The Cross at Neuve-Chapelle

At a village near the northern tip of France, the symbol of Christ caused Allied soldiers’ deaths.

A postcard of the “Christ of the Trenches” statue in Neuve-Chapelle. (Print Collector/Corbis)

An officer told me that during the German retreat from the Somme they noticed a peculiar accuracy in the enemy’s firing. The shells followed an easily distinguishable course. So many casualties occurred from this accurate shelling that the officers set themselves to discover the cause. They found that the circle of shells had for its center the crossroads, and that at the crossroads was a crucifix that stood up clearly as a landmark. Evidently the cross was being used to guide the gunners, and was causing the death of our men.

But a more remarkable thing came to light. The cross stood close to the road, and when the Germans retired they had sprung a mine at the crossroads to delay our advance. Everything near had been blown to bits by the explosion except the crucifix, but that had not a mark upon it. And yet it could not have escaped, except by a miracle. They therefore set themselves to examine the seeming miracle and came across one of the most astounding cases of fiendish cunning. They found that the Germans had made a concrete socket for the crucifix so that they could take it out or put it in at pleasure. Before blowing up the crossroads they had taken the cross out of its socket and removed it to a safe distance; then, when the mine had exploded, they put the cross back so that it might be a landmark to direct their shooting. And now they were making use of Christ’s instrument of redemption as an instrument for men’s destruction.

But our young officers resolved to restore the cross to its work of saving men. They waited till night fell, then removed the cross to a point of a hundred or two yards to the left. When in the morning the German gunners fired their shells … it looked as if someone had been tampering with their guns … To put matters right they altered the position of their guns … [and] the shells fell harmlessly into the outlying fields.