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Symbol of red poppy, white marker and rifle Research

Recommended books

In print

Shot at Dawn - Julian Putkowski and Julian Sykes

Names and describes cases of all British and Empire soldiers executed by firing-squad for military offences during World War One. (ISBN 0-85052-613-2)

The Thin Yellow Line - William Moore

Discusses the history of the military death penalty, the World War One cases and the parliamentary campaign for abolition. (ISBN 1-84022-215-8)

For the Sake of Example - Judge Anthony Babington

Prior to their public release, Judge Babington was given special access to the court martial files of executed soldiers.  The book describes the background, circumstances and cases of a number of executed soldiers without revealing their identities. (ISBN 0-436-03050-0)

Shell-Shock - Judge Anthony Babington

(ISBN 0-85052-562-4)

For God’s Sake Shoot Straight - Leonard Sellers

Shot for desertion, the case of Sub-Lieutenant Edwin Dyett, RNVR, one of two officers and the only person serving with the Royal Navy to be shot at dawn during World War One.

For Freedom and Honour? - Andrew B Godefroy

Describes in detail the cases of the Canadian soldiers who were executed. (ISBN 1-896979-22-X)

A War of Nerves - Ben Shephard

‘A history of military psychiatry in the twentieth-century’. Of particular relevance to the pardons campaign, when considering the mental state of the majority of soldiers who were sentenced to death. (ISBN 0-224-06033-3)

Unquiet Graves - Julian Putkowski and Piet Chielens

Starting at the In Flanders Field Museum in Ypres, this guide tours the execution sites around Ypres and Poperinge. Contains details of cases, photographs of the area and eye-witness accounts of executions. (ISBN 1-903427-00-2)

Worthless Men - Gerard Oram

Deals with his theory that executions of British servicemen during World War One were motivated by racism and similar issues. 

George Coppard - With a Machine-Gun to Cambrai  

One of the many under-age boys who was accepted into the army, this is an account of the war-time service life of one private soldier. Contains a number of references to executions.

The Secret Battle - A P Herbert

This is believed to be the story of Sub-Lieutenant Edwin Dyett, with whom A P Herbert served.

(ISBN-413-61870-6)

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Out of print but readily available

Military Discipline and Democracy - Ernest Thurtle 

‘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’. Written following Thurtle’s experience of war and published in 1920.

Shootings at Dawn - Ernest Thurtle

The Army Death Penalty at Work - pamphlet prepared and distributed by Thurtle, giving eye-witness accounts of executions on the Western Front. Served to reinforce his parliamentary campaign of 1929 which resulted in the abolition of the death penalty for most military offences. 

Time’s Winged Chariot - Ernest Thurtle 

The autobiography of the First World War veteran, MP and campaigner. Published in 1945. 

Now It Can Be Told - Sir Philip Gibbs 

A journalist on the Western Front during World War One, Gibbs' work includes a chapter describing the effects of shell shock and moving accounts of soldiers under sentence of death.

March, Kind Comrade - R H J Steuart 

Recalls his service as a chaplain to the Seaforth Highlanders, including his account of the final hours and execution of Private Hector Delande.

The Men I Killed - Major General F B Crozier

Major General Crozier was responsible for the death sentence imposed upon his namesake Private James Crozier and in this book he discusses the reasoning and circumstances of this and other issues.

The Great War As I Saw It - Reverend Canon Frederick Scott

Canon Scott served with the Canadian 1 Division throughout the war and his account of this service includes the search for his son's grave on the Somme. Of particular relevance is his description of the execution of Sergeant William Alexander, to whom he provided comfort the night before.

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Fiction

For adults

The Ashgrove - Diney Costeloe

The story of a campaign to save a village war memorial, during the course of which a tragic episode is brought to light. The Ashgrove is dedicated to the Shot at Dawn campaign.

For children

Private Peaceful - Michael Morpurgo

The Poet Laureate's award-winning story of young Thomas Peaceful and his rural family life before the outbreak of World War One and their subsequent and tragic involvement in that war.

The Trenches - Jim Eldridge

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Other sources

Capital court martial files for all 306 executed servicemen can be inspected at the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office), Kew, just outside central London. Photocopies of documents can be purchased in person and are also available through on-line or telephone ordering by credit card. They are held under the reference WO 71, followed by a sub-file number, e g WO 71/492 is the CM file number for Private John Bennett of the Hampshire Regiment.

The World War One records link on the National Archive website will allow you to locate the court martial file number for the soldier whose case you are researching.

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Final Dawn

They say I ran away.
Just like the day you told me
Not to leave our garden.
Do you remember Mother?  
 
They captured me;
I was court-martialled.
You captured me;
All cross you were.
Smacked my legs, so hard,
Then hugged me, so close.
Do you remember Mother?  
 
I stand in my prison, staring,
Just staring at the wooden post.
The one they'll tie me to.
You shut me in my room,
I stared out then too,
Crying, watching kids out playing.
Do you remember Mother?  
 
I remember it all.
I remember you coming for me,
With milk and biscuits.
Now I hear them coming.
Please,
Hug me again, Mother. 
 

Diane Wilson