Monday, August 4, 2014

August 4, 1914 - The United Kingdom declares war on Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

This is the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice in Section 46 of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, in the United States.

The First World War introduced killing on such a mass scale that few nations (except the United States, which buried mass numbers of dead during its Civil War) knew how to deal with it. Unlike today, repatriation of remains was not usually demanded by the public. In France, where most of the fighting occurred, municipal cemeteries soon overflowed with dead. Huge military cemeteries were established instead. Fabian Ware, a director of the Rio Tinto mining company, toured some battlefields in as part of a Red Cross mission in late 1914 and was appalled at the poor quality of British graves -- wooden crosses haphazardly placed, names illegibly written in pencil, and graves so shallow that a little rain would expose the corpse. Ware successfully petititoned the British government to establish the Graves Registration Commission in May 1915. The idea was to identify the location of each Commonwealth citizen's grave by location, and photograph it. When the public learned of its work, demand for information about graves became overwhelming. The commission was restructured as the Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries in the spring of 1916 to include responding to public requests.

As the war neared its end, it was clear that devastated France would not be capable of maintaining the vast Commonwealth military cemeteries on its territory. There was also growing public demand to commemorate those who had died. To this end, the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) was created on May 21, 1917, to purchase Commonwealth military cemeteries, enclosed them, emplace suitable headstones, and build appropriate memorials and chapels on them. The design committee was led by Sir Edward Luytens and included Sir Herbert Baker, Sir Reginald Blomfield, and Charles Holden. The IWGC established a committee, led by Frederic Kenyon (Director of the British Museum) to study the cemetery issue. The Kenyon committee presented a report to the IWGC in November 1918 recommending that each cemetery be similar in layout and look to reduce cost as well as suppress class distinction. Although Parliament came close to rejecting the report on May 4, 1920, it did not do so -- allowing the IWGC to move forward under the Kenyon Report guidelines.

After visiting several military and civilian cemeteries in the United Kingdom and France, Kenyon suggested that a medieval or Celtic cross be used. Blomfield, however, wanted a more modern, abstract form to avoid any suggestion of Gothic sentimentality. Blomfield subsequently designed a Latin cross of grey granite with a bronze sword on its face. (Some feature a sword on the rear face as well.) The cross stood on an octagonal base capable of carrying an inscription. The height of the cross could be raised by placing the base on one or two octagonal plinths (larger in cross-section than the base). The proportions of the cross (1:3) were more like those of a Celtic cross than a traditional crucifix (whose proportions mimic those of the human body). The cross came in heights of 14, 18, 20, and 24 feet, depending on the neeed. The cross was intended to be granite, but limestone and cement were also used.

The arms are actually a single piece of stone, fastened by two bronze dowels to the shaft. The shaft is set into the pedestal block by a six inch stone joggle and a bronze dowel. The shaft tapers from the base to the top to create entasis. (A straight column, seen from below, creates the optical illusion that it is wider at the top, and thus looms alarmingly over those below. To avoid this, tapering of the column -- entasis -- was developed by the ancient Greeks as a means of forcing a more "normal" perspective on the viewer.)

The cross eventually garnered the name "Cross of Sacrifice". Its design was completed very swiftly, and first used in three experimental IWGC cemeteries at the beginning of 1920. It was used in all Commonwealth war cemeteries with more than 40 graves (except those of Chinese or Indian troops).

In 1925, MacKenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada, proposed that Canada donate a memorial to the cemetery to honor the large number of Americans who died while in the the service of the Canadian Armed Forces during World War I. President Calvin Coolidge approved the memorial on June 12, 1925. The inscription originally only honored those Americans who served Canada during World War I. Additional inscriptions honoring Americans who served in the Canadian Armed Forces in World War II and the Korean War were added later.

The Canadian Cross of Sacrifice is located about 400 feet northwest of the western entrance to Memorial Amphitheater. The Iran Rescue Mission Memorial, Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial, and 3rd Infantry (the Old Guard) Memorial are nearby. The Memorial Amphitheater, Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, and the USS Maine Mast Memorial to the southwest form an isoceles triangle.

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