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Symbol of red poppy, white marker and rifle Ernest Thurtle


Ernest Thurtle MP

'The movement for the abolition of the Death Penalty for military offences is growing rapidly, as the recent debate and division in the House of Commons demonstrated. There is no doubt that these shootings in cold blood of men for desertion and cowardice (so-called) are repugnant to the great majority of the people of the country. Offences of this kind are almost entirely manifestations of nerve failure in one form or another and to the average man and woman, it is an outrage of justice that for such failure men should be shot by their own comrades, in accordance with the provisions of existing Military Law.'

Shootings at Dawn



11 November 1884 - Ernest Thurtle born New York State, USA

1886 - Family returned to England. Lived in Alfrick, Worcestershire, then Sebastapol, Monmouthshire

1906 - Joined Labour party

Travelled and worked in Europe, returned to England, then to USA

1912 - Married Dorothy Lansbury, daughter of Right Honourable George Lansbury MP

1914 - On outbreak of First World War, returned to England. Volunteered, joined ranks, then commissioned to Territorials of London Regiment. Served throughout war with 7 Battalion

1917 - Badly wounded at Cambrai

1918 - Invalided out of army

1919 - Began involvement in ex-servicemens movement

1920 - Military Discipline and Democracy published

1923 - Elected as Labour Member of Parliament for Shoreditch. First Labour Government

1924 - Defeat of Labour government, as a result of a parliamentary debate, forcing resignation of the government.

1929 - Compiled Shootings at Dawn as part of parliamentary campaign for removal of death penalty from British Army Act

1930 - Abolition of death penalty for military offences of cowardice, desertion, sleeping at post

1939 - Began autobiography

1940 - Manuscript and all other belongings destroyed in enemy bombing of London

1944 - Retired to Rottingdean on Sussex coast. Wrote Time's Winged Chariot - Memories and Comments

1945 - Publication of Time's Winged Chariot

22 August 1954 - Ernest Thurtle died aged 70


'In practice military law is the power which enables the non-fighting peoples, who are the majority, to send the fighting men, the minority, to be killed or maimed in any cause the majority may decide is proper. And the fighting men may not refuse, under pain of death or, at least, penal servitude'.

Military Discipline and Democracy



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