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Sylvia Pankurst


jay dubaya
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In the first 2 years of the war, next of kin were flatly informed that the soldier had been executed... Only after a strenuous campaign by the femanist Sylvia Pankurst did the military begin informing families that an executed soldier had 'died of wounds'.

The above is quoted from Joe Perscio's '11th Month, 11th Day, 11th Hour'. Is there any truth in this?

Jon

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In the first 2 years of the war, next of kin were flatly informed that the soldier had been executed... Only after a strenuous campaign by the femanist Sylvia Pankurst did the military begin informing families that an executed soldier had 'died of wounds'.

The above is quoted from Joe Perscio's '11th Month, 11th Day, 11th Hour'. Is there any truth in this?

Jon

I've looked at a number of sources but found nothing that repeats this story. What is mentioned is Sylvia Pankhurst's campaign to get the true number of men executed published, which seems to be at odds with any move to hide the truth from next of kin. Given her political views, I would be surprised if she would've campaigned to disguise the 'crimes' committed by the State against serving soldiers. As an opponent of the war, it would seem to be a strange thing to do on her part.

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My thoughts too Jim.

I don't like the way in which the book is referenced, there doesn't appear to be any direct reference to the quote but the page gives credit to Fussel 'The Great War and Modern Memory' for "shot at dawn" and "died of wounds" which appears in the above quote,

Jon

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..but the page gives credit to Fussel 'The Great War and Modern Memory' for "shot at dawn" and "died of wounds" which appears in the above quote,

Jon

Thanks for the reference. I didn't look at it before - wasn't too impressed by Fussell's work to be honest.

This is what is written in Fussell's book: "No one was to know too much. Until 1916, the parents of soldiers executed for 'acts prejudicial to military discipline' were given the news straight, but after agitation by Sylvia Pankhurst, they were informed by telegram that their soldier had 'died of wounds'" (p.176).

A few points come to mind. If the authorities changed their policy to hide from families what had really happened, to help maintain morale back home, would they have been pushed in that direction by a well known opponent of the war? What would be the motivation for any anti-war activist to help those pursuing the conflict hide the truth? Surely, the opposite would've been the case. Indeed, since Sylvia Pankhurst later published figures giving the number of executions as being in excess of 36,000 (which she later disclaimed, the source being dellusional), it makes no sense at all that she support such an obfuscation.

No source for Pankhurst's stated actions is given in an otherwise heavily referenced book.

Cheers,

Jim

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From 'Sylvia Pankhurst. A Crusading Life 1882-1960'. Shirley Harrison. Aurum. 2003

Pages 190-1

Sylvia was active in the East End during the war and mothers, grilfriends and wives often brought letters from the men overseas to show Sylvia, particualrly where they raised issues of interest to an anti-war activist and social campaigner. Some of these were published in 1931 under the title 'The Home Front'.One story is about the day she was asked to visit the bereaved parents of a Jewish boy, their only son Aby (Abraham Beverstein SAD 20 March 1916;served as Harris)). He had enlisted aged 18 without their consent. His sister produced a pile of tattered letters for Sylvia to read. One on 23 February 1916 read....

'Dear Mother...we were in the trenches and I was ill, so I went out and they took me to prison and I am in a bit of trouble now, and won't gte any money for a long time. I will have to go in front of a Court. I will try my best to get out of it, so don't worry. But, dear Mother, try to send some money, not very much but try your best. I will let you know in my next how I get on'.

There was no next. Dated 8 April 1916 the following official documen arrived..

'Sir,

I am directed to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office to the effect that No......,11th Battn, Middlesex Regiment,GS, was sentenced after trial by court martial to suffer death by being shot for desertion, and the sentence was duly executed on 20 March 1916'.

Letters like these were published at the time in the 'Dreadnought'. Sylvia began to gather more information about other executions at the front.

For more detail about this case see Corns and Hughes-Wilson pages 316-9. I also believe a book has been published on this case.

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Thanks, Alan, really interesting. All this points up the fact that Sylvia Pankhurst campaigned to expose the fate of those who were executed, not to have their families lied to or for the blow to be softened somehow. There must be some misinterpretation here about Sylvia Pankhurst's campaign and its aims.

Perhaps the book should've argued that the alledged change in policy in not telling families about their relative being executed was prompted by the anti-war stirrings by the likes of Sylvia Pankhurst. But what would be the point? They'd soon find out when their request for a pension in respect of the dead man was refused..., why, because he was executed.

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So Fussell and Harrison would appear to contradict each other. If Pankhurst was actively publishing details of executions it must have been well known to the public.

I have a similar thread here. Could it be that after the bloodshed on the Somme the term 'died' or 'died of wounds' was used to inform NoK to their relatives fate and somewhat cushion the blow to the growing casualty lists whilst Pankhurst was still campaigning for the true reasons to be known.

Jon

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I've been looking through a large library dedicated to Sylvia Pankurst, but haven't found anything yet. One of the problems is that the authors did not necessarily use the term 'shot at dawn.'

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