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Remembered Today:

Gunners - Shot at Dawn


ianjonesncl

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During World War One committing serious civil and military offences could result in the death penalty and the means of execution was the firing squad. A sentence that was traditionally carried out at dawn.

roads_execution.jpg

Shot At Dawn

 

The Long Long Trail details that "3,080 men (1.1% of those convicted) were sentenced to death. Of these, 89% were reprieved and the sentence converted to a different one. 346 men were executed. Their crimes included desertion – 266; murder – 37; cowardice in the face of the enemy – 18; quitting their post – 7; striking or showing violence to their superiors – 6; disobedience – 5; mutiny – 3; sleeping at post – 2; casting away arms – 2. "

Source: Military crimes 1914-1918 British Army – The Long, Long Trail.

 

Of those who were executed it appears that 11 were Gunners, all from the Royal Field Artillery.

 

 

Name / Rank  / Number

Brigade

Battery

Type

Charge

Died

BELL JD

Bell, John Driver 70304

43 Brigade RFA

57th Bty RFA

 Regular

Desertion

25-Apr-15

HAMITLON TD

Hamilton, Thomas Driver 67440

38 Brigade RFA

72nd Bty RFA

 Regular

Striking Superior Officer

03-Oct-16

HASMORE J

Hasemore, John Driver L/36251

180 Brigade RFA

180th Bde RFA

 

Disobedience

12-May-16

JONES W

Jones, William Gunner 62971

12 Brigade RFA

43rd Bty RFA

 Regular

Desertion

20-Apr-15

LAMB A

Lamb, Alexander Driver 29219

2 Brigade RFA

 

 Regular

Desertion

02-Oct-15

LEWIS W

Lewis, William Gunner 52081

124 Brigade RFA

 

New Army

Mutiny

29-Oct-16

MULLANY J

Mullany, James Driver 64987

38 Brigade RFA

72nd Bty RFA

 Regular

Striking a Superior Officer

03-Oct-17

MURRAY R

Murray, Robert Driver 96498

81 Brigade RFA

 

New Army

Desertion

03-Feb-17

SPENCER J

Spencer, James Driver 71502

8 Brigade RFA

65th Bty RFA

 Regular

Desertion

29-Sep-15

SWAINE J

Swaine, James Driver 86872

39 Brigade RFA

54th Bty RFA

 Regular

Desertion

09-Jun-16

WILLS F

Wills, Frank Gunner 253617

 

X50 TMB RFA

 

Murder

27-May-19

 

The main offence resulting in execution was desertion, six out of the eleven were deserters. This being consistent with it's prevalence as the main reason the death sentence was awarded during World War One.  The other offences were striking a superior officer, disobedience, mutiny and murder.

 

Desertion

6

Striking a Superior Officer

2

Disobedience

1

Mutiny

1

Murder

1

 

11

 

The first to be executed was Gunner William Jones, executed on 20th April 1915 for desertion, followed 5 days later by Driver John Bell, another deserter. There would be four Gunners  executed during 1915, all regular soldiers, all shot for desertion. Four would be executed in 1916, disobedience, desertion, mutiny, and striking a superior officer. Two in 1917, desertion and striking an superior officer. The final death sentence was carried in 1919, Gunner Frank Wills for murder. 

 

The early cases of desertion related to offences in 1915, and all regular soldiers. The three New Army executions were for disobedience and mutiny, possibly a reaction to Army discipline, and Gunner Robert Murray who absconded for carnal desires. No Territorial Gunner was executed.

 

Those that deserted included Driver Alexander Lamb, arrested 8 months after absconding in Calais living with a woman, and Driver Robert Murray who travelled to the south of France taking up residence with a prostitute who reported him to the French police following an argument.

 

The crime of striking a superior officer resulted in six executions across the British Army, of which two were Gunners and both from the same battery, the 72nd of 38 Field Artillery Brigade part of the 6th Divisional Artillery. Driver Thomas Hamilton being shot on 3rd October 1916 for striking a junior officer, and Driver James Mullany, shot 3rd October 1917 for striking a NCO.

 

The only case of disobedience (one of of five across the British Army) was that of Driver John Hasemore. An ex Royal Navy sailor, he was charged with 4 separate offences of disobedience resulting in his execution on 12th May 1916. 

 

Gunner William Lewis was executed for mutiny following an incident when he was serving sentence at the Blargies Military Prison Camp at Abancourt. He was shot on 29th October 1916, and was only one of three soldiers in the British Army convicted of that offence during WW1.

 

The military offences saw the execution of ten Gunners, the eleventh who was sentenced to death was Gunner Frank Wills. Wills went missing from his unit after the Armistice and was accosted by the Military Police in Paris in March 1919. During the arrest a MP NCO was shot dead and another wounded. Wills was shot on 29th May 1919, murder being a capital offence he would have been sentenced to death irrespective of whether or not he was serving in uniform.

 

GUNNERS SHOT AT DAWN

 

Many thanks to  WW1 Cemeteries.com for the information regarding circumstances leading to death sentence 

Shot at Dawn - WW1 Cemeteries.com - A photographic guide to over 4000 military cemeteries and memorials

 

 

JONES William

Gunner 62971

Unit: 12 Brigade RFA 43rd Battery RFA

Role: Divisional Artillery 6th Division

Type: Regular

Charge: Desertion

Died: 20-Apr-15

Life story: William Jones

CWGC: GUNNER WILLIAM JONES

Buried: LA CHAPELLE D'ARMENTIERES COMMUNAL CEMETERY

62971 Gunner William Jones, 43rd Bty, Royal Field Artillery, executed for desertion 20th April 1915. Row E. 1.

 

From <https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/la-chapelle-d-armentieres-communal-cemetery.html>

 

BELL John

Driver 70304

Unit: 43 Brigade RFA 57th Battery RFA

Role: Divisional Artillery 1st Division

Type: Regular

Charge: Desertion

Died: 25-Apr-15

Life story: John Bell

CWGC: DRIVER JOHN BELL

Buried:  LE TOURET MEMORIAL

70304 Driver John Bell, 57th Bty, Royal Field Artillery, executed for desertion 25th April 1915. Panel 1. Son of John Bell, of Finglas, Co. Dublin.

 

From <https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/le-touret-memorial.html>

 

SPENCER James

Driver 71502

Unit: 8 Brigade RFA 65th Battery RFA

Role: Divisional Artillery 27th Division

Type: Regular

Charge: Desertion

Died: 29-Sep-15

Life story: James Spencer

CWGC: DRIVER JAMES SPENCER

Buried:  COTE 80 FRENCH NATIONAL CEMETERY, ETINEHEM

1502 Driver James Spencer, 65th Battery, 8th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, executed for desertion 29th September 1915.  Row B. 2. He was considered a good soldier, but on 12 June 1915 deserted from a forward gun emplacement about a mile from the enemy.  Spencer was arrested not far away on August 4, was tried on Sept 9 & executed 3 weeks later, his Brigadier incorrectly alleging — on the usual review — that Spencer had stolen a considerable sum of money from a ruined house in Ypres, & speculating that he had deserted in order to spend it on wine & women; & concluded by labelling Spencer a deliberate skulker.  (Putkowski, pp 53-54)

 

From <https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/cote-80-french-national-cemetery.html>

LAMB Alexander

Driver 29219

Unit: 2 Brigade RFA 21st Battery RFA

Role: Divisional Artillery 6th Division

Type: Regular

Charge: Desertion

Died: 02-Oct-15

Life story: Alexander Lamb

CWGC: DRIVER ALEXANDER LAMB

Buried:  VLAMERTINGHE MILITARY CEMETERY

29219 Driver Alexander Lamb, 21st Battery, 2ndBrigade, Royal Field Artillery, executed for desertion on 2nd October 1915. Plot II. E. 12. He absented himself at Boulogne from the train bound for the front, but was arrested 8 months later in Calais where he had been living with a woman.  Lamb was tried 3 months later, but executed within a fortnight thereafter.  (Putkowski, p. 54)

 

From <https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/vlamertinghe-military-cemetery.html>

 

 

HASEMORE John

Driver L/36251

Unit: 180 Brigade RFA

Role: Divisional Artillery 16th (Irish) Division

Type: New Army

Charge: Disobedience

Died: 12-May-16

Life story: John William Hasemore

CWGC: DRIVER JOHN WILLIAM HASEMORE

Buried: MAZINGARBE COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION

L/36251 Driver John William  Hasemore, A. Battery, 180th Bde. Royal Field Artillery, executed for disobedience 12th May 1916, aged 23. Plot 1. B. 5.

 

He had joined up in June 1915, & served in the Field Artillery, keeping a clean record till l Apr 1916, when 28 days’ Field Punishment No 1 was imposed for Disobedience.  Whilst serving the punishment, Hasemore once had to be confined to the guardroom after he had refused to be tied up, & had used insubordinate language to the bombardier detailed to administer the punishment.

 

On 4 Apr, there was  a further incident when he openly refused to work, & laid himself down on the guardroom floor.  Ordered to work, Hasemore told the sergeant that: ‘They could not make a slave of me in the British Navy & they can’t make a slave of me in the British Army’.

 

On 11 Apr, & by now awaiting his second court-martial, he behaved in a seriously disorderly manner when his battery was marching in column from the front line into reserve.  An order had in the end to be given to tie him to a limber with his hands tied behind his back, whereupon he threatened the sergeant detailed to tie him, & soon after kicked him.  Further, Hasemore roundly abused the officer in charge who then had him tied on a limber.  When the officer refused Hasemore’s request to loosen his bonds, the response was: ‘When I am free, I’ll get my revenge, you sod’.

 

At trial on 4 charges, the accused did not challenge the evidence, & said little that could amount to defence or mitigation.  After sentence, the Divisional commander characterised Hasemore’s action as being in defiance of authority rather than against any particular NCO or officer, with the sentence  being confirmed by Gen Munro with the words: ‘this driver appears to have no sense of discipline’. (Putkowski, pp.79-80; Corns, pp.130-132)

 

From <https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/mazingarbe-communal-cemetery-extension.html>

SWAINE James

Driver 86872

Unit: 39 Brigade RFA 54th Battery RFA

Role: Divisional Artillery 1st Division

Type: Regular Army

Charge: Desertion

Died: 09-Jun-16

Life story: James W Swaine

CWGC: DRIVER JAMES SWAINE

Buried: BULLY-GRENAY COMMUNAL CEMETERY, FRENCH EXTENSION

86872 Driver James W. Swaine, 54th Battery, 39th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, executed for desertion 9th June 1916. Plot  B. 6. Husband of R. Swaine, of 82, Herga Rd., Wealdstone, Middx. A married man, he had overstayed his Christmas leave in 1915, & was only arrested in the following April. (Putkowski, pp. 85-86)

 

From <https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/bully-grenay-communal-cemetery-french-extension.html>

HAMILTON Thomas

Driver 67440

Unit: 38 Brigade RFA 72nd Battery RFA

Role: Divisional Artillery 6th Division

Type: Regular

Charge: Striking Superior Officer

Died: 03-Oct-16

Life story: Thomas Grant Hamilton

CWGC: DRIVER THOMAS GRANT HAMILTON

Buried:  RIBEMONT COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION, SOMME

He was a pre-war Regular, who had joined up in 1911.

 

At a stable parade, Second Lt Oates saw Hamilton smoking  & ordered his name taken by the sergeant major.

 

Hamilton told the latter that he had not been smoking, but had picked up a cigarette butt that had fallen from behind his ear & had ‘put it in his mouth while feeding the horses’. The NCO said that the officer would not listen to Hamilton’s explanation. Hamilton, incensed by the apparent injustice, accosted the officer, who brushed aside Hamilton’s polite request to be heard.  At that, Hamilton hit Oates on the face & body with his fists.  (It was said later that Hamilton had some knowledge of boxing).

 

At trial, Hamilton defended himself fairly ably, demonstrating that the officer had not given the complete story in his evidence; stating that he had felt unjustly accused; that Oates had stumbled on the sloping ground; & that he did not at first realise why he had been arrested.

 

After conviction, the CO saw no extenuating circumstances, nor did the Divisional & Corps commanders. However the Army commander suggested that  7 years’ penal servitude was appropriate because the officer had refused to let Hamilton speak, but the C-in-C disagreed.

 

Hamilton was 1 of the 3 British soldiers executed during the war for this offence, all on the Western front & all in Sept 1916. (Corns, pp.356-359)

 

From <https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/ribemont-communal-cemetery-extension-somme.html>

LEWIS William

Gunner 52081

Unit: 124 Brigade RFA

Role:  Divisional Artillery 37th Division

Type: New Army

Charge: Mutiny

Died: 29-Oct-16

Life story: William Lewis

CWGC: GUNNER WILLIAM LEWIS

Buried: ST. SEVER CEMETERY EXTENSION, ROUEN

52081 Gunner William Lewis, 124th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, executed for mutiny on 29th October 1916. Plot O. 1. M. 8. Son of Mrs. Jane Lewis, of 21 North Junction Street, Leith.

 

After lunch on 14 Aug 1916, at Blargies Military Prison Camp at Abancourt near Rouen, a large number of British prisoners was assembled for a work party, but some of them refused orders to march off. After the biddable prisoners had complied, the remaining group was asked by Sgt Major Gill: ‘What is the matter ?’.  They began shouting & demanding the removal of chains that had been placed on some prisoners as extra punishment for attempting to escape.  Gill ordered anyone refusing to work to take one pace forward: the whole group, numbering 67 men, did so.

Capt Barker was called & said complaints could be lodged in the morning, & meanwhile ordered the men to get back to work.  Lewis stepped forward & repeated, in an insubordinate manner, the demand about the chains, being supported by another prisoner.

Barker ordered those willing to work to step forward.  None did so, Lewis shouting out: ‘Stand still’ /‘Stand Fast’.  The Captain then summoned up an armed squad, with bayonets fixed, & directed the whole group to be handcuffed, one at a time.  A violent struggle ensued as the prisoners refused.  When one prisoner, on whom Sgt Aves was using unnecessary force, screamed & fainted, the guards were rushed, as one of the group shouted: ‘Let’s do the ******* in’.  Lewis & 2 others shouted to Aves to desist.  When he refused, they said: ‘**** Captain Barker’s orders….you’ll take your orders, or we’ll murder you, you ******* bastard’, or words to that effect.

 

Lewis & one other led the mutineers in a rush towards the guards with their drawn revolvers, shouting: ‘Shoot, we are not bloody well afraid’.  Capt Barker now ordered the handcuffing to stop & the men to move to another part of the camp.

 

Lewis & 6 others were tried for mutiny from 5 to 9 Oct 1916 at Rouen.

 

In his defence, Lewis said that — far from being the ringleader, as prosecution witnesses had alleged — he had been asked to speak on behalf of the group by Sgt Gill, at the request of Capt Barker who could not understand all the people shouting at once; &, further, that Sgt Aves had later in the afternoon pleaded with him to return to work; & that he had declined to be spokesman for the group, though he said that he had spelled out to Aves the very real grievances of the men in the appalling conditions in the camp.

 

The Captain who acted as the prisoners’ friend addressed the court, laying great stress on the hellhole that was Blargies, claiming that some of the accused had been ‘deliberately picked out by certain camp staff to act as spokesmen, thus constituting them as ringleaders….’; & that such a role had not been established against Lewis.

All 7 defendants were convicted of mutiny, & — bar one (the Private who had suffered at the hands of Sgt Aves) —  sentenced to death.

 

Lewis’s record of service showed that he had been court-martialled in June 1915, when he received a suspended sentence of 6 months’ imprisonment with hard labour; & again earlier in 1916, when 12 months’ imprisonment was imposed for theft.  Commutation was recommended of all the death sentences, Haig confirming that on Lewis.  (Corns, pp.381-387)

 

From <https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/st-sever-cemetery-extension.html>

MURRAY Robert

Driver 96498

Unit: 81st Brigade RFA

Role: Divisional Artillery 17th (Northern) Division

Type: New Army

Charge: Desertion

Died: 03-Feb-17

Life story: Robert Murray

CWGC: DRIVER ROBERT MURRAY

Buried: CARNOY MILITARY CEMETERY

96498 Driver Robert Murray, "A" Battery, 147th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, executed for desertion 3rd February 1917. Row Z. 10. Husband of Edith Murray, of Helmingham Road, Otley, near Ipswich, Suffolk. After making off, he travelled to the south of France & took up residence with a prostitute — who in due course reported him to the French police following a quarrel.  (Putkowski, p. 160)

 

From <https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/carnoy-military-cemetery.html>

 

MULLANY James

Driver 64987

Unit: 38 Brigade RFA 72nd Battery RFA

Role: Divisional Artillery 6th Division

Type: Regular

Charge: Striking Superior Officer

Died: 03-Oct-17

Life story: James Mullany

CWGC: DRIVER JAMES MULLANY

Buried: RIBEMONT COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION, SOMME

 

 

 

 

 64987 Driver James Mullany, 72nd Battery, 38th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, executed for striking a superior officer, 3rd October 1916. Plot 3. K. 4.

 

On 16 Sept 1916, the Battery Sergeant Major ordered that 6 teams of horses be harnessed up (for ammunition to be taken up the line), but Mullany protested, shouting: ‘What about some ******* tea ?’.  Placed under open arrest, he sought close arrest (as this would mean he would get his tea). The NCO however told him to get on with the harnessing-up, at which Mullany swore at the Sergeant Major, who ordered him to be put in the guardroom. Mullany then knocked over the NCO, punching him while on the ground; & knocked him down again after another Bombardier’s intervention had enabled the Sergeant Major to get to his feet.

 

At trial, Mullany said that he had merely approached the NCO with his fist raised and ‘somehow we ran into each other & fell to the ground’.  He sought to call an officer as a character witness, who however was not available (‘at the guns’, unable to get away); but the court went ahead to convict, the president recording that sentence could not have been affected by such evidence.

 

During the later procedures, a statement was obtained from the officer concerned, which said that Mullany was often insolent in tone, but never openly so; & that he kept his horses & harness fairly well.

 

The Brigade commander considered Mullany to be ‘an insubordinate man of low class’. All the commanders recommended execution, the Corps commander commenting that ‘discipline in this battery is bad’. (Corns, pp.357-359)

 

From <https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/ribemont-communal-cemetery-extension-somme.html>

WILLS Frank

Gunner 253617

Unit: X50 TMB RFA

Role: Post War

Type: Post War

Charge: Murder

Died: 27-May-19

Life story: Frank Oswald Wills

CWGC: GUNNER FRANK O. WILLS

Buried:  STE. MARIE CEMETERY, LE HAVRE

253617 Gunner Frank O. Wills, X50th Trench Mortar Battery, Royal Field Artillery, executed for murder 27th May 1919, aged 20.  Division 64. 6. F. 5. He went missing from his unit after the Armistice, & was accosted by the Military Police in Paris in March 1919.  However Wickings made his escape, using his revolver to shoot dead an NCO & to wound another — only to be detained by a crowd of Parisians. (Putkowski,p.265)

 

From <https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/ste-marie-cemetery.html>

 

 

Edited by ianjonesncl

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