Jump to content
Free downloads from TNA ×
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

'Deserters', 'Cowards'? Yes. But; 'Murderers'


Steve G

Recommended Posts

:huh: Forgive me. This is in no way a facetious question. I've been reading ever more deeply into Google ~ thanks to the inspiration of this place and the widely ranging discussions I'm finding so compelling here ~ and have just, quite by chance, come across the list of Military Executions presented by Chris Hobbs.

Even a cursory look at this rather daunting page would strongly suggest that the top three reasons a man might have been executed were 1. Desertion. 2. Cowardice and, third in decending order of possibility, Murder!

Now, Desertion I've just finished reading several excellent Threads about. I feel I have a grip on that now. Cowardice? I'd, frankly, rather not even go there just yet. But all these men executed for Murder? What was going on there? Anyone made a study of it?

I'm simply very curious to see the bigger picture. In short; Would these men, on average, have been acting against their own side? Perhaps settling some arguement with the readily available weapons? Or are the majority of ~ so many cases ~ more likely to have involved POW's or civillians?

Again; Sorry if this all seems a bit vague. Certainly nothing morbidity based. I simply saw that list and am amazed that so many acts of murder should have been reported during the times and circumstances.

What on earth was going on?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The only incident of murder I've even specifically come across was an Australian soldier murdered by another while in camp in England. (He's buried in Sutton Veny cemetery). I have always just assumed that, surrounded by gruesome death continually, soldiers found murder a logical conclusion in disagreements far more frequently than would occur in civilian life. Life was cheap on the battlefield.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The only incident of murder I've even specifically come across was an Australian soldier murdered by another while in camp in England. (He's buried in Sutton Veny cemetery). I have always just assumed that, surrounded by gruesome death continually, soldiers found murder a logical conclusion in disagreements far more frequently than would occur in civilian life. Life was cheap on the battlefield.

Over 30 men were shot for murder, including one officer. Usually, alcohol played a big part in the offence. One drunken Highlander ran amok and killed a comrade, another shot his officer in the back, and yet another man killed an NCO after returning from an early morning boozing session. I have researched this topic over the past few years and there was only one member of the BEF executed for the murder of a French civilian and that was for the murder of a prostitute.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

there was only one member of the BEF executed for the murder of a French civilian and that was for the murder of a prostitute.

Does the fact it was a prostitute make it different from murdering any other French civilian then?

Mick

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Does the fact it was a prostitute make it different from murdering any other French civilian then?

Mick

Mick,

Why would you think it might?

I certainly didn't see any suggestion of that in the previous post, but it's interesting that you should suggest it.

Ken

Link to comment
Share on other sites

90% of death sentences for military offences were commuted. Can Desdichado perhaps tell us whether any men were convicted of murder and not sentenced to death, and whether any death sentences for murder were commuted.

On the other point, the murder of a prostitute is of course no less heinous a crime than the murder of any other civilian, but it does suggest that the circumstances were probably personal to the parties involved. Again, it would be interesting to know whether other men were charged with/convicted of lesser degrees of culpability in the deaths of civilians.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Does the fact it was a prostitute make it different from murdering any other French civilian then?

Mick

Yes, of course it does ...... every murder is different from every other murder, so it is different. Just as previous instances: killing NCO, killing officer, etc etc. They are all different. The only commonality is murder.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From a quick scan of Gerard Oram’s Death Sentences passed by Military Courts of the British Army 1914 – 1924, it seems that the majority of death sentences for murder were carried out, but in a number of cases sentences were commuted to penal servitude or hard labour.

As regards lesser sentences for murder, military law followed the civil courts of the time, in that on conviction only one sentence could be given, namely death; however death sentences for murder could be later commuted by the confirming authority.

Regards

Mark

Link to comment
Share on other sites

90% of death sentences for military offences were commuted. Can Desdichado perhaps tell us whether any men were convicted of murder and not sentenced to death, and whether any death sentences for murder were commuted.

On the other point, the murder of a prostitute is of course no less heinous a crime than the murder of any other civilian, but it does suggest that the circumstances were probably personal to the parties involved. Again, it would be interesting to know whether other men were charged with/convicted of lesser degrees of culpability in the deaths of civilians.

No death sentence for murder was ever commuted, however, in the case of the killing of the prostitute, the French authorities attempted to intervene to save the man's life on the grounds that the woman was of "low morals".

From a quick scan of Gerard Oram’s Death Sentences passed by Military Courts of the British Army 1914 – 1924, it seems that the majority of death sentences for murder were carried out, but in a number of cases sentences were commuted to penal servitude or hard labour.

As regards lesser sentences for murder, military law followed the civil courts of the time, in that on conviction only one sentence could be given, namely death; however death sentences for murder could be later commuted by the confirming authority.

Regards

Mark

I think you're wrong. Between 1914-1918, the preriod I have researched the most, I have not found a single British soldier convicted of murder whose sentence was commuted.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Murder carried a mandatory death sentence under ordinary civilian law so I doubt that anyone convicted would not have been sentenced to death (though I cannot be absolutely certain).

Soldiers sentenced to death but reprieved can be found in Gerard Oram's "Capital Courts-Martial" although that entails wading through the full list of 3,000 or so.

It is significant that about ten of the men executed for murder were Chinese labourers. The Chinese were fairly inveterate gamblers and it is believed that accusations of cheating were often followed by violence, sometimes fatal. Whatever the cause, the Chinese figures do distort the total.

Some of the other cases were the result of men shooting an officer or NCO (two men of the Welsh Regiment apparently gave themselves up after shooting their sergeant-major). Others, and particularly the case of the only officer, were apparently attempts to resist arrest by the military police.

Ron

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Murder carried a mandatory death sentence under ordinary civilian law so I doubt that anyone convicted would not have been sentenced to death (though I cannot be absolutely certain).

Soldiers sentenced to death but reprieved can be found in Gerard Oram's "Capital Courts-Martial" although that entails wading through the full list of 3,000 or so.

It is significant that about ten of the men executed for murder were Chinese labourers. The Chinese were fairly inveterate gamblers and it is believed that accusations of cheating were often followed by violence, sometimes fatal. Whatever the cause, the Chinese figures do distort the total.

Some of the other cases were the result of men shooting an officer or NCO (two men of the Welsh Regiment apparently gave themselves up after shooting their sergeant-major). Others, and particularly the case of the only officer, were apparently attempts to resist arrest by the military police.

Ron

The death penalty was the only sentence that could be handed down to a person convicted of murder. Many of the CLC men executed for this crime were shot after the end of hostilities. Originally, the CLC labourers were not covered by the AA until, I think, 1918, when they were deemed to be persons subject to miltary law. Odd, considering these men were, in realilty, not members of the armed forces but rather civil contractors. One CLC man was shot for the murder of a woman and three children.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Does the fact it was a prostitute make it different from murdering any other French civilian then?

Mick

It is fact specific. Had she been a nurse or schoolteacher, then I would had said so. I would have thought that much was obvious.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Desdichado

I’m not wrong; I merely quote Gerard Oram.

Here are two examples from his book:

  • Cpl. J O’Shea, RGA, convicted of murder and sentenced to death on 3-8-16 - commuted to 10 years’ penal servitude.
  • Pte. G. W. Smith 146 MGC, convicted of murder and sentenced to death on 15-6-17 - commuted to 15 years’ penal servitude.

Regards

Mark

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Desdichado

I’m not wrong; I merely quote Gerard Oram.

Here are two examples from his book:

  • Cpl. J O’Shea, RGA, convicted of murder and sentenced to death on 3-8-16 - commuted to 10 years’ penal servitude.
  • Pte. G. W. Smith 146 MGC, convicted of murder and sentenced to death on 15-6-17 - commuted to 15 years’ penal servitude.

Regards

Mark

This is interesting. I cannot find any reference to these two cases in any of my material so I'll have to double check with another source. If I'm incorrect in my assertion, then I'll gladly hold my hands up but these two cases are new to me. As they say, "I'll get back to you on this..."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have come across one French soldier who was executed for murder in the trenches.

He was discovered ransacking another man's rucsac and murdered the man who found him.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, of course it does ...... every murder is different from every other murder, so it is different. Just as previous instances: killing NCO, killing officer, etc etc. They are all different. The only commonality is murder.

But surely if we are looking at events 90 years ago in the context of todays justice and morals, which is what happened to enable the Shot at Dawn lobbyists to change the events of 90 years ago, we must look at all victims as equal.

Mick

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Equal but diferent.

Agreed. The law, then as now, provides a definition of when a killing is murder and when it is something else. The mandatory sentence for murder was then execution as now it is life imprisonment. The sentencing authority has no leeway in the matter.

But it is the difference in circumstances in which the murder took place which allowed the reviewing authority to commute a death sentence or confirm it to be carried out as, today, the reviewing authority can determine if "life" means "natural life" or something else. It's what justice is all about, IMO.

J

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just as an aside, and to clear up any ambiguity, the book by Gerard Oram which I quoted as "Capital Courts-Martial" is in fact the same as the one referred to correctly in Post #8, "Death Sentences ..."

My copy is buried in a pile of books somewhere and I did not check it out!

Ron

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Given the large number of men in the forces you would have thought that there would be a proportion who might have murdered if the war had not come. Pick a million men and you will find a fair sprinkling of saints and sinners.

Edwin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

you would have thought that there would be a proportion who might have murdered if the war had not come.

I think I recall us having a similar discussion ages back - where there was indication that the wartime execution numbers were lower than in peacetime. Perhaps not surprising as most murders are committed by younger men and many younger men were, of course, away from the UK because of the war.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, as ever, a riveting discussion! Thanks very much for the input, one and all :)

I suppose the concensus is then, basicaly; Get enough men together, arm them and put them under enough stress? Things are going to happen here and there.

Of course, I should've seen that. I think it was just the shock of reading such a long list of incidents. Doubtless however, the statistcal analysis of sheer numbers of people involved, if compared to any other comparative 'populace' and period would make a less stark illustration. Murders will always happen, regardless of global circumstances.

I must just mention ~ if I may (Moddies?) be allowed this swift aside: I once found a page of old newspaper, from about 1909. The item that caught my eye concerned a few lads who had, basically, 'Mugged' someone. So there we have it, I suppose. Not much new, is there?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, as ever, a riveting discussion! Thanks very much for the input, one and all :)

I suppose the concensus is then, basicaly; Get enough men together, arm them and put them under enough stress? Things are going to happen here and there.

Of course, I should've seen that. I think it was just the shock of reading such a long list of incidents. Doubtless however, the statistcal analysis of sheer numbers of people involved, if compared to any other comparative 'populace' and period would make a less stark illustration. Murders will always happen, regardless of global circumstances.

I must just mention ~ if I may (Moddies?) be allowed this swift aside: I once found a page of old newspaper, from about 1909. The item that caught my eye concerned a few lads who had, basically, 'Mugged' someone. So there we have it, I suppose. Not much new, is there?

Steve,

"Here and there" is appropriate. Given the number of men in the BEF between 1914-1918, the murder rate int he armed forces was low compared with that of the civilian population.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Steve,

"Here and there" is appropriate. Given the number of men in the BEF between 1914-1918, the murder rate int he armed forces was low compared with that of the civilian population.

Which might suggest that the kind of stress that drives men to murder was (surprisingly) lower in the army than in Civvy St.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

QUOTE (Phil_B @ Oct 12 2008, 09:42 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Which might suggest that the kind of stress that drives men to murder was (surprisingly) lower in the army than in Civvy St.

I suspect that the bond between soldiers alleviated much stress. Many didn't want to let their mates down. The stress, I suggest, was collective - if that is the right word - and borne by all in a tightly-knit group; the weaker one supported by the strongest. Paradoxically, in civilian life, a great number of murders were committed in the family which is seen also as a tightly-knit unit. Any theories?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...