Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Lancashire Fusilier

Shot at dawn - British WW1 Military Executions.

Recommended Posts

Lancashire Fusilier

I was surprised to come across this account of an execution for desertion in a newspaper from 1916, i had thought executions of soldiers was hushed up at the time?

Derek,

A very interesting report, and I agree, that was a surprise to learn that the execution of an individual soldier was brought up in Parliament at the time.

I noted, there were 2 soldiers executed with the last name of ' Hope '. T. Hope was executed 2/3/1915, and he was the subject of the Parliamentary question, and R. Hope executed 5/17/1917.

Regards,

LF

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Derek Black

Ah, two men called Hope eh? Thanks for that.

Derek,

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
kennywoode

For anyone interested, I came across this entry in the 11th Brigade AIF war diary for January 1917. It refers to Pioneer E Beeby 212th Field Company R.E. His number is quoted as 59175 and I realize this is different to the above list.

 

59175 Pioneer E Beeby 212th Field Company R.E. was tried by Field General Court Martial on the following charge: "When on active service, Deserting His Majesty's Service".

The accused absented himself from the neighborhood of the front line till apprehended at a base port 2 days later when he then gave an untrue account of himself.

The sentence of the court was "To suffer death by being shot"   The sentence was duly carried out at 6.27am on 9th December 1916.

Edited by kennywoode
obvious mistake.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
WhiteStarLine

Are you sure about this?  The AIF (Australian Imperial Force) did not execute soldiers, the 11th AIF brigade did not yet exist in January 1916, its field company was the 11th Field Company and the soldier 59175 was Joseph STARLING, a private in 20th battalion, who returned to Australia in November 1916.

Cheers, Bill

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Auimfo

Beeby was a British soldier with the Royal engineers - not an Australian.

 

 

 

Edited by Auimfo

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
David Filsell

Pour encourge les autres?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Chris_Baker

Standard communication through Routine Orders.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Auimfo

Hmmm.  I just noticed that kennywoode states the entry was made in the 11th Brigade War Diary in January 1916 describing an execution that occurred in December 1916.  Now, unless the diarist was clairvoyant and could see 12 months into the future, I'm guessing he meant the January 1917 War Diary.   So I just skimmed through all 205 pages but couldn't see the entry anywhere.  (Although admittedly, I wasn't being completely thorough).

 

Cheers,

Tim L.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
John_Hartley

According to "Shot at Dawn", having arrived at the port, Beeby tried to join a group going on leave but was detected.

 

FWIW, his number was 89173, not 59175 as quoted by kennywoode (to whom I offer welcome for his first post on a usually interesting subject)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
themonsstar

Here is the same from GRO France Dec 1916

GRO Dec 1916 Beeby.JPG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
kennywoode

Re my post on E Beeby 212th Field Company R.E. To all the well informed. I never suggested he was an Australian, I thought the R.E. (ROYAL ENGINEERS) after his Company number would be sufficient to distinguish that.

Please take the time to read appendix No. 8, dated January 1917, signed by G F Wootten, Brigade Major 11th Infantry Brigade A.I.F. (AWM collections First war diaries)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
John_Hartley

The last couple of posts are, on one level, interesting in themselves in that Roy's extract from the General Routine Orders records the execution of two men yet the Australian brigade diary only mentions Beeby. In fact, I wonder why even mentioning Beeby was considered relevent as the death penalty wasn't carried out on Australian soldiers.

 

That raises a query for me - were Australians sentenced to death, even in the full knowledge that it would be commuted?

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
themonsstar

The Australian CM file WO93/42 gives  all of the Oz soldiers who had a FGCM.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
brianmorris547

I noticed this in the WD of 1 Royal Munster Fusiliers (29 Div, Gallipoli).

01/07/1915: Pte Davis' sentence promulgated.

02/07/1915: Sentence of death on Pte Davis carried out.

Nothing in the Brigade or 29 Div HQ WDs and nothing to say if Pte Davis was serving in the Munsters, in Gallipoli or in France.

Does sound like Pour encourager les autres.

Brian

Edited by brianmorris547

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
2 hours ago, brianmorris547 said:

I noticed this in the WD of 1 Royal Munster Fusiliers (29 Div, Gallipoli).

01/07/1915: Pte Davis' sentence promulgated.

02/07/1915: Sentence of death on Pte Davis carried out.

Nothing in the Brigade or 29 Div HQ WDs and nothing to say if Pte Davis was serving in the Munsters, in Gallipoli or in France.

Does sound like Pour encourager las autres.

Brian

 

1st Bn Royal Munster Fusiliers were in Gallipoli on the date (as I think you are aware). There would be no reason to inform a Gallipoli (Gully Beach) based battalion of an execution in France (or vice versa) and no logistical way of communicating this in less than 24 hours: promulgation to  execution). Unsurprisingly he is commemorated on the Helles Memorial which itself is slightly odd as it suggest no known grave. Presumably its location was lost after the evacuation. 

 

Separately on a general note, I have never quite understood the disproportionate obsession and hand-wringing with SAD and the British Government's ridiculous 'pardoning'. It fails to acknowledge the binary realities of total war.* ..and the fact that the British ARmy did not have a mass mutiny during its gruelling time on the Western Front. One doesn't tend to hear the same level of thunderous objection from the Ranks in 1914-18.  Judging the past by back-fitting a modern morality always seems an odd thing to do. Some commentators have allegedly  described SAD  'barbaric', without providing qualifiers: the fact they were executed or the methodology or the (military) crime? .....whilst failing to acknowledge the death sentence was still being used asl late as 1964 in the UK,  in France  (by Guillotine in 1977) in (East) Germany in 1987 and in the US less than three weeks ago. Execution has been used by most countries in the world at some stage in their history and recent history to boot. 

 

* Incidentally  the numbers bandied around are ( I think) inaccurate and miss a few Indian Army executions if the IEF-A diaries are to be believed. Possibly names lost in the racially biased times. Men who were executed on the Western Front and are completely forgotten by most Anglo-centric commentators.

 

 

 

Edited by Guest

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
John_Hartley

Davis was serving with the Munsters and had been convicted of quitting his post (his defence being he had dysentery and was in the latrines). According to the book "Shot at Dawn", he had previous convictions, including one for cowardice.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
brianmorris547

Thank you both for the clarification. I could not find any reference to him in the RMF WD.

Brian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hedley Malloch
18 hours ago, QGE said:

... (snip) ...

Separately on a general note, I have never quite understood the disproportionate obsession and hand-wringing with SAD and the British Government's ridiculous 'pardoning'. It fails to acknowledge the binary realities of total war.* ..and the fact that the British ARmy did not have a mass mutiny during its gruelling time on the Western Front. One doesn't tend to hear the same level of thunderous objection from the Ranks in 1914-18.  Judging the past by back-fitting a modern morality always seems an odd thing to do. Some commentators have allegedly  described SAD  'barbaric', without providing qualifiers: the fact they were executed or the methodology or the (military) crime? .....whilst failing to acknowledge the death sentence was still being used asl late as 1964 in the UK,  in France  (by Guillotine in 1977) in (East) Germany in 1987 and in the US less than three weeks ago. Execution has been used by most countries in the world at some stage in their history and recent history to boot. 

 

“Hand-wringing”? “Disproportionate obsession”? “Ridiculous pardoning” ? If you had spent some time with the descendants of those soldiers shot at dawn you would be less inclined to use cavalier language like this.

Comparisons with the use of the death sentence in civilian life are inappropriate since the vast majority of soldiers were shot for offences and under procedures which had no equivalent in civil criminal law. A better starting point for comparison would be what other armies were doing at the same time. Why, for example, did the German army only shoot 18 of its members to our 306? The answer to that question would involve a comparison of King’s Regs and the German military penal code, and  structure of decision making in the German army.

With respect to the back fitting of a modern morality, the fact is that the operation of the death penalty in the British Army during WW1 worked in a racially prejudiced and socially discriminatory way. Irish and black soldiers were shot in numbers out of all proportion to their numbers enrolled whilst only 2 officers were shot. That was immoral then and it is equally immoral now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
John_Hartley
13 minutes ago, Hedley Malloch said:

That was immoral then and it is equally immoral now.

Different time, different place. Societies change.

 

It's more important to fight today's battles than to try and keep refighting those of a century ago.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
5 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

 

“Hand-wringing”? “Disproportionate obsession”? “Ridiculous pardoning” ? If you had spent some time with the descendants of those soldiers shot at dawn you would be less inclined to use cavalier language like this.

Comparisons with the use of the death sentence in civilian life are inappropriate since the vast majority of soldiers were shot for offences and under procedures which had no equivalent in civil criminal law. A better starting point for comparison would be what other armies were doing at the same time. Why, for example, did the German army only shoot 18 of its members to our 306? The answer to that question would involve a comparison of King’s Regs and the German military penal code, and  structure of decision making in the German army.

With respect to the back fitting of a modern morality, the fact is that the operation of the death penalty in the British Army during WW1 worked in a racially prejudiced and socially discriminatory way. Irish and black soldiers were shot in numbers out of all proportion to their numbers enrolled whilst only 2 officers were shot. That was immoral then and it is equally immoral now.

 

I'll stick with my view. 306 SAD of around 5 million is about 0.006% of all the men who served in the British Army. It is a tiny proportion, so I would argue all the attention and column inches in the press and pardoning is completely disproportionate. I also think 'pardoning' is meaningless.  More men were accidentally killed by their own troops.  No-one is suggesting the Govt apologies for these ghastly consequences of the Great War.  Where do we stop in apologising for historical laws? Or should we simply apologise for the whole of our history of capital punishment. On that note  Is Guy Fawkes going to get a pardon this weekend?

 

Are you really suggesting that the Irish were singled out to be SAD?  A cursory stab at the tiny data suggests most Irish SADs were serving in Irish regiments, commanded in the main by Irish Officers and Irish General Officers. Exactly a third of the Irish infantry SAD were also serving in Irish formations - the 16th (Irish) Div and the 36th (Ulster Div) in equal proportions.  presumably their Irish Officers had something to do with it.....or are you suggesting that Kitchener (who had the last say in the matter for the majority of cases) has some Scottish bias against his fellow celts in the shape of the Irish? Curious to understand the foundations of this claim. Oddly not a single man from the Royal Irish Regiment or the Connaught Rangers was SAD or indeed the London Irish during the Great War.  Being SAD had a higher correlation with the  type of regiment and formation rather than the ethnicity of the individual. 

 

Given the massive expansion of the Army, particularly  in England (due to high population densities), there were (proportionally) far more English New Army battalions for the simple fact that only England among the home nations had the requisite combination population and conscription. Ireland (low population and exempt conscription) continually failed to sustain numbers for its New Army formations and as they were gradually merged or were disbanded or propped up by English conscripts, the Irish remnants were continually transferred and used to sustain the Irish character of the regular Irish battalions. Consequently we see a huge massive skew in the demographic dynamics of Irish Regiments through the war that we don't see in English Scottish or Welsh Regiments: proportionally more Irishmen served in Regular battalions* and consequently met the full force of harsher regimes. It is factors such as these which are probably more causal than some imagined prejudice against the Irish in my view. I would argue it is glaringly obvious to anyone who can be bothered to do the 5 minutes of research. 

 

In the remote chance that you have not already done so, I would encourage you to read "The Irish Regiments in the Great War: Discipline and Morale" by Timothy Bowman. He does a fairly thorough job of tacking this issue although completely misses the point above.

 

As for the other racial allegations, I cant help notice that all the Chinese SADs were for murder and all three Cape Coloured Labour Regt SADs were for murder leaving a single British West Indies soldier SAD for desertion. Not exactly overwhelming evidence supporting your claim of racial prejudice...One non-caucasian individual...... you might also consider the proportion of the Indian Army SAD as a % of their 1.7 million enlisted. I think there is very little evidence to support this fanciful idea. It is about as far-fetched as the idea that a quarter of Scottish soldiers died. 

 

* SADs and the proportion (%) who served in Regular Battalions

English & Welsh Battalions:   39%

Scottish Battalions:                  35%

Irish Battalions:                         63%

UK Battalions                             39%

 

 

Edited by Guest

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hedley Malloch
4 hours ago, John_Hartley said:

Different time, different place. Societies change.

 

It's more important to fight today's battles than to try and keep refighting those of a century ago.

 

I disagree entirely, John. In fact, for organisations to recognise wrongs of today, it is important that they recognise that these behaviours have a long history. But we’ll agree to diasagree on this one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hedley Malloch
1 hour ago, QGE said:

 

I'll stick with my view. 306 SAD of around 5 million is about 0.006% of all the men who served in the British Army. It is a tiny proportion, so I would argue all the attention and column inches in the press and pardoning is completely disproportionate. I also think 'pardoning' is meaningless.  More men were accidentally killed by their own troops.  Where do we stop in apologising for historical laws? Or should we simply apologise for the whole of our history of capital punishment. On that note  Is Guy Fawkes going to get a pardon this weekend?

 

 

 

You need to read the evidence submitted by the Irish government to HMG in 2002 as to why the latter should award unconditional pardons. Now, I am quoting from memory - I have just moved house and all my files and papers are in boxes in storage facilités. But from memory the Irish government pointed out that with no fewer than 26 Irish born soldiers had been executed. This represented a rate of execution which was four times greater than the rate of Irish enlistment. More damningly, they point to a culture of anti-catholicism and anti-Irishness which was deeply embedded in English culture generally, and within the English officer class in particular. Irish catholics were viewed as inherently treacherous. Fair trials were impossible.

 

When do we stop apologising for ‘historical laws’? When they stop being current issues and problems, that’s when. Between 1995-2006, this was a problem for both HMG and the Irish government. Pardons for all Irish SAD was about the only issue on which the DUP and Sinn Feinn agreed. The key case was Private Crozier, the only Ulster SAD, and not Harry Farr as is popularly imagined. The Irish government said unless HMG pardoned them all, then they would do so. The prospect of the Irish government pardoning U.K. citizens raised too many post-Good Friday constitutional problems and niceties, so HMG conceded pardons.

 

The pardon rate for soldiers condemned to death was about 90%. Much is made of this by SAD apologists. But for black soldiers, it fell to 50%. How do you account for this? Similarly, how do you explain that so few officers were shot?  “Cowardice” was socially construed. If one was an officer, educated in a public school, trained a Guards Regiment, and with the right social connections, there was no way one would be shot. One would be managed out of the situation long before the possibility arose. On the other hand, if one was Irish, illiterate, undefended and with a habit of telling officers to be about their business, then one had a problem. These dual standards are many things - but they are not justice, fair or otherwise.

 

Share this post


Link to post
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

×