Jump to content
John

Shot At Dawn - WWI Executions

Recommended Posts

An extremely emotional subject. I have often wondered what would so many of those young men's fates , had their actions been in a later theatre or War.
I cannot help thinking that terrible mistakes were made. Young men in the trenches for weeks at a time , in terrible conditions , under constant threat of violent death, a long way from home, with no look forward.
Were they just victims of desperate times, used as an example to 'stop the rot' spreading. Your thoughts...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Everyone should be placed on their local memorials and a full pardon from the Goverment that sent them in the first place.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Everyone should be placed on their local memorials and a full pardon from the Goverment that sent them in the first place.

I could'nt agree more !!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Let's not forget most of these men were not 'fresh' and unblooded, many of them had fought long and hard. I cannot even imagine what they must have experienced. And their reward? Put to death for being 'cowards' by people who cared more about their own careers than the lives of those brave, brave men.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There were 307 men executed by firing squad by the British High Command from 1914-1919. The final execution took place on 19th May 1919. The men from Britain, New Zealand, Canada and other parts of the Empire, were almost exclusively from the ranks, only two were officers. Many of these men had performed with extreme courage in the past under the most strenuous of circumstances, one man in particular a Sergeant W Stones - at 2.30am on Nov 26, 1916 (on the Somme), the British came under heavy mortar fire in thick mist. Stones went out on patrol with a lieutenant and came face to face with the enemy. The lieutenant was shot dead and Stones ran back to raise the alarm. He jammed his rifle across the trench to slow down the pursuing Germans - this cost his life. On return when it was discovered he had no weapon he was arrested with "shamefully casting away his arms". He was later tried and shot. Others were shot for insubordination, striking a officer offences that would probably got you a good bollocking or jankers 20 years later. What sickens me is that this was going on in conjuction with the biggest military mismangement in history under the glorious command of Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig. It strikes me that these men and boys, (two were 16 one of which was 15 when he commited his 'crime' they were both shot together) were shot not because they were guilty, but AS AN EXAMPLE. They should ALL be pardoned and the Haig fund should be renamed, that man should be shown for what he was a miltary clown who had no idea of static defensive warfare, attack or counter attack all Haig was good for was killing half armed, half starved tribesman. He was inept and completely out of his depth, but the irony he was the best the British had. flame

Edited by Tugwilson45

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Reading Tugs last Im not surprised that " Fragging " became so popular!
not only is the Poppy fund named after Haig but he was made an Earl was given a country estate and a glourious pension!! :angry:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

About the same as today then. The army=last bastion of the aristocracy. flame

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest John Sukey

You are being too kind to Haig. A man who never visited a hospital to see the results of his butchery, and who never got a good look at the mud and filth he was sending soldiers to fight in.

He was not the best you had, but he was a favourite of the King.

Of course the french had even worse incompetents, and the germans were not much better.

One wonders what would have happened if Kitchener had been in command. The best thing he ever did for the army was getting sunk. That german submarine commander had no idea of the disaster he spared Britain. A man who thought the germans were no more dangerous than the Fuzzy Wuzzys.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

yes, Haig should have been executed himself for War crimes.I 'll bet the German U-boat Kaptain was punished for 'Assisting the Enemy' .

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Andrew Hesketh

I agree that this is an emotional subject, but steady on guys. This is my first post here, so i hate to appear argumentative, but too many of these comments smack of the 'Lions led by Donkeys' view of the Great War which has, in recent years, been seriously challenged.

Firstly Haig didn't keep his job because the King loved him. Haig was no genius and he is hard to like, but the reality is that nobody better could be found. Lloyd George, who was no pussycat, hated Haig and even with all his clout he failed to produce a serious alternative. Also, please consider that WWI produced no great military 'legends', thus every General in every nation faced the same problems as Haig and none did anything significantly better or different. However, unlike others, Haig actually won.

Secondly, as was made clear in the 1998 Parliamentary review, the government has recommended that all those executed have a right to be recorded on memorials and rolls of honour, but the decision to do so lies at local level. The government declined a general pardon for two main reasons - 1. some of the crimes committed, such as murder, would have resulted in the death penalty in civilian as well as military circles, 2. the evidence is not complete in all cases rendering a review of the case impossible.

Thirdly, regarding Sgt. Stones, I would recommend a read of 'Blindfold and Alone' by John Hughes-Wilson & Cathryn M Corns (isbn 030436696X), for a more thoughtful consideration of that case. The particulars of the version quoted above are correct, but there are alternative explanations.

Oh, well - first post. Probably get shunned now! speechless.gif

Steel helmet on, slides into funk hole............

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi chaps,

we should not make the mistake of viewing the events of 1914-1918 using the rather different values of the early twenty first century. Undoubtedly miscarriages of justice were perpetrated against some of those executed but as Andrew rightly points out, some of these men were executed for civil capital crimes such as murder and rape. Is it suggested that the murderers and rapists should receive a blanket pardon?

Regards

Glenn

Edited by Glenn J

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Obviously some of the men executed were dispatched in proper accordance with the law, such as it was in those days, but the fact remains that many men were shot pour encourager les autres, as the French put it. There was a French NCO shot for "mutiny" after refusing to wear the repaired trousers of a man who had died of his wounds. It's a well-documented case about which a film was made. My grandfather had to officiate at several executions, both on the Western Front and later during the Irish Civil War. One of the executions involved, apparently, a nineteen year old found wandering in a confused state on the battlefield without his weapon or webbing. He was charged with desertion in the face of the enemy, with throwing away his rifle and equipment - as per Sgt Stones - and shot. My grandfather said that the boy did not understand why he was being killed and begged for his life. One can only try to imagine the scene and how everyone involved in it felt. There is a difference between meting out military justice to a deserving criminal and aiming a rifle at a terrified man who hasn't committed any real crime, who was called up to fight in a war conceived and run for the benefit of the rich and for shareholders, as one view of WW1 has it. You know, one can go on and on about how that was how things were then but that doesn't make it any more excusable than burning old ladies at the stake in the name of religion or superstition just because "that's how things were then", if you take my point. Killing people for suffering nervous breakdowns or shock was barbaric and that is all there is to it. How hard would it be for a specially appointed panel of retired soldiers, academics, churchmen and lawyers to sit and go through the cases, eliminating the obvious criminals from the list before putting a plaque up in Westminster Abbey or some such location with all the names of those who were put in front of firing parties for dubious reasons? I'd rather see taxpayers' money spent on amends to the memory and the descendants of those men than on some of the crazier projects fostered by political correctness.

PK

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Although they made a habit of it in WW2 the germans executed few people in WW1. The French were maybe the worst, in some cases shootng junior officers for retreating which the Brits and Germans did not do, after the 1917 rebellion there were many who were shot, apparently therecords are still not released today, most interesting was the fate of a Russian volunteer battalion that was, according to some sources, marched into a valley... then shelled by friendly artillery

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Andrew Hesketh

the evidence is not complete in all cases rendering a review of the case impossible.

PK - I actually agree with your sentiments, but as the point I made above shows, it would be impossible to fairly re-judge these cases with the result that, through lack of evidence, some of these men would effectively be recondemned.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As you rightly point out, Andrew, sentiment cannot be a prime mover in the even-handed assessment of any legal case. But I am certain that a proportion of the cases could be reviewed and soldiers' names cleared, if only on the basis of "reasonable doubt" of their guilt as charged. There again, perhaps it is best to let it lie. Most people understand that many of the men shot did not deserve to die in that way and maybe it is kinder to allow families to convince themselves that the man in the faded photograph was not a coward or a felon but merely the victim of unjust punishment.

PK

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

ahhhh yes, Napoleon haunts us still... I have always chuckled at this phrase:

"pour encorager les autres"

No matter what the subject, en fran?ais sounds so elegant....

I am quite certain that this type of tragedy was rampant throughout all armies during the Great War... not sure about after that. Vietnam conflict was a joke for US Forces... the discrepencies between what each branch of the service was giving its' front line troops to work with was enough to inspire a "lack of committment" in and of itself. Ask any USMC front-line troop from that era and you'll rapidly learn what I mean..

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Andrew Hesketh

PK - I think that you express my own sentiments very well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

They were no cowards and no victims. They were just humans. It is normal and simply human to have fear especially in such an abnormal situation called "war".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Blog Comments

    • Brian, Thanks for initiating this discussion. For me, it’s a combination of the thrill of the chase, the history behind the item, and the aesthetics, although this latter factor may seem a bit strange to some. To illustrate this, the very first thing I collected as a kid in the 1950’s was a Belgian WW1 medal, for service in 1914-18, which is bell shaped, with a very striking profile of a very dignified soldier, wearing an Adrian helmet which bears a laurel wreath. It was the image that
    • Thank you for sharing your story, it was most interesting and greatly appreciated, it makes this blog well worth the time to post. Regards Brian  
    • Hello I started collecting when I found my first Mauser cartridges in a field next to my parents' house next to Armentières. I was eight years old.  Then shrapnel, schrapnell balls, darts... That's how I became a historian. When I was 18, we used to walk through the fields with a metal detector to find our happiness. It was my time in the army as a research-writer in a research centre that made me love the orders of chivalry. I've been collecting them for 24 years now. Christophe
    • Thank you for your most interesting comment. The thrill of the chase didn't interest me in the beginning but over time it started to overshadow the act of simply adding yet another medal or group to the collection. Regards Brian  
    • I know the way I got into collecting is like so many other people; through a sibling. I also know that my love of history is barely unique in a place like this. So I know I have a shared background with many people. A less shared area - perhaps - is that I've always loved the thrill of the chase. When I decide I want, say, a 1914 trio with an original bar, to a cavalry unit, the utter thrill of getting out there and, (a) finding groups that fit the criteria and, (b) comparing them re: ranks, uni
×
×
  • Create New...