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Lancashire Fusilier

Shot at dawn - British WW1 Military Executions.

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Gunner Bailey

Thanks for publishing the legal extracts. Going back to my earlier post I'm sure there were a couple / few SAD's possibly including an officer who never went near the front line. I'm working from memory from when I reviewed the topic a few years ago. When I get time I'll go back to the books.

 

John

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1 hour ago, Muerrisch said:

May well be so, but the Manual itself is written in good enough English for an officer [presumably educated sufficiently to be an officer] to understand the meaning and the intention and the definitions.

If so, a case depended on "was he guilty as charged?", which is hardly a matter for interpretation.

Sentencing and review are totally sparate considerations I believe.

 

Grumpy. I am not sure I would agree. Your arguments conjure up images of Blackadder's Court Martial and the Defence.

 

 

Law is not that binary. As an example, with desertion one would need to prove intent, which is a state of mind. The largest changes in the data I have trawled are downgrading Desertion to Absence. This suggests (to me at least) that some consideration was given to more the more complex nuances. We have to remember that in 1914-15 the Army was chronically short of everything, including trained lawyers and trained Officers.at least 23%* of Officers were ex-rankers who might have had a more 'practical' interpretation of the law and seen it from a soldiers and an Officers persepctive. It would be fascinating to see an ex-ranker Officer's perspective of a FGCM. 

 

Much is made of the small number of Officer convictions (although SMEBE shows many thousands of lesser crimes). Trawling the data it is difficult to spot NCOs (although they do get caught). The correlation between rank and the likelihood of FGCM is inverse. The important point is that few SNCOs and very few WOs were (proportionally) charged; the 'divide was not simply Officers v Other Ranks  - it was far more graded. 

 

*some sources argue significantly more: in excess of 50%. 

 

MG

 

 

Edited by Guest

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Muerrisch

#197 above is written in reasonable prose and I would very much hope that a soldier newly commissioned from the ranks would have been educated to the standard necessary to understand any nuances therein ......... not that I can find much in the way of nuances.

I knew two people from that era very well, my maternal grandpa [who served] and grandma. In my opinion neither would struggle torecognise desertion as defined and described. This is, of course, very subjective and my opinion carries no more weight than that of any other.

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Steven Broomfield

Am I right in recalling that Sassoon, in his memoirs (not his George Sherston persona) was on a Court Martial board with another subaltern and a more senior officer? IIRC, he and the other sub decided the due punishment for whatever it was would have to be death. The older officer saw more sense.

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7Y&LP

For those that have not read it I would recommend 'The Secret Battle' written by AP Herbert and published in 1919, Herbert served with the RND, the book is an interesting view of SAD by one who was there - I would also second the support for 'The Middle Parts of Fortune' (the un-Bowdlerised version of 'Her Privates We') by Frederic Manning, someone who was also there but recounts a decidedly different viewpoint.

With regard to charges of cowardice is it not be the case that the charge would need to be made by a rank senior to  that of the accused ? For example a Sgt could accuse a Pvt of cowardice and have action taken, or a Capt accuse a Sgt etc but a Pte accusing a Capt of the same would get short shrift ? In 'The Secret Battle' it is a Ltn being accused by a more senior officer. There is also the issue of there being more Privates than NCO's so you would expect the former to be charged in greater numbers.

  I am reminded of Spike Milligan writing of his WW2 experiences: one man running away is cowardice, a unit running away is a 'strategic withdrawal'

Edited by 7Y&LP

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Muerrisch
19 minutes ago, Steven Broomfield said:

Am I right in recalling that Sassoon, in his memoirs (not his George Sherston persona) was on a Court Martial board with another subaltern and a more senior officer? IIRC, he and the other sub decided the due punishment for whatever it was would have to be death. The older officer saw more sense.

 

Yes, I recognise the anecdote.

Fortunately "or some lesser punishment" usually allowed latitude at the sentencing stage.

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squirrel

I remember reading somewhere some notes from an officers training course with regard to the framing of charges, "Never charge a man under section 40 if you can charge him under another section". Presumably this refers to "Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline" or am I mistaken and what would the reason for this be?

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ss002d6252
2 hours ago, squirrel said:

I remember reading somewhere some notes from an officers training course with regard to the framing of charges, "Never charge a man under section 40 if you can charge him under another section". Presumably this refers to "Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline" or am I mistaken and what would the reason for this be?

S40 covered "Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline". I'd suspect the order was to charge men under the specific section that met their offence, if there was one, as that would be tailored towards what the army wanted for punishment and more likely to get the required outcome.

 

Craig

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ilkley remembers

For anyone who is particularly interested in executions in the British Army in WW1 I can recommend the following research which was carried out by Daniel L Chen, an American professor of law and economics  at Toulouse University.

 

https://www.kcl.ac.uk/law/newsevents/eventrecords/The-Deterrent-Effect-of-the-Death-Penalty.pdf

 

This was completed last year and ,although, it relates to the deterrent effects of the death penalty on the British Army between 1914 and 1918, it includes considerable comment on the process of disciple. The application of the discipline code to Irish units is a particular concern and Chen agrees he with Gerard Oram's assertion that they were subject to beliefs about their apparent degeneracy.

 

Chen relies on a statistical approach as well as modelling techniques to predict outcomes, which is befitting of someone whose background is in disciplines in which favour this type of analysis. He does not for example refer much to eye witness or descriptive accounts, which is a challenge to those used to more orthodox and traditional historical research. This, I would imagine, will elicit some marked criticism.

 

This piece, which runs to 167 pages, is not an easy read and a degree in maths will probably be of some help, however, it is worth persevering with. His conclusion about the deterrent effect of death sentences on Irish troops is rather intrigueing. 

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ss002d6252
3 hours ago, squirrel said:

I remember reading somewhere some notes from an officers training course with regard to the framing of charges, "Never charge a man under section 40 if you can charge him under another section". Presumably this refers to "Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline" or am I mistaken and what would the reason for this be?

Just checked the manual of military law - the Army Act prevented s40 being used where there was a specific offence so it looks like it was legal requirement rather than just a charging decision for the officer (although it nicely points out that a wrongful charge under s40 does not invalidate any conviction)
Capture.PNG.070eae3d603fc1e7f08470126fecd8f7.PNG

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Guest

Irish Context. In simple terms alcohol was a factor in half of all charges and the sole factor in a third of all charges.

 

Larger sampling: 1,025 cases shows that 53% of all cases included "Drunkenness" of which 35% were only for "Drunkenness".Here is the breakdown of the first 1,025 FGCMs starting in Aug 1914 to Aug 1915. The study is an 18% sample. Also shown is the breakdown of charges involving 'Drunkenness' (the single largest category) which might indicate relative underlying challenges at Regimental level.  The Royal Irish Rifles clearly stand out on all counts. It is worth noting that the sample is only for the Western Front. RDF, RMF and RInnisF all had a regular Battalion in 29th Div (overseas stations  then Gallipoli). IG had one Battalion until Jul 1915. Connaught Rangers amalgamated its two regular Battalions in Dec 1915.  RIR, RIF and Leinsters had battalions in 27th Div which did not arrive in France until end 1914.  The RIRifles had both regular Battalions in theatre, (3rd Div and 8th Div) which might explain the skew. 

 

 

 

Breakdown by unit of 1,025 FGCM

RIRif 180 18%
Leinsters 164 16%
RDF 107 10%
RIF 93 9%
Connaughts 89 9%
RIR 86 8%
RMF 78 8%
RInnisF 69 7%
IG 59 6%
5th RIL 31 3%
4th RIDG 28 3%
NIH 14 1%
6th Innis D 12 1%
8th KRIH 11 1%
SIH 4 0%
  1,025

100%

 

Breakdown by unit of charges including Drunkenness.

RIRif 70 13%
Leinsters 76 14%
RDF 74 14%
RIF 45 8%
CR 47 9%
RIR 52 10%
RMF 60 11%
RInnisF 32 6%
IG 27 5%
5th RIL 11 2%
4th RIDG 16 3%
NIH 11 2%
6th Innis D 5 1%
8th KRIH 8 1%
SIH 2 0%
  536 100%
Edited by Guest

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Guest
2 minutes ago, ss002d6252 said:

Just checked the manual of military law - the Army Act prevented s40 being used where there was a specific offence so it looks like it was legal requirement rather than just a charging decision for the officer (although it nicely points out that a wrongful charge under s40 does not invalidate any conviction)
 

 

That is interesting. Bowman's study include men charged with "Drunkenness and S40" as well as "Disobedience and S40"

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ss002d6252

Just having a quick scan through the previously linked thesis - there are certainly some points raised in it that are open to being well argued.

 

(I find the referencing a bit dodgy in places,  one reference simply being " Email on December 24, 2007 from Gerard Oram ")

 

Craig

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ss002d6252
1 minute ago, QGE said:

 

That is interesting. Bowman's study include men charged with "Drunkenness and S40" as well as "Disobedience and S40"

I would imagine that as the charging under it was not invalidated if it was wrong then a charging officer who was not on your side may well stick the boot in and hit you with both.

Craig

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18 minutes ago, ilkley remembers said:

For anyone who is particularly interested in executions in the British Army in WW1 I can recommend the following research which was carried out by Daniel L Chen, an American professor of law and economics  at Toulouse University.

 

https://www.kcl.ac.uk/law/newsevents/eventrecords/The-Deterrent-Effect-of-the-Death-Penalty.pdf

 

This was completed last year and ,although, it relates to the deterrent effects of the death penalty on the British Army between 1914 and 1918, it includes considerable comment on the process of disciple. The application of the discipline code to Irish units is a particular concern and Chen agrees he with Gerard Oram's assertion that they were subject to beliefs about their apparent degeneracy.

 

Chen relies on a statistical approach as well as modelling techniques to predict outcomes, which is befitting of someone whose background is in disciplines in which favour this type of analysis. He does not for example refer much to eye witness or descriptive accounts, which is a challenge to those used to more orthodox and traditional historical research. This, I would imagine, will elicit some marked criticism.

 

This piece, which runs to 167 pages, is not an easy read and a degree in maths will probably be of some help, however, it is worth persevering with. His conclusion about the deterrent effect of death sentences on Irish troops is rather intrigueing. 

 

Thank you for posting. . I suspect this might create some controversy and may partially answer questions on whether certain sub groups were more prone to certain behaviour. 

 

"Section 5 delineates the definition of “Irish” between surname, birthplace, and regiment and explores in detail these distinctions. I use the available data to evaluate the use of Irish surname as a marker of Irish identity. I geolocate the birthplace, enlistment locations, and residential addresses available in the Police Gazettes, Soldiers Died in the Great War database, and Service and Pension Records. Several findings emerge. First, I verify that deaths appear to be representative of the enlisted population, rendering the casualties database a geographic baseline of enlistees. Second, Northern-Irish born were twice as likely to desert as British-born soldiers, which assuages some of the concern that the use of the Irish surname does not distinguish between Southern and Northern Irish."

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voltaire60
3 hours ago, QGE said:

 

Thank you for posting. . I suspect this might create some controversy and may partially answer questions on whether certain sub groups were more prone to certain behaviour. 

 

"Section 5 delineates the definition of “Irish” between surname, birthplace, and regiment and explores in detail these distinctions. I use the available data to evaluate the use of Irish surname as a marker of Irish identity. I geolocate the birthplace, enlistment locations, and residential addresses available in the Police Gazettes, Soldiers Died in the Great War database, and Service and Pension Records. Several findings emerge. First, I verify that deaths appear to be representative of the enlisted population, rendering the casualties database a geographic baseline of enlistees. Second, Northern-Irish born were twice as likely to desert as British-born soldiers, which assuages some of the concern that the use of the Irish surname does not distinguish between Southern and Northern Irish."

 

       Not really.  As the Great War was 1914 to 1918 and "Northern Ireland" only hove into view in 1921-1922, then trying to assess proclivity to offend by post-event area is as pointless as whether people with fair hair offended more or  those who wore spectacles. All 3 measures have their shortcomings, while it assumes also that "Northern Ireland" has a uniformity across it, which is far from the case.  I would be more impressed (but not by much) of City of Dublin was compared to City of Belfast-  both for place of birth and residence.  As for surname analysis- utter junk. I have it on good authority that there are people called "Smith" and "Brown" in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.  And, for the barminess of this, neither "Griffiths" (as in first President) nor De Valera  would rate as Irish.

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30 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

 

       Not really.  As the Great War was 1914 to 1918 and "Northern Ireland" only hove into view in 1921-1922, then trying to assess proclivity to offend by post-event area is as pointless as whether people with fair hair offended more or  those who wore spectacles. All 3 measures have their shortcomings, while it assumes also that "Northern Ireland" has a uniformity across it, which is far from the case.  I would be more impressed (but not by much) of City of Dublin was compared to City of Belfast-  both for place of birth and residence.  As for surname analysis- utter junk. I have it on good authority that there are people called "Smith" and "Brown" in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.  And, for the barminess of this, neither "Griffiths" (as in first President) nor De Valera  would rate as Irish.

 

 

I was highly skeptical about the surname analysis due to the potential overlapping, but he seems to have pared the long list down to those names that were dominant. So names that were common to all cultures were excluded; Smith, Brown, etc....by contrast 'Murphy' - the most common surname in Ireland is assumed to be Irish and those named Murphy born in England, Scotland, Wales etc are assumed to be of Irish descent.   The data is probability weighted based on the report below. While checking this out I stumbled on a a wonderful publication called

 

""Special report on surnames in Ireland, with notes as to numerical strength, derivation, ethnology, and distribution; based on information extracted from the indexes of the General register office

 

Which is the underlying original report that the modern digitized data is taken from. As a cross check he uses frequency analysis of these names against Irish units' Medal records (he appears to have convinced the National Archives to hand over their database of Medals Indexes - some 5,000,000 odd records) and he also cross checks against SDGW where place of birth is given, ditto Police Gazette lists... it is all geo-referenced..... the interesting aspect of his research is that he has taken a number of large databases, digitised them and spliced them together and even cross referenced all 3,000 odd  BEF desertion records by biographic data and unit, Bn, bde, Div, CO, Bde and Div commanders etc...a truly rearkable piece of work. . and then he runs at least three separate models, all of which generally concur....

 

Every methodology has its strengths and weaknesses and he seems to have taken great pains to quantify his data a purge it of bad data.  Some of the conclusions  are really quite interesting and at least introduce some large scale sampling  as a substitute for conjecture. That at least is a step forward. 

 

As one simple example, he has digitised the Weekly Absentee data from the Police Gazette which have plenty of data on the individual including

 

"Office Number, Name, Rank, Regiment Number, Corps (Battalion Number, Battalion, and Regiment), Age, Height, Complexion, Hair, Eye Color, Trade (civilian occupation), Enlistment Date, Enlistment Place, Birth Place (Parish and County), Desertion Date, Desertion Place, Marks and Remarks"

 

Using this he can show the proportion of men by place of birth/enlistment who deserted. The Irish born were more than twice as likely to desert as British soldiers not born in Ireland. Men born in Southern Ireland and men born in Northern Ireland (read Ulster) had markedly different rates of desertion; both far greater than British born. A simple hard fact that is difficult to dispute. Given the strong correlation between desertion and the death penalty, it might go some way to explain any perceived skew in the Irish data. regarding the death penalty.  This is really quite interesting contextural data and given it is taken from primary sources, I think it is fairly robust. At the very least it might make some people question their preconceptions. 

 

Interestingly he believes he can isolate the British born men of Irish descent; something that has eluded academics for some time. It greatly increases the number of 'Irish' who served based on this definition. This itself is worth exploring further. What he cant do is any religious split. 

 

My only criticism is that he appears to not realise that there was no conscription in Ireland, which steers his conclusions slightly in the wrong direction on one aspect. 

 

MG

Edited by Guest

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voltaire60
2 minutes ago, QGE said:

As one simple example, he has digitised the Weekly Absentee data from the Police Gazette which have plenty of data on the individual including

 

"Office Number, Name, Rank, Regiment Number, Corps (Battalion Number, Battalion, and Regiment), Age, Height, Complexion, Hair, Eye Color, Trade (civilian occupation), Enlistment Date, Enlistment Place, Birth Place (Parish and County), Desertion Date, Desertion Place, Marks and Remarks"

 

 

   Thank you Martin- The Special Report is a wonderful piece of nonsense  (Joyce's books on Irish names are good reading with a glass of something the Excise would tax by your side) .  Now-as the Police Gazette gives details of hair and eye colours, then I expect you to have a statistical analysis by the morrow.  To me, one item of interest (which is probably in the analysis) is-  statistical relationship between Irish volunteer and non-Irish conscript from 1916. The plus side of Ireland's involvement in the war is that although conscription was a no-no, ergo, those Irish who did serve were proportionately more volunteers, even in the last 2 years. But as Irish regiments became progressively less and less Irish, then the behaviour of their non-Irish conscript members would be an interesting control. Were they less, more likely to offend-or is it the same? As the military authorities went to some trouble to preserve the territorial structure of the army, at least by unit name, as the war progressed, then the existence of "Irish" units was a political necessity rather than a military one. 

       This is not an idle question. I did some work for a lady whose forebear was killed as a regular with the A and S in 1914.  A look at the unit's war diary  and the service records of some of the men in that battalion  showed astonishing levels of drunkenness. When it comes to  matters concerning  multiple offenders, then the well-known stuff on military sociology about men owning their loyalties in small groups to their fellow platoon/squad members may work in reverse- that is,  that some types of offending might be "catching", for whatever reason. Hence my little query above re 3 RIR- a back-area unit in England (Durrington?) at the end of the war which has an outbreak of multiple AWOL/desertion. At unit level, one has to factor in the old John Locke conundrum of nature v nurture.-  with very heavy losses in a great many units, then was some form of offending variable because of the collective experience of those surviving in those units (Yes,  Charles Wilson/Moran "stock of bravery" argument)-ie If the old adage in my area is" Is it the pig that makes the sty or the sty that makes the pig", then did desertion rates in particular vary with unit experience?

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17 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

 

   Thank you Martin- The Special Report is a wonderful piece of nonsense  (Joyce's books on Irish names are good reading with a glass of something the Excise would tax by your side) .  Now-as the Police Gazette gives details of hair and eye colours, then I expect you to have a statistical analysis by the morrow.  To me, one item of interest (which is probably in the analysis) is-  statistical relationship between Irish volunteer and non-Irish conscript from 1916. The plus side of Ireland's involvement in the war is that although conscription was a no-no, ergo, those Irish who did serve were proportionately more volunteers, even in the last 2 years. But as Irish regiments became progressively less and less Irish, then the behaviour of their non-Irish conscript members would be an interesting control. Were they less, more likely to offend-or is it the same? As the military authorities went to some trouble to preserve the territorial structure of the army, at least by unit name, as the war progressed, then the existence of "Irish" units was a political necessity rather than a military one. 

       This is not an idle question. I did some work for a lady whose forebear was killed as a regular with the A and S in 1914.  A look at the unit's war diary  and the service records of some of the men in that battalion  showed astonishing levels of drunkenness. When it comes to  matters concerning  multiple offenders, then the well-known stuff on military sociology about men owning their loyalties in small groups to their fellow platoon/squad members may work in reverse- that is,  that some types of offending might be "catching", for whatever reason. Hence my little query above re 3 RIR- a back-area unit in England (Durrington?) at the end of the war which has an outbreak of multiple AWOL/desertion. At unit level, one has to factor in the old John Locke conundrum of nature v nurture.-  with very heavy losses in a great many units, then was some form of offending variable because of the collective experience of those surviving in those units (Yes,  Charles Wilson/Moran "stock of bravery" argument)-ie If the old adage in my area is" Is it the pig that makes the sty or the sty that makes the pig", then did desertion rates in particular vary with unit experience?

 

To answer your query from what I have read, Chen's analysis shows  (based on geolocated data i.e place of birth is known): 

 

1. The non Irish Conscript was less likely to desert than the average and the Irish volunteers were more likely to desert than the average. Based on place of birth:

 - Northen Irish enlistees were 110% more likely to desert in France and Flanders than the average (page 58)

 - Southern Irish enlistees were 270% more likely to desert in France and Flanders than the average (page 58)

 - British enlistees with non- Irish surnames were 15% less likely to desert in France and Flanders than the average(page 59)

 

Although he uses Irish surnames as his benchmark rather than service in an Irish Regiment (were he notes 27% were born outside of Ireland), the relative trends different little. He argues that regardless of which methodology is used (place of birth, surname) the data is very similar and neither approaches indicates that the "decision to execute or commute was unrelated to the soldier's Irish identity".

 

2. There is a very low correlation between desertion, death sentences  etc with major Battles. 

 

Separately

RIR desertion in Dec 1918 was part of a broader upsurge in desertions. As you know the 3rd Bn was a Reserve Bn and the holding pace for men in the UK - most of whom would have served and been recovering wounded etc. Post Armistice men wanted to be demobilized but the authorities dithered. Desertions across the whole Army spiked as did small scale mutinies. 

 

Edit. The speed at which Irish Battalions became less and less Irish was not as fast as we might think; the consolidation of Irish Battalions and the disbandment of battalion helped re-allocate the surpluses into the remaining battalions. 

Edited by Guest

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Gunner Bailey
On 11/8/2017 at 10:08, John_Hartley said:

John

 

I'm not sure you're correct there. I can't think of anyone who was convicted and executed for, say, desertion, without having been in the forward zone. Doesnt a phrase like "in the face of the enemy" appear in military law?

 

John

Last night I had a quick scan of Blindfold and Alone and came up with some examples of what I meant by soldiers who were not in the front line deserting.

 

Cpl George Latham - 2nd Bt Lancashire Fusiliers. Arrived in France joined the retreat from Mons and deserted in 3 days. Unlikely to have faced the Germans or sustained shelling.

 

Private George Mills 2nd DCLI - Officer's servant in billets a few days after arriving in France. Absconded with stolen items. Found dressed as a officer at Boulogne. Committed cheque fraud. It was confirmed in the court papers that he had never been in action.

 

Private William Bowerman 1st Bt East Surrey Reg. Went Absent from Rouen, arrested absconded again, given 5 years hard labour suspended. Sent to his battalion in support trenches and absconded in an hour. Caught at Boulogne. Confirmation of sentence included phrase '(b) he has no intention of fighting for his country.'

 

These were not the examples I was thinking of, but will do. In each case there was no combat, no sustained shelling, no trench warfare.

 

There are more like this.

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Guest

The Manual of Military War makes it quite clear that "active service" is the key differentiator, not whether one was in contact with the enemy. Edit. Sir John French issued am Order in Sep 1914 reminding troops

 

"He wishes to point out that certain offences which in peace time are adequately met by a small sentence, assume, on active service, a gravity which wholly alters their character. This principle is fully recognized in Military Law; for instance, in the case of desertion, the Army Act in time of peace, permits a maximum sentence of two years’ duration only, whereas on active service, a Court is allowed to award a sentence of death for the same offence. Similar considerations apply to cases of looting and to other offences specified in Sections 4 and 6, Army Act"

 

My underlining.

 

For obvious reasons the Army needed men to be available at zero notice. It is impossible to manage an Army if soldiers can pick and choose when they are available. One does not need to be on the front line to be a deserter. Men who were absent were recorded on the daily muster rolls. If still absent for more than 21 days they were regarded as deserters - a crime under Military Law punishable by death; fact that every trained soldier would know. 

 

In in the eyes of Military Law where one was when one deserted was irrelevant. Deserting in France posed the additional hurdle of getting back to the UK. A large proportion of desertions happened in the UK during mobilisation (regulars and Reservists) and training (New Armies). In addition desertion happened after periods of home leave i.e men simply not returning from leave. There was a further spike in desertions in Dec 1914 by men eager to get home after the Armistice. 

 

The key aspect of desertion is the intent to avoid military service. The army saw nearly 140,000 men desert during the War - enough to man an Army Corps and more. I suspect Haig would have appreciated another 100,000 men when he wrote his "backs to the wall" order. Tens of thousands rejoined from desertion (they are recorded in the GARBA). Some authors cite Putkowski et al who claim that almost all deserters were caught. The GARBA data might suggest that this was simply not the case and many thousands managed to evade the authorities. I suspect that evading capture in France and Flanders and particularly in other theatres of the War was extremely difficult. I also suspect that the vast majority of sentences carried out were on men who deserted in a theatre of war rather than in some dusty garrison or in the UK during training.

 

in the example of the Fusilier who joined in 1914 during the retreat, the Military would not care a jot if he had seen a German. At any stage of the retreat and indeed at Le Cateau, Le Pilly, Etreux, Nery, etc the BEF had to turn and fight and needed every man. The whole BEF went on the offensive on 5th Sep 1914, something difficult to do if there had been mass desertions. 

 

Context of the numbers is important; Given the the sheer number of men who committed a capital offence of desertion during the war, it is interesting to note how few were actually Court Martialed. 

 

  General Annual Reports on the British Army 1913 -1919

.................................................1914       1915        1916        1917       1918        1919          Total

Struck off as Deserters:   3,280      40,375    26,520    21,838    26,272    21,618    139,903

Joined from Desertion:      3,772       8,706     11,462    11,526    14,587      9,841      59,894

 

Edit. If we only consider the 40,375 men who deserted in 1915, and compare this to the men who (re)Joined from Desertion in 1916, 1917 and 1918 the shortfall is still 2,800. If we are to belive Putkowski et al that most men were captured (within a short period) the best year of capture was 1918 when the equivalent of 55% of the number who had deserted that year rejoined.. Either way we look at the data the permanent losses run into the many tens of thousands. 

 

The year ends are 30th September. Even if we ignore 1914 and 1919, the total recorded as Deserters still remains 115,005 (or 80,009 if the returned deserters are factored in) The numbers SAD for desertion are less than 300 meaning roughly 0.25% of all deserters were  executed. To my mind that is an incredibly small percentage given they were all potentially facing death by execution. 

 

Courts Martial for Desertion 1914-1919

District Courts Martial Home..............................29,790

District Courts Martial Abroad..................................168

Field General Courts Martial Home...........................79

Field General Courts Martial Abroad.................34,660

Total..........................................................................64,697

 

Which suggests roughly less than half of men recorded as deserters actually went to trial. 

 

 

MG

 

Edited by Guest

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voltaire60

   Martin- An excellent piece of  research and most informative.  The overall tenor of the work on who was shot and who was not seems, after every possible variable is screened for statistical noise, is what everything else in war usually boils down to- bad luck.  IF that platoon sergeant wan't hostile in his evidence, IF that particular officer wasn't on the FGCM panel, etc, etc.

      The GARBA figures are startling-and still likely to be an underestimate- those who were quietly written off for reasons other than desertion.  What I have not seen across the years is the situation as regards deserters and how they were dealt with in 3 other ways:

1)  How  the War Office dealt with them as an administrative problem.  At some point, were the deserters of the Great War quietly written off by some back-office administrative diktat (eg- Were those who signed for "Duration of War" considered discharged with the "official" end of the war in 1921?)

      Deserters must have been picked up on a regular basis incidentally across the years. I have not zapped BNA but I suspect there came a point where magistrates and the Provost regarded them more as a nuisance to be administratively got rid of rather than any serious attempt to return them to the Colours.

 

2)  The 1939 Register must have thrown up some returnees- Of the 80,00-odd successful deserters, then the majority would still have been of call-up age (whether for military service or industry) come the Second World War. Wonder how that was dealt with.

 

3)  I have not seen anything on how those who deserted to the enemy were treated at the end of the war. "Crossing the line" happens in all armies in all wars  (Just been reading something which brings it to mind-Michael Woodbine Parrish "Aegean Adventures 1940-1943"  Parrish was a POW with David Stirling whose escape attempts were betrayed by a Belgian infiltrator posing as a South African officer) There were those who simply deserted, probably some who espoused the German cause(a few?)  but it is a silent subject.

 

        The material on the treatment of the Irish in the (English) judicial system goes back further- try Linebaugh "London Hanged".  A factor in the Eighteenth Century as to who was hanged and who was not was how alien or isolated the person was- which put the Irish,as incomers (and poor to boot) , at an immmediate disadvantage. Low IQ, poor education, lack of friends to speak and support all play a part. For the Great War, the SAD seem to come across-an impression- as somehow different in contemporary accounts- them and us. I cannot recollect a memoir where the writer says of someone shot that they were his best chum and a fine fellow. 

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Guest

Volt

 

1. The Army simply struck them off. The category is "Struck off as a Deserter"

2. No idea. Back in August 1914 all deserters were pardoned. Not sure if something similar happened in 1939. 

3. At least one POW turncoat was prosecuted and given the death sentence, although this was commuted. It is in Bowman's data.  I suspect the Army made special efforts to prosecute these men. 

 

Separately. It seems fairly clear from sixty years of data  (1851-1911) in the Police records that Irish born were over-represented in the UK's civil criminal data. There are clearly underlying reasons for this that are not genetic but environmental: abject poverty driven by famines, sectarian laws, land clearances, etc (among many other factors). It is well established that poverty, alcohol (and drug*) abuse and crime are highly correlated and there have been scores of studies that demonstrate this. It is a sad but undeniable fact that a disproportionate number of the Irish-born (and their English born diaspora) of the period were unfortunate victims of extreme poverty.

 

Their over-representation in civilian crime is, as Bowman observes, also paralleled in the Military's discipline stats of the great war. Proportionally more Irish-born deserted (by a factor of at least two if Chen's study is any guide). Consequently, proportionally more Irish-born were prosecuted and convicted. However this is where it stopped; Bowman's and Chen's studies both demonstrate that the Irish-born were not under-represented in the proportions whose sentences were reduced, commuted or quashed. The same can be said for those serving in Irish regiments. The data hardly changes. 

 

MG

 

* "Drunkenness" in Military Law included taking opium and other drugs. It is noteworthy that the Army supplied the means: Rum and Opium formed part of the rations for the British Army and Indian Army respectively. 

Edited by Guest

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Derek Black
2 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

I cannot recollect a memoir where the writer says of someone shot that they were his best chum and a fine fellow. 


I think Pte. Peter Black would fall into that category. A two time deserter who was exectuted.

If his comrades who went to war with him were willing to blow up the towns war memorial, should his name not feature, then i'd say they liked him.

Derek.

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Guest
7 hours ago, Gunner Bailey said:

Last night I had a quick scan of Blindfold and Alone and came up with some examples of what I meant by soldiers who were not in the front line deserting.

 

Cpl George Latham - 2nd Bt Lancashire Fusiliers. Arrived in France joined the retreat from Mons and deserted in 3 days. Unlikely to have faced the Germans or sustained shelling.

 

 

 

Cpl Latham almost certainly faced the Germans. The 2nd Bn Lancashire Fusiliers had 25% losses at Le Cateau of the 26th. Latham deserted on the following day.

 

Here is their account. Please note 2/20th means 2nd Bn Lanc Fus (old 20th of Foot) and 1/4th is 1st Bn King's Own R Lancaster Regt (old 4th Foot) etc...

 

Aug 26th 1914. 3:45 am. 2/20th reached Lonsart Fme. The ground was a boggy stretch of moorland. It was still pitch dark, there were no guides and the tool limbers had stuck fast 2 miles back. CO went in seach of 1/4th; 2nd in Command posted picquets. When light came the CO began to site the trenches. BGC 12th Infantry Brigade arrived and pointed out where the trenches were to be dug – some distance in rear of the original position. Also he ordered that some should be dug for 1/4th who were entangled in the Transport some distance back.

 

Griffin and Woodman marked one line; Roffey and Ward settled the second line. Men very tired  but set to work digging at once with their ‘grubbers’.

Shortly after dawn a French Cavalry patrol reported to the CO that the front was clear for miles.

 

5:45 am. Shallow trenches completed by A, C and D Companies. Only two Platoons of A Company had trenches quite ready for occupation. B in Reserve,one Platoon of A Company behind a small bank.

 

Transport of 2/20th reached Longsart Fme and breakfast was prepared. One Sgt and 10 men of D Company acted as covering party and went out about 300 yards to the Left front of the Battalion line. From this point no British or French troops were seen to the Left. After a short interval fire was opened on this post from their Right front and from machine guns in the corn stooks. The Sgt was severely wounded and was kicked into a quarry by the Germans.

 

6:00 am. 1/4th arrived and sat down in quarter column to await the issue of their tools. Part of A Company 2/20th also moved down to draw some tools, when a heavy fire – machine guns and shrapnel burst over the 1/4th who suffered heavily. After 1/4th had got under cover this fire turned on 2/20th. It was thought that a German maxim battery turned on the Battalion at 1,000 yards range. German Cavalry led the attack but after their guns had opened dense masses of infantry issued from the wood and farm buildings. The two machine guns 2/20th now came into action between the two Companies. One gun jammed at once and was taken to Longsart for the Armourer to attend to it. The other did good execution. It was moved several times to fire more effectively.

 

The Left flank of the battalion gave cause for anxiety. It was supported by one Company of 56th. The Left Company of the 2/20th was now withdrawn by the Company Commander (Ward). The 2nd in Command who had visited the Left thought it should be withdrawn further back; Vandeleur (56th) considered it should remain as it was.

 

The main force of the attack had been thrown on the Right flank but it suddenly developed with greater force against the Left and the Germans advanced against Ward’s Company who suffered heavily.

 

In trying to get in touch with Vandeleur the 2nd in Command was seriously wounded and Vandeleur himself was also shot. Ward’s Company and the Left Platoons of A Company were now much harassed by machine gun fire, It was not long before all the Officers of D Company were killed or wounded. The effect of the enfilade fire was severe and Germans were seen working around the Left flank. Retirement was clearly necessary. A Company withdrew to the cover of a hedge. Sidebottom’s Company [Sidebottom was in Moody’s C Company. Aptly  Moody had been wounded by this time] followed. Many were killed and wounded in this open and the Germans reached within 300 yards and a machine gun was particularly deadly. Sidebottom collected a party to rush it but fell dead before the attempt was made. Lt Humfrey and Sgt Roch carried off the machine gun of the 2/20th. In the retirement the Germans gained on the 2/20th. The unequal contest between the line of Infantry and massed guns and machine guns had lasted for 3 hours.

 

At 9 am the 2/20th rallied on a saddle-back ridge and opened fire on the pursuers who came on in dense columns with their rifles held against their hips.

 

Assisted by our artillery the 2/20th under Capt Woodman with Capt Spooner and Lt Cross assisting him held the ridge. As the German advance was checked the 2/20th withdrew a few hundred yards and the three Officers rounded up and gathered others together and attempted to establish touch with the brigade Staff. A heavy shell fire now opened on the Battalion and cover was taken behind a farm building which soon fell in ruins.

 

By 2 pm it was thought that the Germans had in action in this section of the field from 90 to 120 guns. The whole section as far back as Selvingy was now thoroughly searched. The bulk of the 12th Infantry Brigade was now ordered back to Selvingy, some troops being left above Haucourt to cover the retirement of our guns. One of these parties consisted of men collected by Capt Davenport. By this time 2/20th and 108th were considerably intermingled. Various parties of 2/20th assembled on the road under the CO (Maj Griffin) and were ordered by the Staff of the 4th Div to march until 10 pm when they billeted in some farm buildings.

 

The casualties on 26th were:

 

2 Officers killed

3 Officers wounded

10 Officers wounded and missing. Of these 3 rejoined later.

402 NCOs and men failed to answer the roll that night. On Sep 9th 143 of these had rejoined which leaves  259 NOCs as killed, wounded or missing on 26th August

 

 

The CWGC data shows 6 Officers and 94 Other Ranks of 2nd Bn Lancashire Fusiliers killed on 26th Aug 1914 suggesting another 163 wounded or missing.

 

Edited by Guest

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