The Collection of Medals to Great War Casualties formed by Tim Parsons

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Date of Auction: 2nd April 2004

Sold for £620

Estimate: £300 - £400

Three: Private J. G. Palethorpe, 15th Canadian Infantry, who was posted missing in the gas attacks at St. Julien on 24 April 1915: the same unit, place and date attributed to the “Crucified Soldier”

1914-15 Star (28038 Pte., 15/Can. Inf.); British War and Victory Medals (28038 Pte., 15-Can. Inf.), with related Memorial Plaque (J. G. Palethorpe) and Canadian Memorial Cross, G.V.R., this last officially inscribed, ‘28038 Pte. J. G. Palethorpe’, and further inscribed ‘K.I.A. 24.4.15 / Ypres’, nearly extremely fine (5) £300-400

Footnote

John George Palethorpe was born at Liverpool in December 1885 and was trying his luck at prospecting in Canada when hostilities broke out in August 1914. Enlisting in the 15th Battalion, Canadian Infantry that September, he used the surname ‘Holt’ and stated that he had previously served in the 4th (Militia) Battalion of the Liverpool Regiment - his record was shortly afterwards amended to the surname ‘Palethorpe’.

Arriving in France in February 1915, he was posted missing at St. Julien following a devastating enemy chlorine gas attack launched against the Canadians on 24 April. Many of the recorded casualties of that date were from his own 15th Battalion:

‘Against the gas cloud, which came on rapidly like a fog bank, 15 feet high, from trenches on the same level only 100 to 200 yards off in the case of the 15th Battalion, and 200 to 300 yards away on a slightly higher level in the case of the 8th Battalion, the Canadians had no protection but handkerchiefs, towels and cotton bandoliers wetted with water or any liquid available in the trenches. Breathing with the mouth thus covered was most difficult, and great was the temptation to tear off the damp rags during the ten minutes that the gas flow lasted. Many men were overcome by the fumes, and collapsed, but the majority of those affected, the left (two thirds) of the 8th Battalion, and three-quarters of the 15th, succeeded in manning the parapet and beating off the enemy. In spite of the complete surprise, only on the front of two platoons of the 15th did he eventually succeed in penetrating. This battalion, after close fighting and having all its eleven officers in the front line killed or taken prisoner, fell back to its second line ...’

At the time there were reports of a soldier of the 15th Battalion having been crucified by the Germans on this day, and the speculation surrounding whether or not this actually took place went on for many years afterwards. Recently, however, it was established from contemporary sources (a transcript of an interview between Lance Corporal Clement Brown and a Red Cross nurse) that the soldier in question was Sergeant Harry Band of the 15th Battalion.

Private Palethorpe is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, as is Sergeant Band, the so called ‘crucified soldier.’