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Military Discipline

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#1 Barney


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Posted 17 July 2004 - 11:21

I read with interest the post entitled ?Shot at Dawn? and the comments that followed. I have to say that I am undecided on the validity of a blanket pardon after all there are many instances of proven and downright premeditated cowardice and/or murder.

Would it be fair to those young men unjustly treated to allow these men to share in a Country?s apology? It is my view, for what its worth that if we are going to pardon these guys, and in most cases we should, each case should be looked at individually.

I know it would take years but what price justice? It should be done soon before the impetus to do so ?fades away?. I could not think of a better method of marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of War than to achieve this.

Mark of a civilised society eh?

But guess what? The 13th (Service) Battalion (West Ham) Essex Regiment provides an example of Military Justice so see what you think.

Recorded in the Battalion War Diary around the early months of 1916 were three separate instances of ?self inflicted? wounds. Whilst this phrase could mean many things and generally occurred for a variety of reasons, it is not for me to make comment or judge in any way the men who, for different reasons, felt the need to remove themselves from the Line in this way.

The act itself was as enormous in its risks as it was painful in its reality. Whilst the stories of the three West Ham men were similar we will, for the purposes of this post take a closer look at one of them, 17717 Pte Samuel Ward of ?B? Coy. A devoted family man his records held at the Public Record Office at Kew chart a fairly typical member of the Battalion.

Samuel Ward was 38 yrs old when he enlisted at Stratford Recruiting Office on the 30th January 1915 in the jingoistic mayhem of the time.. A chair maker by profession he lived in James Street off Globe Road in Mile End with his wife Louisa.

Louisa lived two streets away from Samuel in Hadleigh Street before their marriage in 1896 at St Philips Church in Bethnal Green. They had four children, two girls and two boys the youngest of whom, Fred, was barely fourteen months old.

Samuel Ward had no previous experience of Military life and it appears that he was one of the thousands swept along by the patriotic fervour endemic at that time. That euphoria resulted in, among other things, the birth of a fifth son, Ernest in October 1915 whilst the Battalion was in the final weeks of training at Perham Down.

The medical examination of Samuel Ward revealed him to be of good physical stature. Though only 5?2? tall he had a chest measurement of 36? and was by all accounts a powerful man. He could also be somewhat brusque and undisciplined, a
fact borne out an entry in Company Conduct Sheet on 7th July whilst the Battalion was undergoing initial training at Brentwood.

The offence recorded was ?making an improper reply to an Officer? and the Officer in question was Lieut. Carson. The incident was witnessed by CSM White of ?B? Coy. Exactly what he said not recorded but it was considered to be of sufficient gravity for Samuel to be given 5 days confined to Barracks by the Officer of the Day, Captain (Major) Winthrop. I personally reckon his cards were marked from this day.

But nevertheless the apparently rehabilitated Samuel Ward sailed for France with the Battalion in November, serving without incident in their initiation to Trench life. He had not yet seen his new son and was unaware that he was gravely ill

It was at Christmas 1915 that Samuel learned, by letter, that his son had influenza was not expected to live. Whilst always a difficult time for soldiers on Active Service one can imagine it must have been far worse for Samuel Ward.

No papers survive in the Public domain indicating any reaction or requests from him for leave, though it would be likely that such were made and duly turned down for very good reasons.

Finally, on 16th January 1916 Samuel Ward succumbed to desperation and took his only option as he saw it. He literally shot himself in the foot. Luckily for him, or perhaps on advice, he did the deed whilst in billets, not within presence of the enemy.

Now in his book ?Mud Blood and Poppycock? Colonel Gordon Corrigan explodes a great many myths and misapprehensions about the Great War. It is an absolutely tremendous book that is a must for serious students of Military History as much for his comments that invite healthy debate as for his excellent narrative.

Colonel Corrigan deals very definitely with Army Disipline:

?Military Discipline is much different from the code of conduct found elsewhere. It has to be. A labourer or factory worker who decides to absent himself for however long may get his pay stopped for however long or possibly get the sack. A nightwatchman who falls asleep would certainly be sacked. Both these examples would, in 1916, under certain circumstances carry the death penalty in a Military Court.

The business of an Army is to engage in Warfare and to fight battles. To do this it has to have a clearly defined set of rules by which the soldier is expected to conduct himself. Military law is clearly defined and unambiguous, its whole purpose is to maintain the discipline of the Army. Acts which in civil law are mere ?breaches of contract? such as desertion or disobedience to orders must, by the very nature of what an Army is for, be made offences that attract penalties, and in time of War these penalties must be more severe."

The only difference between an Army and an armed rabble is, was, and always will be ? discipline.

"Military Law, as it applied in the Great War was embodied in the Army Act 1881. Regular amendments kept it up to date bought into effect yearly by the Army Annual Act. ?

Colonel Corrigan also has a lot to say about Field Marshal the Earl Haig too, but judging from the very strongly held views amongst us postee?s I would recommend reading it.

Military Law also made a definite distinction between Offences committed in the face or presence of the enemy and those not. Rendering yourself unable to fight through whatever circumstances (as did Samuel Ward) was considered a very serious Offence indeed. Done in the presence of the enemy it would likely have carried the death penalty.

However Samuel Ward was at the time in billets at Windy Corner and far enough away from ?the enemy? to avoid that charge. Nevertheless he took an extraordinary risk in his desperate action.

Private Ward was immediately examined by the Battalion Medical Officer, Lieut A W Holthusen of the RAMC. The wound was found not to be so serious as to be likely to render the injured man unfit for further service.

The Battalion commander, Lieut Colonel Papillon immediately instituted a full enquiry as Private Ward was taken away to an Advanced Dressing Station at 100 Field Ambulance for treatment. Eventually ending up at the 1st Army Special Hospital where on 13th February 1916 Private 17717 Samuel Ward was subjected to a Field Court Martial.

Here for what they are worth are the four Statement of Evidence of witnesses at that Court Martial:

On the morning of the 19th inst. At Windy Corner I had just come in the dugout. As I was passing S Ward a shot was fired and on looking round I noticed S Ward with a bullet wound in his foot. On examination his rifle still contained the empty cartridge case, the magazine being empty. This took place about 11 am.

(sgd) W.A.Weeden
No. 17606
B Company
31.1.16 13th Essex Regt.

At Windy Corner, in billets on the morning of the 19th inst I was in a dugout sitting next to Private S Ward. He appeared to be cleaning his rifle when suddenly I heard a shot fired. On looking round I saw S Ward sitting in the same position with a shot through his left foot which had been fired from his own rifle by himself.

(sgd) L/Cpl W.J.Marsh
31.1.16 B Co. 13th Essex Regt

At Windy Corner, in reserve billets on the morning of the 19th inst I was in a dugout seated about 6 yds from Pte S Ward. On hearing a report of a rifle I looked round and saw Pte S Ward sitting wounded through the left foot which on examination proved to be caused by a shot fired from his own rifle and fired by himself. This took place about 11am and Pte Ward made no statement in my hearing.

(sgd) 17530 J.N. Bedford L/Cpl
31.1.16 B.Coy 13th Essex Regt.

At Windy Corner at 11 am on the 19th inst. I was working in the dugout of a reserve billet. Pte S Ward was sitting about 10 yds away from me in the same dugout. Suddenly without any warning I heard a shot fired, on looking round I saw Pte S Ward sitting with a shot through his left foot which on examination he had fired from his own rifle which contained only one cartridge.

(sgd) 17601 J. Pettey Sergt
31.1.16 ?B?Coy

In the face of this evidence Samuel Ward was found guilty of causing a self inflicted wound and was sentenced to 84 days in a Military Prison at Rouen. It could have been worse.

The popular perception of military justice in the Great War is one of a oppressive and cruel system that hauled young men up before hastily set up courts that sentenced them to death without thought or sympathy with regards to the reasons for their behaviour.

Colonel Corrigan goes on to say ?Much of that criticism is founded in complete ignorance of how an Army works and what the military imperatives of the time were. Of the 286,185 cases heard under British Military law between 4th August 1914 and 11th November 1918, 89% resulted in guilty verdicts.?

Incidentally as regards the Death Penalty, Courts Martial passed 3,080 such sentences on British, Colonial and Dominion Soldiers between the outbreak of War and 31 March 1920, the date Active Service actually ceased. Only 346 were actually carried out. ANZAC soldiers and I believe Canadians were protected by the direct intervention of their respective Governments from the Death penalty.

When he was released Samuel Ward was returned to the 33rd Division Base Depot and thence transferred to the Labour Corps as Pte 386306 and there he remained until demob in 1919.

Perhaps he was lucky for at least he survived. Whatever we may think today with the luxury of hindsight, the fact remains Samuel Ward never saw his son. He died at Christmas 1915.

Posted with respect and as food for thought!


#2 John


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Posted 17 July 2004 - 18:21

I think one of the major facts was of the speed of some of these Courts Martial events. To be found guilty by a bunch of Ruperts , all of the same/similar rank , who know each other or of each other, with little or no defence, sometimes after an hour from start to finish disgusts me.
The Army 'system' , is antiquated and totally unfair. To be charged with an offence at company or Battalion level is nothing short of a Kangeroo Court, with your liberty/and or pay easily taken away,
Even at Colchester MCTC (military prison) the odd officer that makes it there sits in a Mess all day , where the Private is beasted all day.

These men were found Guilty with little or no defence , usually by men who were never on the Front Line. I don't like cowards/ thieves/ murderers any more than the next man, but lets face it, how many of these convictions would be quashed if tried in todays Courts of Appeal? jumping

#3 Guest_John Sukey_*

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Posted 20 July 2004 - 09:23

While it is true there were those who did desert, I would ask how many men were shot for cowardice simply because they broke under the constant shelling. Shell shock was not recognized by the army. Some people can undergo constant trauma while others simply go to pieces under the strain. Some officer sitting on a board would not have a clue, knowing only that the man left his post. We are not talking about something that lasted maybe an hour, but rather something that could last for days.

#4 Chris Boonzaier

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Posted 02 January 2007 - 09:14

QUOTE(Vice Chairman @ Jul 17 2004, 19:21 ) View Post
how many of these convictions would be quashed if tried in todays Courts of Appeal? jumping

Agreed... I was confined to barracks once for a weak because when we left Iraq we had to give our desert Cammo back to the stores. Finally released from Duty at about 10am I had to give in a pair if cammies by lunch. The rest of the section had had the day before to wash their stuff, I literally had to strip it off and take it over right away. When the fat bastid in the stores saw them he began to complain. I told him not everyone had spent the last half year sitting on his fat ass.

Next day I was on a charge for insolence and confined to barracks for a week.

"Misplaced Remark" is a favourite charge...

anyway, i was not shot at dawn.... but it was a great example to me of how the "system" works.

"Jones, you are guilty, isn't he chaps? " "Yessir he is... shut up Jones, you are only gonna make it worse fer yerself!"

#5 ChrisB



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Posted 04 January 2007 - 07:03

"Incidentally as regards the Death Penalty, Courts Martial passed 3,080 such sentences on British, Colonial and Dominion Soldiers between the outbreak of War and 31 March 1920, the date Active Service actually ceased. Only 346 were actually carried out. ANZAC soldiers and I believe Canadians were protected by the direct intervention of their respective Governments from the Death penalty."

Barney, when you write ANZAC soldiers I take it you mean Australian soldiers. While Australia had the "1903 Australian Defence Act" which required the death penalty to be confirmed by the Australian Governor General (no death sentence was ever endorsed), New Zealand had no such arrangement and five NZEF soldiers were executed (nowhere near as many as the Brits had but they should not be forgotten).

All five Kiwis have subsequently been pardoned.

http://www.shotatdaw...ons Bill NZ.htm



Edited by ChrisB, 04 January 2007 - 07:08 .

#6 At Home Dad

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Posted 16 March 2008 - 14:49


Dont forget 17361 Ward (13th Essex), he shot himself in a similar fashion a few days later (Jan 22nd)!

kind regards all

QUOTE (Barney @ Jul 17 2004, 11:21 ) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
But guess what? The 13th (Service) Battalion (West Ham) Essex Regiment provides an example of Military Justice so see what you think.

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