis or other diseases likely to be of long duration or incurable, or on account of their being mentally deficient or insane’. See: Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-Establishment. (May 1918). Report of the Work of the Invalided Soldiers’ Commission. Ottawa: J De L Taché.
17. (Back) Colonel James Layton Ralston CMG, DSO* served with, and commanded, the 85th  Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders), Canadian Expeditionary Force. Highly regarded by his soldiers for his courage, he was twice awarded the DSO (London Gazette 26 September 1917 and 15 February 1919), twice Mentioned in Despatches, and was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael & St George (London Gazette 3 June 1919). He was Minister of National Defence from 1926 to 1930 and during the Second World War from 1940 to 1944. The citations for his two awards of the DSO state:

(For the attack on Éleu-dit-Leauwette)
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations which included the capture of a village. He displayed untiring energy and great personal courage throughout, as well as a very high order of military skill, in supervising the attack and consolidating captured positions, and although wounded and ordered off the field he returned to the line after his wound was dressed, knowing that his battalion was badly depleted of officers. He set a splendid example of pluck and devotion to duty.

(For the attack at Cambrai)
For conspicuous gallantry and outstanding leadership in operations before Cambrai, September 27th /October 2nd, 1918. He handled his battalion with great skill and successfully accomplished the allotted tasks in face of very heavy enemy resistance, after making frequent reconnaissances of the most forward positions under heavy machine-gun fire. When the enemy counter-attacked, his tactical skill saved a very critical situation. Though wounded in the face on the third day of the battle he refused to be relieved, and continued at duty until his battalion was withdrawn.

18. (Back) The Clarence Moore House, now the Embassy of Uzbekistan.
19. (Back) Fox Theatre opened on 19 September 1927—the first show was the silent movie Paid to Love—under the direction of the impresario Simon Lionel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel. In August 1936, the venue became Loew’s Capitol Theatre. It closed in 1963, and, apart from the facade, was demolished in 1964. The facade now forms the entrance of the National Press Building.
20. (Back) ‘Visit of Canadian Guard of Honor to Washington, D.C.’ Op. Cit.
21. (Back) Less well known is that the four identified recipients earned nine awards for gallantry between them—four Victoria Crosses, one Military Cross, and four Military Medals:

The Unknown Soldier
Captain Bellenden Seymour Hutcheson VC, MC, Canadian Army Medical Corps attached to 75th Battalion (Mississauga)
Lance Corporal William Henry Metcalf VC, MM, 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish)
Sergeant George Harry Mullin, VC, MM*, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry
Sergeant Raphael Louis Zengel VC, MM, 5th Battalion (Western Cavalry)

22. (Back) Gaffen, F. (1996). Cross-Border Warriors: Canadians in American Forces, Americans in Canadian Forces. p 38. Toronto: Dundurn Press.

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