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Symbol of red poppy, white marker and rifle Background Information

Chronology

4 August 1914 - Britain declared war on Germany.

8 September 1914 - Private Thomas Highgate, the first British soldier of the war to be executed was shot at dawn.

7 November 1918 - Privates Louis Harris and Ernest Jackson, the last two British soldiers of the war to be executed were shot.

11 November 1918 - At 0500 the Armistice was signed and at 1100 the guns fell silent.

April 1930 - The new minority Labour government's Army and Air Force Bill, with an amendment by Ernest Thurtle MP, removed the dealth penalty for the military offences of cowardice and desertion.

1985 - At its annual conference, the Royal British Legion called on the government to review the cases of soldiers who had been executed for cowardice. This followed details of individual cases revealed in Judge Anthony Babington's book For the Sake of Example. Although the request was dismissed at the time by the Minister of Defence, this has continued to be a policy of the Legion.

4 December 1990 - The Newcastle Journal reported the release of Field General Court Martial files which showed that 17 year old boy soldiers were amongst the British and Empire servicemen to have faced British firing squads during World War One. On discovering this was not a misprint, reader John Hipkin's quest to see justice done on behalf of all 306 began and the Shot at Dawn campaign was launched.

16 September 1995 - Office of the Leader of the Opposition announced that a future Labour Government would consider, sympathetically, the cases of the executed men.

May 1997 - Dr John Reid (Minister of State for the Armed Forces) announced that a review, as sugggested in 1995 would now take place.

24 July 1998 - Parliamentary Statement by Dr John Reid, concerning the Review of First World War Executions, during which he explained the reasons for not granting a full legal pardon, although sympathy was expressed for the victims and their families and it was requested that the stigma they had suffered be removed. It was suggested that the names of the soldiers be considered for inclusion on war memorials and books of remembrance, where this had not already been done. Dr Reid also announced, subject to parliamentary approval, the abolition of the death penalty 'for military offences in the British Armed forces in peace and war'.

13 January 1999 - A question concerning the possible granting of a collective pardon for the executed soldiers was raised in the House of Lords by the Earl of Carlisle, with no positive outcome.

11 November 1999 - Members of the Scottish Parliament pressed for the Westminster Parliament to grant pardons for soldiers executed during World War One.

13 November 1999 - Relatives and supporters of executed soldiers held a short service at the Cenotaph, despite the disruptive presence of traffic noise and other hindrances.

14 November 1999 - BBC's Everyman series screened Conviction, a documentary featuring John Hipkin's campaign to seek pardons for executed soldiers. John's particular concern is for a number of under-age boy soldiers who were illegally shot.

15 March 2000 - The villagers of Shoreham, Kent voted for the name of Private Thomas Highgate, the first British soldier to be executed for desertion during World War One, to be added to the village war memorial. The addition of Private Highgate's name is unlikely to happen in the near future, however, as the move has been opposed by both Shoreham Royal British Legion and the parish council.

10 April 2000 - The Prime Minister of New Zealand announced a review of the cases of five soldiers executed for desertion, with a view to a pardon by virtue of the Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Bill. Mark Peck, the Member of Parliament for Invercargil, whose Bill prompted this review, returned to his desk one evening following a parliamentary discussion on the subject, to find a white feather had been laid upon it.

(It should be noted that the Australian Army refused to execute any soldier during World War One).

16 May 2000 - Members of Shoreham Parish Council voted to not include the name of Private Thomas Highgate on the town's war memorial.

May 19 - 21 2000 The Unquiet Graves Conference took place at the Cloth Hall, Ieper and concerned the execution of soldiers and civilians of various nationalities, during World War One. A book, Unquiet Graves, co-authored by Julian Putkowski and Piet Chielens (Co-ordinator of the In Flanders Fields Museum), will tell the full stories of 62 of the executed British soldiers. An accompanying tour guide for motorists and cyclists, bearing the same title, was launched at the conference and is available through Martin Boutle Publishers.

21 July 2000 - On the eighty-seventh anniversary of the execution of Private Herbert Burden (executed at 17 years of age), the sculpture based on his features, which will form the centre-piece of the Shot At Dawn Memorial Garden was installed at the National Millenium Arboretum, Staffordshire. It is intended that the official unveiling will take place during the spring of 2001.

14 September 2000 - Royal Assent was granted to the New Zealand Government's Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Bill, relating to New Zealand soldiers executed, either by their own, or British firing squads during World War One. These number five soldiers, one of whom was executed for his involvement in a prison mutiny. The bill was presented by Mark Peck, Member of Parliament for Invercargill. The vote had been 112 for the motion and five against.

12 November 2000 - For the first time, relatives and supporters of the 306 executed British soldiers joined the march past The Cenotaph, Whitehall, following the annual Remembrance Day service and two-minute silence. Led by John Hipkin, founder and leader of the Shot at Dawn Campaign, the group included Mrs Gertrude Harris, whose father was shot for cowardice, Tom Stones, great-nephew of Lance Sergeant Joseph Stones and Mrs Nora High, neice of Private William Nelson. With great poignancy, they wore white-centred poppies, representing the piece of white cloth or paper which was pinned over the heart of condemned soldiers, prior to execution, as a target; this has now been adopted as the symbol of the campaign.

Other supporters paid their respects at local services of remembrance.

Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, in a television interview, stated there would be no posthumous pardons for the executed soldiers. 'The question of a pardon is a very technical and legal issue... there are ways in which those who died in these particularly unfortunate circumstances can be remembered'.

November 2000 - The Canadian Government's Minister for Veteran Affairs, Mr Ron Duhamel is seeking posthumous pardons for the 23 Canadian soldiers who were shot by firing squad during World War One.

February 2001 - ATG Films, a Hampshire-based production company has made a short film, The Long Shadow, filmed on location in West Sussex with Tim Lowe in the role of Private Reginald Tite.

28 March 2001 - At the National Union of Journalists' Annual Delegate Meeting, David Baines, Chairman of the Newcastle Branch, moved motion 20 which read:

'This ADM applauds the individual efforts of John Hipkin for his Shot At Dawn Campaign to win full Royal Pardons for servicemen - including underage boy soldiers - executed for battlefield offences in the First World War.

This conference notes that Mr Hipkin, who has been arrested three times and repeatedly harassed by police while holding vigil for those so executed, has struggled equally on behalf of British, Irish and Commonwealth servicemen.

This ADM strongly urges the NEC to encourage those MPs who are members of the NUJ, Branches, Chapels and individual members to support Mr Hipkin by writing to the Queen and her Prime Minister urging them to grant justice to these men and their surviving families.'

This motion was carried unanimously. Although John Hipkin attended the meeting, very sadly, Mr Tom Stones, great-nephew of Lance-Sergeant Joseph Stones, had died the previous week following a short illness. A retired micro-biologist and tireless campaigner for the pardoning of his relative, Tom had been able to join the Remembrance Day parade at The Cenotaph in November 2000. It is to the discredit of the British government that he did not live to see his great-uncle pardoned.

16 May 2001 - In the presence of around 2000 invited guests, service veterans and others, HRH The Duchess of Kent opened the National Memorial Arboretum.

17 May 2001 - The first public open day of the National Memorial Arboretum.

28 May 2001 - At their annual conference, Royal British Legion delegates voted against changing military records of the 306 executed British and Commonwealth soldiers to say they died in action. The motion was proposed by the Shard End North, Birmingham branch of the Legion, members of whom expressed disappointment with the result but which was welcomed by John Hipkin, leader of the Shot at Dawn Campaign.

21 June 2001 - The unveiling of the Shot at Dawn Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum. See Shot at Dawn Memorial page for a report and photographs.

17 Jul 2001 - Parliamentary Questions. Mr Jim Cunningham MP (Coventry, South): 'To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement regarding the granting of pardons to those who were executed for cowardice during the First World War'.

Dr Moonie: 'The question of granting pardons to those executed during the First World War, mostly for desertion, was the subject of a detailed review by my Right Honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Island, then Minister of State for the Armed Forces. The legal difficulties in considering pardons, particularly the lack of evidence available today, were explained in his statement to this House on 24 July 1998.

Those executed have been publicly recognised as victims of a terrible war and their commemoration by the new memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum is particularly fitting'.

21 July 2001 - On the anniversary of the execution of Private Herbert Burden, the National Executive Council of the National Union of Journalists approved the Minutes of the Annual Delegate Meeting of 28 March 2001. This confirmed support of the Shot at Dawn Campaign and requested branches of the NUJ to petition MPs, the Prime Minister and Her Majesty The Queen to do all within their power to see justice done for the executed British and Commonwealth soldiers, in the form of pardons.

11 November 2001 - For the second year, relatives and supporters joined the march-past at The Cenotaph, Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday, which fell on Armistice Day. Supporters, both individual and representative of various bodies, included the President and other members of the National Union of Journalists, which continues to give full backing to the Shot at Dawn Campaign. On behalf of the union, President Rory Macleod laid a wreath which bore the words 'At the rising of the sun and in the evening, we will remember them. In dignified memory of all those Shot at Dawn'.

11 December 2001 - In a special statement, the Canadian Minister for Veteran Affairs apologised for the fate of the 23 executed soldiers who had served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and had been shot by firing squad. Mr Duhamel expressed regret and confirmed the names would be added to the Parliament Hill Book of Remembrance.

8 March 2002 - Delegates at the Annual Delegate Meeting of the National Union of Journalists gave unanimous support to a motion presented by the union's Newcastle Branch which read:-

'This ADM thanks the NEC, union officers, union staff and the membership at large for their efforts to honour last year's resolution to support the campaign to secure pardons for those boys and men executed by the British Army for battlefield offences during the First World War.

This conference commends those national officers, union staff and members who marched with the Shot at Dawn campaigners in the Remembrance Day parade in London on November 11 last year and notes with sorrow and anger the murder of staunch Shot at Dawn campaign supporter Martin O'Hagan.

This conference instructs the NEC to continue its support for the Shot at Dawn campaign and urges Branches and Chapels to nominate delegates to march in this year's Remembrance Day parade in London if the campaign organisers seek this union's support.'

July 2002 - Formed by the Irish Seamen's Relatives Association (ISRA) which is based in Dublin, the Shot at Dawn (Irl) campaign was launched. Chairman Peter Mulvany has asked the Irish Prime Minister to join the call for a British government apology, in the form of a blanket pardon, for executed soldiers. 26 Irishmen were amongst the 306 servicemen executed by the British Army.

August 2002 - As the result of an article by Andrew Bushe which was published in The Irish Post, relatives of Private Patrick Downey came forward. Downey of 6 Battalion Leinster Regiment was executed on 27 December 1915 for disobedience, following his refusal to put on a wet hat.

4 November 2002 - Led by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Dermot Lacey, Dublin City Council passed a motion confirming support of the Shot at Dawn campaign. In a letter to the Lord Mayor, campaign chair John Hipkin extended 'our sincere gratitude for the endorsement of the Shot at Dawn Campaign...by the Dublin City Council at its monthly meeting'.

The Downey family with Peter Mulvany, Remembrance Sunday 2002

10 November 2002 - Over 100 Shot at Dawn campaigners took part in the Service of Remembrance and Marchpast at The Cenotaph, Whitehall. Led by John Hipkin, families of the executed men including those of Privates Patrick Downey and Harry Farr were joined by individual and group supporters. Amongst the supporters were representatives of Shot at Dawn (Irl), members of Northampton police, Vera Baird QC MP, sculptor Andrew DeComyn and officials and members of the National Union of Journalists whose wreath, carried by acting-President George Macintyre, bore the words 'Forever in our memories, the 306 history tried to forget'.

Members of the Downey family with John Hipkin and Peter Mulvany, Remembrance Sunday 2002

19 November 2002 - Following an approach by the Irish Seamens Relatives Association to back the Shot at Dawn Campaign, the Standing Committee of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland considered the matter and adopted the following resolution:-

'That Standing Committee of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland supports the Shot at Dawn Campaign seeking pardons for military personnel in the British Army who were unjustly executed during World War 1'.

In a letter which confirmed this move by the church, Mr Derek Phillips, Synod Officer, commented 'I hope that the support of the Church of Ireland will assist the campaign'.

26 May 2003 - Limerick City Council unanimously agreed to support for the Shot at Dawn Campaign, through a motion which stated 'That this council endorses the "Shot at Dawn Campaign" which aims to persuade the British Government to grant pardons to the young soldiers - 26 of them Irish born who were "shot at dawn" during World War 1.'

30 June 2003 - Management of the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Staffordshire, at which the Shot at Dawn Memorial is sited, became the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. It is understood that the Royal British Legion may take over administration of the arboretum but is awaiting a decision by the Ministry of Defence on a grant-aid package, without which resource this is unlikely to happen.

17 July 2003 - Mr Des Bonass, President of the Dublin Trades Council, confirmed the council's support for the Shot at Dawn Campaign.

October 2003 - Publication of Private Peaceful by Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo. It tells the story of a young west-country boy and his brother who enlist at the outbreak of war; a tragic fate awaits one of the boys.

9 November 2003 - For the fourth year, members of the Shot at Dawn Campaign were involved in the Remembrance Sunday service and Marchpast at The Cenotaph, Whitehall. Led by Chairman John Hipkin, relatives of the executed servicemen, including Janet Booth, grandaughter of Private Harry Farr, were joined by individuals and groups. Peter Mulvaney and the Irish section of the SAD campaign; members of the Black Police Association, representing Private Herbert Morris; sculptor Andrew DeComyn and his small daughter, Millie marched with supporters from Britain and abroad.

A number of wreaths were laid, including that carried by the President, other officials and members of the National Union of Journalists. Their tribute, in union colours, bore the striking words:

'May those who could not stand the tumult of battle rest in eternal silence. We will speak for them.'

This is the first year in which the Shot at Dawn campaign was correctly referred to during the commentary.

14 November 2003 - The Irish government released a statement in support of the Shot at Dawn campaign.

16 November 2003 - An Irish parliamentary debate succeeded in winning recognition and support for the Shot at Dawn campaign.

18 January 2004 - Anniversary of the triple execution, on 18 January 1917, of Lance-Sergeant Joseph Stones,

Lance/Sergeant Joseph Stones,  Durham Light Infantry

Lance-Corporal Peter Goggins and Lance-Corporal John McDonald, all serving with Durham Light Infantry

Following a request by George Macintyre, President of the National Union of Journalists, which organisation actively supports the Shot at Dawn pardons campaign, the three servicemen were remembered in a sermon by Dr N T Wright, Bishop of Durham. The sermon, part of a service at the St James and St Bede's Church Centre, Gateshead, included details of the circumstances at the time of the execution and the words:

'...we join our prayers with the families of Joseph Stones, a miner from Crook, Peter Goggins, a miner from Stanley, and John McDonald, a steelworker from Sunderland, who were shot at dawn on this day in 1916. We look forward to their receiving a belated official pardon. Nothing is gained by pretending the past didn’t happen or hoping it’ll go away.'

The kind support of the Bishop of Durham will be greatly appreciated by all concerned with the pardons campaign.

8 February 2004 - Prompted by a letter to The Times by Judge Anthony Babington, Julian Putkowski delivered a lecture to the South Place Ethical Society in London, calling for a judicial review of the British Army courts martial and capital sentences of the Great War.

21 February 2004 - Shot at Dawn (Irl) launched a petition to persuade the British government to pardon the 26 Irish-born servicemen executed by the British army during World War One. The Irish government has already given official support to the Shot at Dawn campaign and it is intended that this move will pave the way for the exoneration of all 306 who faced a British firing-squad.

Co-ordinated by Peter Mulvany, the petition will remain open until 11.02 on Armistice Day, 11 November 2004. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT.

10 April 2004 - Easter Saturday - To support the Irish Pardons Petition, the Shot at Dawn campaign organised a public signing in Croydon, Surrey at the War Memorial, Croydon Clocktower.

Organised by local pardons campaigner Doreen Horrigan, despite a damp and dismal morning, the group ensured that the British public were given the opportunity to show solidarity with Shot At Dawn (Irl) to support the posthumous pardons petition for 26 volunteer Irish soldiers unjustly executed in WW1.

Amongst those attending were Michael Lyons ex-Army, former Parachute Regiment and member of the WW1 Veterans Association. He, John Hipkin - founder of the Shot At Dawn campaign - and the WW1 veterans were on parade at the same War Memorial in 1999, when Croydon Council made public its support for the 306 soldiers unjustly executed. At this  poignant ceremony it was revealed that, amongst those shot by firing squad, were four under-age boy soldiers of 17 years old, all of whom had all volunteered at 16.

The piper - George Reid, a retired gunner played laments in support of his fallen Irish comrades.

Gary Davis, member of the Musicians' Union and Amicus, organiser of the Folk & Blues Club at Ruskin House also gathered signatures. He has ensured that musicians and audiences have already signed the Petition, as well as the President of Ruskin House, Roy Aird, a CWU official. 

At midday, the piper played a further lament during the laying of a wreath, in the name of Croydon SAD supporters, at the war memorial.

22 April 2004 - Northern Ireland launch of the Irish pardons petition, at the invitation of the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Martin Morgan and Councillor Alex Attwood MLA. Their signatures, together with that of World War 2 veteran, Mr Burrows, were added in the Lord Mayor's Parlour. The display then moved to a stand outside City Hall.

25 April 2004 - Ruskin House, the headquarters of Croydon area TUC,  will be hosting an Anzac day evening to which Shot At Dawn has been invited. This is particularly significant, as Private Patrick Downey, a clear case of a miscarriage of justice, was himself serving in Gallipoli, as was Sergeant John Robins, 5 Wiltshire Regiment and Private Thomas Davis, from County Clare, serving with the Royal Munster Fusiliers.

Maire MacLiam from Cork, who has had no family connections with the British Army, will be supporting this event, because she believes that the Campaign has become a force for reconciliation, in Ireland, both North and South as well as on the mainland.  

10 May 2004 - His Honour Judge Anthony Babington, war veteran, lawyer, author of For the Sake of Example and Shellshock and campaigner for those shot at dawn, died, aged 84. Disability World carried a fitting obituary to this remarkable man.

14 June 2004 - Screening of Britain's Boy Soldiers by Channel 4 in the Secret History series. Made by Testimony Films and featuring interviews and accounts from surviving under-aged veterans, the programme highlights the likely number of under-aged boys who were accepted into the British army during the early days of patriotic fervour. The story is also told of Abraham Beverstein who lied about both his age and name in order to be accepted and following illness was executed for desertion at the age of 16. John Hipkin, of the Shot at Dawn campaign was involved in the making of the programme.

June 2004 - Childrens' Poet Laureate Michael Morpurgo was awarded the Red House Children's Book Award of 2004 for his book Private Peaceful. It tells the story of young Tommo Peaceful and his family, growing-up during the early years of the last century and joining-up at the outbreak of the First World War. Tommo, as one of many under-aged volunteer soldier is to experience a terrible personal tragedy.

18 July 2004 - Members of the Shot at Dawn campaign manned a display stall and gathered petition signatures at the Croydon Folk and Blues Festival at Ruskin House, home of Croydon Trades Union Congress. Musicians' Union and Ruskin House Committee member, Gary Davis spoke briefly about the work of the campaign and encouraged those present to show support for the granting of posthumous pardons.

21 July 2004 - Anniversary of the execution of Private Herbert Burden in 1915. At dawn, Croydon group member Michael Lyons placed a wreath at the town war memorial in memory of Herbert Burden and the 305 who also faced a firing-squad.

8 August 2004 - Radio 4's The World this Weekend ran a feature on the pardons issue and representations to be made to Westminster by the Irish government. The item included contributions from Janet Booth (grand-daughter of Private Harry Farr), Andrew Mackinley MP and Catherine Corns.

19 - 30 August 2004 - The Prisoner's Friend, a play by Peter Drake, telling the story of the events leading to the execution of Lance/Sergeant Joseph Stones. In the form of a monologue, it will be performed by the Runningwater Theatre Group at the Hill Street Theatre, as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2004 . The play runs for an hour and will commence at 5pm on each day and has already been on tour in the north-east, to great acclaim.

The Bristol Old Vic production of Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo also ran during the Edinburgh Festival

8 September 2004 - Nintieth anniversary of execution, for desertion, of Private Thomas Highgate, Royal West Kent Regiment. He was the first of 306 British servicemen to be shot at dawn for military offences during World War One.

11 November 2004 - The Shot at Dawn (Irl) pardons petition will be formally shut down on-line directly following the two minute silence but will be available for personal signature outside the GPO in Dublin from noon to 3 pm. In a gesture of goodwill to further the philosophy of peace and reconcilliation, in conjuction with the Irish Legion, poppies will be available at that time.

13 November 2004 - The furore associated with the controversial execution of 306 British and Commonwealth troops was rekindled on the 90th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, when relatives of executed Irish soldiers delivered a petition calling on Prime Minister Tony Blair to sanction posthumous pardons for the executed men.  The petition was delivered to 10, Downing Street by five of the relatives representing the Irish Shot at Dawn campaign; families of Private Stephen Byrne (aged 30 when executed) from Dublin, who served with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and Private James Templeton (aged 20 when executed) from Belfast who served with the Royal Irish Rifles.

Rifleman James Templeton 15 Royal Irish Fusiliers

The Irish government has simultaneously decided to formally challenge the legal and moral basis for the trial and execution by the British Army of 26 Irish volunteers. The Irish government not only concurs with established criticism about the British Army's justification for these executions, it is also disturbed by the disproportionate number of Irish soldiers who were shot at dawn - Irish soldiers made up 2% of the British Army yet they totalled 8% of those who were executed. Concern has also been expressed about the use of the death penalty to punish young Irish soldiers for comparatively trivial offences.

The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern has stated: 'The files make for heartbreaking reading. They refer to medical conditions, personal problems, deaths of family members and other extenuating circumstances that are simply not taken into account. If witnesses could not be found to support the case for the accused, then the court martial proceeded without them. Defendants statements in support of their actions were routinely dismissed. 'The feeling you are left with after reading these files is one of dismay and disbelief. In most cases there are written notes from superior officers that bluntly call for an example to be made. Guilt or innocence was a secondary consideration.' The Irish government views the pardons issue as an intrinsic part of the Good Friday Peace Process and as an expression of their concern for the unfair treatment of these young men. This carries cross-border support.

14 November 2004 - 50 relatives and supporters of the Shot at Dawn Campaign joined the Remembrance Sunday service and marchpast The Cenotaph, Whitehall. Led by Founder John Hipkin, relatives of executed Irishman Patrick Downey were joined by members of the Black Police Association; National Union of Journalists; the former vicar of Shoreham, Kent; David and Michael Lister; sculptor Andrew DeComyn and his daughter Millie and many others, marched in honour of those executed and all war dead.

Floral tributes were laid at The Cenotaph, including that of the President and other members of the National Union of Journalists whose wreath, in union colours, pledged:

The Captains and Kings depart...
We remain to speak for the 306 shot at dawn

No mention of the Shot at Dawn campaign contingent was made during the BBC commentary.

24 November 2004 - Following the presentation of the Irish government report to Whitehall, Question in the Dial

Mr Stagg (Labour TD) asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had further meetings with the Irish branch of The Shot at Dawn Campaign; if he has made representations to the British Prime Minister to persuade him and the British Government to grant pardons to the 26 Irish born soldiers in the British Army who were executed during World War I for various military offences which ceased in 1929 to be punishable by death; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern TD): 'The Embassy of Ireland London, submitted a report on 27 October 2004 to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on my behalf which was entitled, Shot at Dawn; A report into the courts-martial and execution of twenty-six Irish soldiers by the British Army during World War I”. This report was the culmination of extensive research into the subject, including in regard to the courts-martial files of the Irish men in question which were provided following a meeting with the British Ministry of Defence in February 2004. Mr. Peter Mulvany, the Shot at Dawn Ireland co-ordinator, has been kept fully informed throughout this period, and remains in regular contact with my officials as matters progress.

The report submitted to the British side discusses in depth the current and contemporaneous grounds in support of our view that these men did not deserve their fate: The public and parliamentary unease on the subject of military executions at the time of the First World War is well documented. As recognised by the Deputy, this unease led to the death penalty being repealed for the particular offences under which each man was shot a mere ten years after the war had ended; there is evidence to suggest a disparity in the treatment of the lower ranks in comparison to officers, and statistics that highlight a harsher disciplinary regime faced by men from Ireland in comparison to men from other countries; and there are also concerns that both medical and mental symptoms apparent in those facing courts-martial were not adequately addressed prior to sentencing, and that convincing mitigating factors in a number of cases were ignored.

When these factors are combined with the obvious practice of the British Army at the time to control discipline through exemplary justice, then our case for retrospective pardons seems very strong. We have therefore asked that the British Government consider our report with a view to restoring the good names of these men. The British response in this regard is awaited.'

2 - 9 April 2005 - The Guide Bridge Theatre Company, at Audenshaw, Manchester will be staging its second production of Hamp, which tells the story of a young northern boy who has served on the Western front for three years before the incident which seals his fate. The film For King and Country, starrying Tom Courtney was based on this play. First produced by the theatre company 26 years ago, it was felt appropriate to do so, given recent public awareness of the subject.

March 2005 - Lapel pins are now available for those wishing to show support for the Shot at Dawn campaign. Author David Lister's photograph of Aby Bevistein, below, appropriately has a pin in the bottom righthand corner.

 

31 August 2005 - New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark presented war medals, certificates and medallions to the families of three New Zealand soldiers who were executed during World War One and who were pardoned by the Parliament in 2000. A special ceremony was held for the families of Private Jack Braithwaite, Private Frank Hughes and Private Victor Manson Spencer, who were shot for the offences of mutiny or desertion.

The Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act 2000 pardoned five soldiers of the New Zealand Division who were executed during World War One for either mutiny or desertion. The Act started as a Private Members Bill introduced by Mark Peck and was adopted by Government.

The purpose of the Act was ‘to remove so far as practicable, the dishonour that the execution of those five soldiers brought to those soldiers and their families’.

The families of two other soldiers pardoned by the 2000 Act, Privates John King and John Joseph Sweeney, will attend a similar ceremony in Canberra in September.

24 October 2005 - The case for a conditional pardon for Pte Harry Farr was heard at the High Court in the Strand, London. Farr's daughter and her family heard their counsel explain in court that the Field General Court Martial that tried Farr on a charge of Cowardice in 1916 were not obliged to sentence the shell-shocked soldier to death.    During the afternoon the counsel for the MOD presented their view - that all the options had been considered by the MOD and that there was no valid reason to review their conclusion - that Farr and the other soldiers had been correctly tried and that the grounds that were being advanced by the family (which had been rejected by an earlier judicial review) were valueless.  

The judge noted that the sentence of death had been a discretionary choice of punishment by the court and they could have sentenced Farr to imprisonment instead of having him killed. He said that the MOD appeared have accepted without question that the FGCM, on returning a guilty verdict, had been obliged to have Farr executed. The MOD counsel could not provide any evidence that the MOD had considered that the FGCMs may have been allowed to exercise discretion in awarding the death sentence - and requested an adjournment in order to see whether the issue had figured in the MOD's initial decision to reject out of hand pardons (posthumous and free or posthumous and conditional).  

The MOD counsel said that the Minister was still exercising an open mind over the case of Harry Farr and welcomed the judge's agreement to an adjournment, the judicial review to reconvene on 9 January 2006, to consider the issue of a conditional pardon for Harry Farr.  

Visit the BBC website for further information.

13 November 2005 - A group of relatives and supporters from the Shot at Dawn campaign joined the annual Remembrance Sunday march past The Cenotaph, Whitehall, followed by the Irish Seaman's Relatives Association which supports Shot at Dawn.

Those present included John Hipkin, founder of the Shot at Dawn Campaign, sculptor Andy DeComyn, his young daughter and family and members of the National Union of Journalists, who laid a wreath made up of union colours.

Remembrance Sunday also saw the unveiling of a war memorial in the village of Fulstow, Lincolnshire, which had lost seven young men to the trenches. The home village of Private Charles Kirman, who was shot at dawn for desertion and whose name officials after the war had refused to include on a memorial. To their great credit, rather than exclude one of its sons, the villagers chose to forgo this symbol of remembrance. It was only earlier this year, on uncovering this story, that resident Nicola Pike began a campaign which reached a national audience, to do justice to the all the local men of previous generations who had given their lives for their country. This story and the case of Charles Kirman were feature in Ian Hislop's series Not Forgotten on Channel 4 television.

11 January 2006 - Worcestershire Evening News featured the case of Sergeant John Wall the case having been highlighted by his relatives and further researched by Dr Gerald Morgan. A young man with an excellent fighting record, John Wall was executed for desertion on 6 September 1917 - just before his twenty-second birthday.

18 January 2006 - Westminster Hall debate by MPs on World War One Soldiers (Pardons), led by Keith Simpson MP.

27 March 2006 - At the resumed Hearing of the Harry Farr case at the High Court, the Defendant's counsel's rebuttal of the Claimant's assertion that (effectively) there had been a change in policy which had not proceeded from evidence - and possibly by implication, that the MOD had made up its mind and then sought out supporting evidence. The Defendant's Counsel then invited the re-submission of the case for review by the MOD, supported by all the evidence that the Claimant's Counsel could produce. This was accepted by all parties, together with the prospect of a possible face-to-face meeting between John Reid, Secretary of State for Defence and the Farr family.

To avoid further delay, the judge insisted that the family should submit their petition to the MOD by 13 April, by 30 April the MOD had to respond and the latter have until 18 May to deliver their response. If the family are still not satisfied, notes have to be lodged with the court by 25 May. The judge stated that everything has to be settled, one way or another, by 31 July.

28 March 2006 - Irish parliamentary debate, well covered by press and TV on the executions and Shot at Dawn pardons campaign. Peter Mulvany attended the event, accompanied by Christopher Walshe, a relative of Patrick Joseph Downey. A number of senators spoke during the debate, including Senator Martin Mansergh, a descendent of Captain (Temporary Major) Robert Otway Mansergh who presided over the court martial of Patrick Downey. In a thought-provoking and moving statement, Senator Mansergh apologised on behalf of his family to Christopher Walshe for the treatment received by Downey.

Following the debate, the report of the Irish government into the executions of the 26 Irishmen during World War One, which had been presented to the British government for action in November 2004 for action, was put in the public domain.

22 April 2006 - The Unitarian Church is the first British denomination to give formal support to the Shot at Dawn campaign.

A motion came before the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches at its Annual Meeting, in Chester, which urged the Unitarian General Secretary to write to the Prime Minister and Defence Secretary calling upon them to 'end this injustice' by granting posthumous pardons to all those executed for offences such as 'cowardice' or desertion but who were suffering as a result of the conditions they endured or from traumatic disorders including shellshock. The motion was unambiguously carried.

Put forward by the Unitarian congregation at Golders Green, London. it was proposed by Jim Corrigall, a journalist, who is the chair of the Golders Green congregation and was seconded by Reverend Feargus O'Connor, the Golders Green minister.

16 August 2006 - Announcement by Secretary of State for Defence, Des Brown, of amendment to the Armed Forces Act which will allow for pardoning of Harry Farr and the other 305. This is due to take place in mid-October 2006.

12 October 2006 - Moved by Lord Drayson, Amendment 177a to the Armed Forces Bill, allowing blanket conditional pardons, receives safe passage through the House of Lords Committee stage.

7 November 2006 - Commons debate on proposed Pardons amendment to Armed Forces Bill receives unanimous support

8 November 2006 - Royal Assent for Pardons Amendment for Armed Forces Bill, the campaign for pardons having been launched in December 1990 by John Hipkin.

12 November 2006 - Remembrance Sunday. On a very proud day for relatives and supporters of those executed, following of the conditional pardoning of the servicemen, the Shot at Dawn campaign joined the march past The Cenotaph, Whitehall. The contingent included Karen Stafford, great-grand-daughter of Private Harry Farr, Tim Healey, a nephew of Private Charles Depper; Jill Turner, great-niece of Sergeant John Wall; Jean Lewis, niece of Private William Randle; Shot at Dawn Memorial sculptor Andy DeComyn with daughters Camille (six) and Isabella (three) and the president, past president and other members of the National Union of Journalists.

18 February 2007 - Amid both local and national publicity, at the invitation of Harrow Council, the families of Private Farr and Private James Swaine see a plaque bearing the names of the two servicemen added to Wealdstone War Memorial. Four generations of the Farr family, including Harry's daughter Gertrude aged 93 attended and the names will be permanently entered later in the year.

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Comment

We owe a great debt to those men, few of whom were professional soldiers but volunteered or were conscripted to endure horrific conditions and at the time of execution had served for anything from a few days to years without a break. 'Stress' is now a well-used word and a recognised medical condition which manifests itself in various ways. Few people today would have the physical and mental stamina to cope with the conditions suffered by these soldiers on a daily basis.

During the war, as word spread of the occurrence and regularity of executions in the British army, questions were asked in the House of Commons about the circumstances and legality of such actions. In the years that followed the issue was continually raised and it was Ernest Thurtle MP, having served as a captain with first-hand experience of trench life, who was involved in the attempt to abolish the death penalty for offences, such as cowardice, desertion and sleeping at post. Through Thurtle's hard work, the abolition was finally achieved by an amendment to The Army Act in 1929.

Since the end of World War One, there have been campaigns to obtain a Posthumous Pardon for these soldiers, something that could only be granted by the government of the day. At a distance of more than eighty years since the end of that war, the closing of the twentieth century would have been a symbolic time to have taken such action, would have drawn a curtain over such an appalling episode and given relatives deserved peace of mind. As can be seen above, the government of New Zealand sawfit to grant a collective pardon to the executed soldiers of that country. In December 2001, the Canadian government fell short of granting pardons to the 23 Canadian soldiers shot at dawn but acknowledged their sacrifice and confirmed their names would be added to the Parliament Hill Book of Remembrance.

The granting of a conditional pardon by the British Government on 8 November 2006 was the result of a sixteen-year campaign; a long overdue matter of humanity.

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John Hipkin and the Shot at Dawn Campaign

 

The Shot At Dawn Campaign for a blanket pardon for British and Empire servicemen shot at dawn for military offences, e.g. cowardice, desertion, casting away of arms and disobedience, was founded by the inspirational and determined John Hipkin who was featured in an Everyman programme shown on BBC1 in 1999.

John's campaign began his retirement from teaching in December 1990, when Newcastle's The Journal published a report on World War One court martial files. These records had recently been released by the Public Record Office and gave details of the execution of Durham Light Infantry and Northumberland Fusiliers, including one under-aged boy soldier.

John Hipkin talks to visitors at the Westminster Abbey Garden of Remembrance  2002

An increasing number of relatives and supporters joined John Hipkin in the quest to see justice done, with sections of the campaign beingactive in Ireland and Canada. Pardons were NOT sought for servicemen who were executed for rape and murder which are civil, not military, offences.

The campaign succceeded on 8 November 2006, when an amendment to the Armed Forces Act 2006 received Royal Assent.

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Have you forgotten yet?
Look up, and swear by the green of the Spring that you'll never forget.
 
  Siegfried Sassoon
George Sassoon

 

 

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Photographs EFE/George Macintyre