During World War One 306 British and Empire servicemen were executed, mainly on the Western Front; shot at dawn by firing squad, following courts martial for military offences under the British Army Act: alleged acts of cowardice, desertion, sleeping at post, casting away arms and disobedience, between 1914 and 1918. Many were volunteers, a number of whom, like Private Louis Harris, had initially been rejected on medical grounds, only to be conscripted at a later date. Most were either unrepresented at trial, or were represented by those with no legal training or background; relevant medical history (including details of their mental state) was also ignored or overlooked. Appeals by their senior officers for reduced sentences were over-ruled; equally, unhelpful comments from senior officers condemned the men and sealed their fate against calls for clemency.
Tribute is paid to all these servicemen but the thirteen cases featured are those of soldiers belonging to the southern regiments; The Hampshire Regiment, Royal Sussex Regiment, Royal Berkshire Regiment, Royal West Surrey Regiment and Wiltshire Regiment. In common with other executed soldiers, they were members of the lower ranks, mainly that of private and are likely to have been poorly educated. This would have resulted in their being ill-equipped to defend themselves at courts martial against those who would have been both social and military superiors.
Some had joined up during the patriotic fervour of the early weeks and months of the war, having left their varying occupations with no concept of what they would face when they volunteered to serve 'King and Country'. These men found reality to be cold, hot, muddy and sometimes boring; terrifying when confronted by the noise and ferocity of constant shell-fire, machine gunning, sniping and gas-attacks allied with the constant threat of death. Added to this was the fatigue associated with long periods of marching, poor diet, extensive service without leave, worries about loved ones, both at home and those also on active service. Many became ill with the effects of this trauma related to 'battle-fatigue' or 'shell-shock'; these conditions are better known to us today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Some pages include details of those thirteen soldiers as well as general information.
Ernest Thurtle MP - His 1920s parliamentary campaign for abolition of the military death penalty
8 NOVEMBER 2006
CONDITIONAL PARDONS GRANTED BY ROYAL ASSENT
I hear much of people's calling out to punish the guilty
but very few are concerned to clear the innocent
Contact with relatives of those executed or anyone with an interest in this issue is always welcome. Although I do not have close knowledge of all 306 cases I will provide information where able but please allow a few days for a response.
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