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Symbol of red poppy, white marker and rifle For Armistice Day 2002 - Flotsom of Battle

 
 
The Face
 
...Suddenly,
As a wraith of sleep,
A boy's face, white and tense,
Convulsed with terror and hate,
The lips trembling...
Then a red smear, falling...
I thrust aside the cloud, as it were tangible,
Blinded with a mist of blood.
The face cometh again
As a wraith of sleep:
A boy's face, delicate and blond...

Frederic Manning

 

.........

 

'On the evening before leaving Meteren, the battalion marched to a big field outside the town. We formed up in a hollow square, one company on each of the sides. In the centre stood Colonel Warden, the adjutant and company COs. The colonel addressed us and said that we would be going into the trenches the next day. He reminded us that we were on a war footing and that the severest military laws would apply for any dereliction of duty such as desertion, mutiny, leaving the trenches without permission, cowardice and sleeping while on sentry duty. A conviction by court martial for any such offence would carry a death sentence. The CO then directed the adjutant to read out the names of nearly a score of Tommies who had recently been sentenced to death by courts martial held at Hazebouch. I was stupefied as the adjutant droned out each man's name, rank, unit and offence, followed in each case by the words 'and the sentence was duly carried out'. The hour and date of the execution were also read out.'

George Coppard
from With a Machine Gun to Cambrai

.........

 

What Reward?

You gave your life, boy,
And you gave a limb:
But he who gave his precious wits,
Say, what reward for him?
One has his glory,
One has found his rest.
But what of this poor babbler here
With chin sunk on his breast?
Flotsom of battle,
With brain bemused and dim,
O God, for such a sacrifice
Say, what reward for him?
 

Winifred Letts

 

.........

 

'...To begin with...they don't consider whether he was capable physically or mentally- I don't know which it is - of doing the right thing. And then there are lots of other things which we know make one man more 'windy' than another, or windier today than he was yesterday - things like being a married man, or having boils, or a bad cold, or just being physically weak, so that you get so exhausted you haven't got any strength left to resist your fears (I've had that feeling myself) - none of those things are considered at all at a court-martial - and I think they ought to be.'

A P Herbert
from The Secret Battle

.........

 

'It was early November and the nights were dark and cold. Flashes of light from the Hohenzollern Redoubt five kilometres east lit the sky. I could hear the deep roar of minnie burst as I paced up and down outside a row of miners' cottages in which my companions were sleeping. At first light in the morning a party of a dozen men approached my post and turned off into the Annequein road, where there was a disused coal mine. Later on I heard a volley of shots. A rumour went round that two Tommies had been executed that morning. Rumours of that kind were generally based on fact. Somebody always got to know.
 
Executions became the subject of much earnest conversation, especially when a list of names was published. Personally, I was horrified at this terrible military law and I was scared stiff that one day I would be picked for a firing squad. Would I be able to shoot straight at another Tommy? To be honest, I don't think I would have refused. The code of slavish obedience to orders given, no matter what, was as strong in me as in all volunteers then.'
 
George Coppard
from With A Machine-Gun to Cambrai

.........

 

...Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.

A E Houseman

 

.........

 

'To die amongst the roar and in the shock and fury of battle is a thing that many men had come hardly to fear, and others almost to desire; but how frightful to be led out, blindfold and bound in the chill of the morning, and there be silently put to death - the very phrase is a strangling horror in itself...

...It was a misty morning and the white fog magnified the sounds that rose from the just-awakened camps about us. Some trucks clanked noisily on a siding below and there was a stamping of horses and a rattle of chains from the standings across the road above us. Shouts and whistles and the thousand confused rumours of a busy camp reached us and in the distance a mellow baritone voice was singing 'The Roses of Picardy'. With these familiar sounds of everyday life in his ears and the bite of the sharp morning air on his face, in full health and strength and youth, he died.

At a sign from the APM the firing party, which up 'til then had stood with their backs to the condemned man, faced about to him. At a second sign they took aim; at a third they fired: and the bound figure crumpled and slid down as far as the ropes would let him go...

I ask no better than I may meet my death, when I must, as gallantly as did that deserter'

The execution of Private Hector Delande
R H J Steuart SJ
from March, Kind Comrade
 

 

The execution post, Poperinghe

 

 

'Another man, shot for cowardice in face of the enemy, was sullen and silent to one who hoped to comfort him in the last hour. The chaplain asked him whether he had any message for his relatives. He said, "I have no relatives." He was asked whether he would like to say any prayers, and he said, "I don't believe in them." The chaplain talked to him, but could get no answer and time was creeping on. There were two guards in the room, sitting motionless, with loaded rifles between their knees.

Outside it was silent in the courtyard, except for little noises of the night and the wind. The chaplain suffered, and was torn with pity for that sullen man whose life was almost at an end. He took out his hymn-book and said: "I will sing to you. It will pass the time." He sang a hymn, and once or twice his voice broke a little, but he steadied it. Then the man said, "I will sing with you." He knew all the hymns, words and music. It was an unusual, astonishing knowledge, and he went on singing, hymn after hymn, with the chaplain by his side. It was the chaplain who tired first. His voice cracked and his throat became parched. Sweat broke out on his forehead, because of the nervous strain. But the man who was going to die sang on in a clear, hard voice. A faint glimmer of coming dawn lightened the cottage window. There were not many minutes more. The two guards shifted their feet. "Now," said the man, "we'll sing 'God Save the King.'" The two guards rose and stood at attention, and the chaplain sang the national anthem with the man who was to be shot for cowardice. Then the tramp of the firing-party came across the cobblestones in the courtyard. It was dawn.'

Sir Philip Gibb
from Now It Can Be Told

.........

 

'At the rising of the sun and in the evening, we will remember them. In dignified memory of all those Shot at Dawn'

Message on wreath laid at The Cenotaph, Whitehall by President of National Union of Journalists
11 November 2001
 

 

 

 

 

(c) Photographs copyright EFE and Tideway School