Their Individual Cases
Private John Bennett
Private Bennett was the only member of the Hampshire Regiment to be executed and was the last soldier to die in this manner in 1916. Recorded as being the son of John Bennerr of 37 Vernon Road, Bow, London. he had enlisted several weeks before the outbreak of the war but was not sent to France until November 1915 because of his age.
In late July 1915, having fought at the Somme, he moved to Ypres with his battallion, already under a suspended two year prison sentence with hard labour for absenteeism. During an attack on 8 August, where gas cannisters were released by the Germans in what must have been a terrifying attack, Private Bennett removed himself from the area. He was subsequently charged with cowardice and in the face of damning comments from senior officers (despite another's call for clemency) was condemned to death for Misbehaviour and shot on 28 August 1916 - a 'teenager' of 19 years. John Bennett's name appears at the Poperinge New Military Cemetery, Poperinge, Belgium. His name does not appear to be included in the Book of Remembrance for the Hampshire Regiment in Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire.
Private William Burrell
Private William Burrell, one of two sons of Charles Alfred and Fanny Burrell of Mill House, Fishbourne, Chichester, enlisted prior to the outbreak of war. Aged 19, he arrived in France and joined the Royal Sussex Regiment toward the end of November 1914. He went missing after several weeks, was captured, tried and in May 1915, received a death sentence which was commuted to imprisonment. Almost a year later Private Burrell was released and returned to his regiment at Loos but shortly afterwards went missing again , was re-captured, tried and executed on 22 May 1916, now aged 21.
The following statement was added to Burrell's file by Lt General Henry Wilson, Commanding First Army:-
'The particulars of the offence, as given in the charge sheet, were not completely proved before the court, but I do not think any injustice has been done. I recommend that the extreme penalty be carried out...'
William Burrell is buried at the Communal Cemetery Extension at Mazingarbe, Pas de Calais. His grave bears the inscription ' The will of the Lord be done. Acts 21.14. Dad, Mum'.
His younger brother, Ernest, had been killed in action at Ypres whilst William was serving his prison sentence.
Both William and Ernest are remembered on the memorial tablet in Pulborough Parish church, West Sussex, where they were living at the time.
Private Reginald Tite
Private Tite had enlisted with the Royal Sussex Regiment in October 1915 at the age of 26 and was executed for cowardice on 25 November 1916. He had already been sentenced to four years imprisonment for disobedience, having been heavily involved in several attacks. One of Reginald Tite's brothers and two cousins were killed in action between 1914 and 1918. He is remembered at Poperinge New Military Cemetery, Belgium.
Private John Barnes
Private Barnes was 24 years old when he was executed on 4 July 1917. He was from the town of Littlehampton, a volunteer who had arrived in France just over two years earlier and served with the Royal Sussex Regiment which was involved in the fighting at Loos. Already under a suspended 15 year prison sentence for desertion whilst serving with several different battalions, he deserted once again in June 1917. Recaptured, he was sentenced to death and is buried at Faubourg d'Amiens Cemetery where his grave bears the inscription 'He gives his beloved sleep'. His name was also included on the Littlehampton War Memorial.
Private George Ward
Private Ward was the second soldier of the war to be executed and was shot in the afternoon of 26 September 1914, just a few weeks after its outbreak. He was serving with the Royal Berkshire Regiment and had been on active service for only three days when intercepted moving to the rear during a bombardment. Having wrongly stated, as a reason for leaving his post, that he had been wounded; he was tried, found guilty and executed with the endorsement of the highest military authority. George Ward's three days of service was the shortest of the war. He was 20 years old and is listed as being the son of George and Jane Ward, 1 Guinness Buildings, Brandon Street, Walworth, London
The case of Private George Ward is the subject of Letter No 2 used as an example by Ernest Thurtle MP in his pamphlet Shootings at Dawn.
Private Charles Depper
Private Depper came from Worcestershire but had emigrated to Canada, returning to England to join-up on the outbreak of war. He served with the 1/4 Royal Berkshire Regiment. When warned for front-line duties, Depper left his battalion but was intercepted en-route for Calais. Charles Depper was aged 30 when court-martialled and was buried in Beauval Communal Cemetery, Somme. The battalion war diary entry for the 13 September 1916 reads:
'Work as on the 12th. Very little work was done in the morning, except Lecturing etc
Private DEPPER, was executed at 6.10a.m. having been tried by FGCM for "When on Active Service, deserting His Majesty's Service", and found Guilty. The execution was witnessed by 40 of the Battalion under the Command of Lieutenant Hampshire the Orderly Officer of the day. Weather:- a wet morning but fine later.'
He is listed as being the son of Charles Depper, of Rock Hill, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire
Charles Depper's brother was also killed during the war.
Private John Swain
John Swain enlisted into the RAMC in October 1914 but was transferred to the infantry in September 1917, serving with the Royal Berkshire Regiment, Private Swain absconded, was tried and executed on 11 August 1918. He is buried in the village of Montigny.
Private Harry Knight
Private Knight, the last of the thirteen soldiers to be shot, volunteered in 1914 and served on the Western Front with the Royal West Surrey Regiment for more than three years, during which time he was wounded and charged several times with disobedience.
In a statement to his court martial, Harry Knight wrote:- '...... On the morning I left the regiment I was suffering from my nerves but I tried my best to stand it but it was too much and that is how I came to be in the present state. I have had a very bad time since I have been out here and having no father I have had worry over mother as I have not been home for over two years and six months, so hoping you will do your best for me.'
Private Harry Knight was executed for desertion on 6 October 1918, five weeks before the Armistice and is commemorated in the Fins New British Cemetery at Sorel-le-Grand, Somme.
Private Frederick Wright
Private Wright was executed for desertion on 28 January 1917, having served with the Royal West Surrey Regiment, for a short time at Arras, but mainly on the Somme, for a year.
He is listed as being the son of Mrs Ellen Wright of 249 East Street, Old Kent Road, London.
Private Thomas Hawkins
Private Hawkins was executed at 6.53 am on 22 November 1917, having been tried for cowardice and desertion on more than one occasion, whilst serving with the Royal West Surrey Regiment, from June 1917. Thomas Hawkins had enlisted on 8 September 1914, aged 16.
In mitigation, at his Field General Court Martial, he stated ' I am 19 years and 3 months old. I enlisted at 16 years of age. I have been in France for 2 years and 3 months.'
He is commemorated at Poperinge New Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.
Private Edward Tanner
Private Tanner, a member of the Wiltshire Regiment, had recently recovered from dysentery, having been involved in fighting at Mons and the Aisne when he was intercepted wearing civilian clothes. Charged with desertion, his plea of 'shattered nerves' was ignored and a death sentence was carried out on 27 October 1914; just three months into the war. He is commemorated at Le Touret Memorial to the Missing as his grave was not found after the war. Edward Tanner was 33 years old at the time of his execution.
Julian Putkowski has studied the the case of Edward Tanner
Lance-Corporal Joseph Fox
Lance-Corporal Fox was twenty years old and serving with the Wiltshire Regiment when he was executed for desertion on 20 April 1915. Joseph Fox had been part of the Cyclists' Company of his division and was buried in the Dickebusch New Military Cemetery, Ieper, Belgium. His gravestone bears the inscription 'In loving memory of our dearly beloved son. Gone but not forgotten'.
He is also commemorated on the Parish Roll of Honour and the War Memorial in his home town of Chippenham, Wiltshire.
Sergeant John Robins
The only soldier of the thirteen to have been serving in Gallipoli at the time of execution. He was a regular soldier with the Wiltshire Regiment, and had recently been involved in a terrifying encounter with the Turks. He had been promoted and the incident which resulted in Sergeant Robins death sentence was a refusal to accompany an officer on a particular task, for health reasons, for which he was then treated. The trial appears to have been unfairly conducted, where evidence from the medical officer was used against the soldier, rather than to assist in his case and he was found guilty, reduced to the ranks and executed on the beech at Gully Ravine on 2 January 1916. The 5 battalion war diary entry for the day records:
John Robins is commemorated at Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery, near Helles.
(C) EFE 2003