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Shot at dawn - British WW1 Military Executions.


Lancashire Fusilier

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I have not been following this thread, but noted it was 'on-going', and saw this news item just now of some relevance that some may find of interest: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/harr-farr-soldier-who-refused-to-wear-a-blindfold-when-he-was-executed-for-cowardice-a8041661.html 

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Trajan's link raises another matter. As we know, the pardons were conditional - effectively a posthumous commutation of sentence, putting the 306 into the same legal category as the other 3000 sentenced to death but not carried out. Specifically, it left the court martial process, convictions, sentencing and subsequent process intact, without criticism. I imagine few, if any, would take exception to the governement's decision in 2006 which, effectively drew a line under the matter. However, the government's decision to treat this as a political, rather than judicial, matter has unfortunate consequences for a relatively small number of those executed.

 

I suspect most of us here could agree that many of the men were guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted, with few if any mitigating factors to prevent sentence being carried out. There are, however, a few where a miscarriage of justice was clear, as in Farr's case. He should not have been convicted, let alone sentenced to death - his known health record was clear to all and very germane to the matter. Had there been a judicial review  of individual cases (something I urged my MP to press for at the time - along the lines of the enquiry into the possible victims of Harold Shipman, with which I was professionally very aware) then Farr would, almost certainly, have been completely exonerated of the alleged crime. As it is, his conviction as a coward stands.

Edited by John_Hartley
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22 minutes ago, IPT said:

As an item of curiosity, here's 2nd Lt JH Paterson's pardon. He had been executed for murder.

 

paterson.jpg.b6ae1ccdce0023dd529fb04e382ae24d.jpg

 

Of course, had he been a civilian he would almost certainly have been executed. To me this is just one of the errors in a blanket pardon.

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38 minutes ago, IPT said:

As an item of curiosity, here's 2nd Lt JH Paterson's pardon. He had been executed for murder.

 

paterson.jpg.b6ae1ccdce0023dd529fb04e382ae24d.jpg

 

Very interesting. The certificates says he was executed for desertion rather than murder. He was charged with desertion and murder and fraud. Has the Govt pardoned him for one crime and not the other? or are they ignoring the fact he was a murderer?  He murdered Sgt Harold Collinson DCM of the Military Police in cold blood. I wonder what the Collinson family thought of Paterson being described as a victim? 

 

Quite bizarre.

 

MG

 

 

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50 minutes ago, QGE said:

Quite bizarre.

 

MG

 

 

 

Fully agree, but this shows the weakness of a political pardon rather than a judicial review of all the facts.

 

A few years ago I did a basic review of the cases as set out in the well known books. I didn't go to source documents. From my basic review I estimated about 30 should have received a pardon based upon medical criteria including 'shell shock'. So roughly 10% in my opinion. Having all the papers may have increased that number but it would certainly have not been more than 20%.

 

The politicians clearly didn't want to waste any more time on this and took the easy way out.

Edited by Gunner Bailey
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3 minutes ago, Gunner Bailey said:

The politicians clearly didn't want to waste any more time on this and took the easy way out.

Exactly my point, GB.

 

I had many criticisms of the pardons campaign but I would never criticise their skill in persuing their case.  When lobbying (and I have been involved in such things over my life) there is no obligation to be fully open and honest. You present your case in the best light and best spin and leave others to pick holes in it if they can.  This one was an object lesson in how to tackle official bodies and present the press with a "good story".

 

Basically, they took the examples of the obvious miscarriages and portrayed it that this was a factor throughout all the cases. At some point, they dropped from the campaign the men executed for murder and just left it for the more "acceptable" cases of the military crimes. Masterfully, they managed to sidestep the fact that their criticisms of the court martial process applied, in fact, as much )or less) to the murderers as the deserters. At around the same time, they sensed, correctly, that the Blair govenment would be susceptible to the "politcally correct" arguments of racism that they then started to put forward as we've discussed upthread (these had not featured earlier).

 

By way of explanation about my mention of the Shipman enquiry, I was working in the criminal justice system in the area where Shipman committed his crimes. The enquiry considered a very long list of potential victims with the judge ruling, on the balance of evidence available, whjether a particular death was probably murder or natural causes. It brought comfort and closure to families regardless of which way the judge determined a death. A similar process, using the accepted incomplete records, could have been undertaken for those executed. It would have resulted in a number of men (as you suggest 10 - 20%) being completely exonerated with the remainder then in a position to receive the "conditional pardon", basically accepting that the convictions were correct but the sentence shouldnt have been carried out. That would be justice - blanket decisions are never justice, IMO.

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On 05/11/2017 at 21:36, QGE said:

 

I think the only thing that is 'out of all proportions' is the extraordinary over-emphasis of the tiny data.  Stats mean nothing without context; one needs to address the contextural factors such as the concentration of Irish in the infantry, the regulars and the overwhelming evidence that the regulars exercised Military Law with a higher zeal.  The hard data  on the African soldiers is minuscule (6; half were convicted of murder, leaving just three men. To use this to make arguments on institutionalised and systemic racism rather stretches the imagination, particularly when we have bigger data from the Indian Army. Can I ask what conclusions one should draw from the Indian Army data?  

 

 

My underlining.  Crozier wasn't the only Ulster case. Rfn 15/890 J Templeton SAD on 19th March 1916 while serving in the 15th (North Belfast) Bn Royal Irish Rifles (incidentally raised from the Belfast Volunteers) came from Enfield St Belfast in Shankhill. Really.  When I was last there it was a staunch Protestant enclave. He was a Protestant serving under a Protestant CO, under a Protestant Brigade Commander under a Protestant Divisional Commander (Nugent) in a protestant Battalion in the the almost purely Protestant formation of the 36th (Ulster) Division). I think one might reasonably argue that anti-Catholic prejudices had absolutely no bearing on this particular case or indeed Crozier's. There are two other men who were SAD while serving in the 36th (Ulster) Div and I suspect they probably had similar profiles. McCracken of the same 15th (North Belfast) Bn springs to mind.  

 

 At least four of the SAD men in the 16th (Irish) Div were convicted under Catholic COs under Catholic Brigade Commanders under a Catholic Divisional Commander (Hickie). The more one scratches away at this the more one becomes aware of layers of misinformation and hypoerbole. 

 

This might sound odd; I have no interest in SAD -  it is a mis-informed a subject as one might care to find. My sole interest is in how arguments are constructed on the available information and particular how Confirmation Bias (a beautifully succint term coined by Psychologists) contaminates the debate.. I will leave it there and agree to disagree. I am off to Inja's sunny climes. MG

 

MG

 

I stand corrected on the number of northern Irish SAD. The point I was making about the politics is that the Irish government was threatening/promising to give pardons to all Irish soldiers including those born in Ulster. Four or one - it doesn’t make any difference to the principal that the Irish government was going to take over the pardons process for those SAD born in Northern Ireland. This raised all sorts of constitutional questions for HMG which they did not want to know about in the immediate aftermath of the Good Friday agreement.

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On 11/11/2017 at 13:16, voltaire60 said:

The frequent comments about the harshness of the death penalty from those involved in carrying it out or forced to be spectators suggests that the main aim of the death penalty for desertion was achieved-that of deterrent. Of course, the deterrent is 100% on the individual shot -which means it's effectiveness on that  is limited, unless the shootings mushroom.  As a deterrent , it seems to have "worked"  very well indeed.  Let me posit the following proposition:  It was EXACTLY  what  the SAD  lobby campaigned against-that of unfairness and caprice- that was, in a hard-boiled cynical way, it's greatest strength during the war. The greatest deterrent effect was achieved not by any notion of "pour encourager les autres" by the use of the death penalty  but by  (to the troops on the ground) it's sheer randomness in application.  In terms of the raw statistics, all literature points to the military authorities being-statistically- softies: the number of lesser sentences, the number of death sentences remitted. Harsh indeed for those shot-  but a very, very successful  military jurisprudential system of smoke and mirrors.

If, as you suggest, the death penalty was an essential if random element to keeping the troops on their toes, how do you account for the fact that the Australian army did not execute any of its soldiers, and the German army only shot a small number - less than 30? Both were formidable fighting units.

 

Random? Not for officers: only 2 were shot. If executions were evenly distributed, then there should have been about 30 of them.

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7 minutes ago, Hedley Malloch said:

If, as you suggest, the death penalty was an essential if random element to keeping the troops on their toes, how do you account for the fact that the Australian army did not execute any of its soldiers, and the German army only shot a small number - less than 30? Both were formidable fighting units

  I don't.  It's randomness by the BRITISH military authorities applied to those who were covered for the passing and carrying out of  capital offences by BRITISH military authorities.  In the present day world, where there is a current political debate about the death penalty (and consequently off limits from further comment by me) then  the existence of a system of law and order without the death penalty would discredit it's use anywhere else. But no more.

 

Random? Not for officers: only 2 were shot. If executions were evenly distributed, then there should have been about 30 of them.

     Quite so. How many ORs were cashiered for bouncing cheques?

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30 minutes ago, Hedley Malloch said:

If, as you suggest, the death penalty was an essential if random element to keeping the troops on their toes, how do you account for the fact that the Australian army did not execute any of its soldiers, and the German army only shot a small number - less than 30? Both were formidable fighting units.

 

Random? Not for officers: only 2 were shot. If executions were evenly distributed, then there should have been about 30 of them.

 

Well according to Ashley Ekins at a conference I attended a few years ago, the desertion rate of Australian soldiers was six time the total of all Dominion troops in the war.

Did not the French execute some 670 I seem to remember.

 

Andy

Edited by stiletto_33853
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1 hour ago, stiletto_33853 said:

 

Well according to Ashley Ekins at a conference I attended a few years ago, the desertion rate of Australian soldiers was six time the total of all Dominion troops in the war.

Did not the French execute some 670 I seem to remember.

 

Andy

If true, the Ozzies desertion rate does not appear to have affected their fighting capacity.

Yes, the French did shoot well over 600 - and they even managed to include a few officers. It must be all that égalité business. I was in France this weekend for Armistice Day. The papers carried quite a few French Sad stories. There are some local actions to commemorate individual cases, but also a large collective legal case against the French government to secure pardons for 30 soldiers. 

There is also an appeal for funds for a national French memorial to shot at dawn. It’s raised €30k to date. I am going to send a cheque.

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2 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

  I don't.  It's randomness by the BRITISH military authorities applied to those who were covered for the passing and carrying out of  capital offences by BRITISH military authorities.  In the present day world, where there is a current political debate about the death penalty (and consequently off limits from further comment by me) then  the existence of a system of law and order without the death penalty would discredit it's use anywhere else. But no more.

 

Random? Not for officers: only 2 were shot. If executions were evenly distributed, then there should have been about 30 of them.

     Quite so. How many ORs were cashiered for bouncing cheques?

 

Run that one past me again.

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42 minutes ago, Hedley Malloch said:

 

Run that one past me again.

 

1)  I don't  Right or wrong

 

2)  Officers were treated differently.   Right or wrong.  Bouncing cheques was but a trifling example.

 

      I am not an apologist for GHQ Montreuil. The stock of History is fixed. How we interpret it is dependent on the moral and political framework in which we conduct our own lives.  And History cannot be re-run

 

     Violent death is violent death.  Nothing that can be said against the death penalty  of the Great War cannot also be said about the totality of the war itself. Being conscripted against one's will and death by being splattered by a German 4.2. inch shell over several hundred acres of France is no less obscene than anything a FGCM or Provost got up to.

What type of  violent death in France and Flanders was alright and which was not?  All or none seems to be the only realistic choice. All of this nonsense  about "ultimate sacrifice" and similar guff-it all boils down to John Betjeman's well-known rhyme-

             "Oh why do people waste their breath

               Devising dainty names for death"

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4 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

 

Yes, the French did shoot well over 600 - and they even managed to include a few officers. It must be all that égalité business. I was in France this weekend for Armistice Day.

This seems to indicate that the execution rate in in British and French armies was astonishingly similar. The peak size of the French army was just over twice the size of the British army, and the number executed is twice that of the British army.

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I think the French had far more capital cases, but it's said, reduced the number of official executions by forcing condemned men out into no mans land to get killed by artillery so they were 'KIA'. The French formal executions included many for mutiny. Something rare in the British Army.

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12 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

If, as you suggest, the death penalty was an essential if random element to keeping the troops on their toes, how do you account for the fact that the Australian army did not execute any of its soldiers, and the German army only shot a small number - less than 30? Both were formidable fighting units.

 

 

 

For what it is worth (i.e. I cannot find the sources now as I am away from home and books), Australian general officers in the field all but unanimously petitioned in 1918 for the restoration of the death penalty in the AIF, presumably in response to the number of deserters. It would be useful if anyone can provide the reference.

I also seem to recall that in Italy in WWII some British commanders wanted to restore the death penalty because of the number of deserters. Chapter and verse I cannot quote.

Finally, the commander of the US First Army (Liggett, who took over from Pershing in mid October) is frequently quoted as estimating that his Army had 100,000 'shirkers' during the Meuse Argonne Offensive.

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13 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

If true, the Ozzies desertion rate does not appear to have affected their fighting capacity.

Yes, the French did shoot well over 600 - and they even managed to include a few officers. It must be all that égalité business. I was in France this weekend for Armistice Day. The papers carried quite a few French Sad stories. There are some local actions to commemorate individual cases, but also a large collective legal case against the French government to secure pardons for 30 soldiers. 

There is also an appeal for funds for a national French memorial to shot at dawn. It’s raised €30k to date. I am going to send a cheque.

 

Ashley Ekins is the head of the Australian War Memorial, hence I would think he is quite knowledgeable regarding the subject. Just been looking at the notes taken during the conference. Ashley states that in 1917 the desertion rate reached 8 times the rate experienced in the BEF at times and I would disagree, the Australians did suffer in 1917 as a cohesive fighting force with morale at an all time low.

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21 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

 

I stand corrected on the number of northern Irish SAD. The point I was making about the politics is that the Irish government was threatening/promising to give pardons to all Irish soldiers including those born in Ulster. Four or one - it doesn’t make any difference to the principal that the Irish government was going to take over the pardons process for those SAD born in Northern Ireland. This raised all sorts of constitutional questions for HMG which they did not want to know about in the immediate aftermath of the Good Friday agreement.

 

Hedley. I am not convinced that the "Irish Government" forced the British Government's hand. The process has been bubbling away since 1924 at least. I think they were several decades late to the lobbying.  Five minutes of research reveals a reasonably long list of individuals, families and groups lobbying for pardons of those SAD during the Great War.  Some I believe are members of the GWF.

 

Incidentally the Belfast Agreement ("Good Friday Agreement") was signed in  April 1998 more than 8 years before the British Govt pardons for those SAD. Hardly 'recent' to events.  Sorry to let facts get in the way of a good story.

 

The Irish Government  (in its various forms and transitions through the 1937 constitution) treatment of British Army veterans has been nothing short of appalling for the best part of 70 years, so their sudden epiphany over the treatment of 26 individuals is something that smacks of hypocrisy. The Irish State (in all its forms) seemed to have been happy to execute people under its civil code of law, and martial law (Public Safety Bill) from independence until at least 1954 and the death penalty was not abolished until 1990 I believe. I am sure you will be able to tell us exactly how many Irishmen and women the Irish government executed after sham trials and how many it has pardoned during the last 90 years. I am dying to know when the eight Republicans executed by the Irish Free State with a landmine (really) at Ballyseedy were pardoned. When exactly was Erskine Childers pardoned for being executed during his appeal for possession of a gun given to him by Collins. Or does the Irish Government's responsibility not extend beyond the 1937 Constitution despite carrying over the Free State's laws and largely being run by the same politicians.  Just curious to understand if there is any asymmetry between Ireland and the UK on pardons for people executed under their laws. If the Irish Government was happy to 'take over the pardons process for the SAD born in Northern Ireland' can you tell us if the same irish Government had the same level of zeal to take over the pardons process for the Irish Free State?

 

Is your latest claim that the Irish Government forced the British hand on pardons another 'fact' pulled out of the air? Can you provide some evidence to back this claim, and specifically prove that it was the Irish Government rather than the relentless work of other lobby groups that forced the British Government's hand. A trawl of Hansard shows no indication.

 

You initiated this part of the debate claiming the death penalty used by the British Army during the Great War discriminated against the Irish, Catholics and was racist. You have not provided any evidence to support these claims. None of the academics or authors who have researched SAD in detail have substantiated these claims; they have done the complete opposite and argue that there is no evidence of discrimination against the Irish, on any measure or definition of being 'Irish'. Something that you don't appear to acknowledge.

 

If you simply said that you disagree with capital punishment, I would respect your views. Most people have very binary views on the subject, however you seem determined to make increasingly spurious claims to support your standpoint. 

 

MG

 

 

 

 

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21 hours ago, QGE said:

 

Very interesting. The certificates says he was executed for desertion rather than murder. He was charged with desertion and murder and fraud. Has the Govt pardoned him for one crime and not the other? or are they ignoring the fact he was a murderer?  He murdered Sgt Harold Collinson DCM of the Military Police in cold blood. I wonder what the Collinson family thought of Paterson being described as a victim? 

 

Quite bizarre.

 

MG

 

 

 

      A perusal of the relevant section of the 2006 Act is interesting:

 

359Pardons for servicemen executed for disciplinary offences: recognition as victims of First World War

(1)This section applies in relation to any person who was executed for a relevant offence committed during the period beginning with 4 August 1914 and ending with 11 November 1918.

 

(2)Each such person is to be taken to be pardoned under this section in respect of the relevant offence (or relevant offences) for which he was executed.

 

(3)In this section “relevant offence” means any of the following—

(a)an offence under any of the following provisions of the Army Act 1881 (c. 58)—

(i)section 4(2) (casting away arms etc);

(ii)section 4(7) (cowardice);

(iii)section 6(1)(b) (leaving post etc without orders);

(iv)section 6(1)(k) (sentinel sleeping etc on post or leaving post);

(v)section 7 (mutiny and sedition);

(vi)section 8(1) (striking etc superior officer);

(vii)section 9(1) (disobedience in defiance of authority);

(viii)section 12(1) (desertion or attempt etc to desert);

 

(b)an offence under any of the following provisions of the Indian Army Act 1911 (Indian Act, No 8 of 1911)—

(i)section 25(b) (casting away arms, cowardice, etc);

(ii)section 25(g) (sentry sleeping on post or quitting post);

(iii)section 25(i) (quitting guard etc);

(iv)section 27 (mutiny, disobedience, etc);

(v)section 29 (desertion or attempt to desert).

 

(4)This section does not—

(a)affect any conviction or sentence;

(b)give rise to any right, entitlement or liability; or

(c)affect the prerogative of mercy.

 

(5)Any reference in this section to a provision of the Army Act 1881 (c. 58) includes a reference to that provision as applied by any enactment, wherever enacted.

 

     Complete jurisprudential persiflage  and  a  Parliamentary Counsel being told off to draft a piece of  utter official windbag without really doing anything.

 

a)  An Act of Parliament that specifically calls  one group of men "victims of the First World War" - and no other. Fantastic news for the families of those not court martialled and shot-  if they were killed or maimed, then "officially "  they were not "victims"

 

ii) Not after 11th November 1918?   And why not?   Too many awkward questions. 11th November was not "officially" the end of the war-merely an armistice and the 1921 deadline ceases to have any real meaning if even the legislators subsequently ignore it.    Hmm- wonder why.  Let me see........    war "officially" ends  middle of 1921. Now just when was the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers?  

 

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For the convenience of interested Pals I repeat a post I have just made on John Hartley's thread on James Daly.

 

The quote about the "pardons" legislation makes it clear that the cut-off date was 11 November 1918. After that date death sentences for offences other than murder were commuted or suspended (I believe on the direct initiative of the King) and no-one was executed for offences after that date, arising in connection with the War, other than for murder. The sole exceptions are Pte Daly, for an offence not arising out of the War, a private in the RASC (for treachery) in 1946, and three locally-raised troops in WW2 for a mutiny in the Turks and Caicos Cocos and Keeling Islands. There were others executed after 1918 for treason but that was not an offence under the Army Act.

 

I cannot recall where I read it, but I think that some form of resolution in Daly's case was agreed with the Irish Government much later, when the "troubles" which began in 1969 were moving towards reconciliation, comparable with a similar resolution in respect of Roger Casement. It is therefore possible that Daly received a pardon from the present Queen under her prerogative powers, and therefore did not need to be included in the 2006 legislation.

 

Ron

Edited by Ron Clifton
Correction of geographical error
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14 hours ago, Wexflyer said:

This seems to indicate that the execution rate in in British and French armies was astonishingly similar. The peak size of the French army was just over twice the size of the British army, and the number executed is twice that of the British army.

 

A really good place to start this debate would be a consideration of why the French executed 600+; the British 306: the Canadians 25, the Australians none at all; and the Germans about 30.  They were all in the same war with roughly the same disciplinary problems for most of the time - so why the variations?  The issues that would emerge would be the very different nature of decision making in the different armies, the different penal codes, Acts and regulations in force, previous history of relations with the British army, the organisation of the army, who and how they recruited and where, the beliefs and assumptions (often founded on racial stereotypes and social eugenics) of officers.  This approach would be much more useful than focusing on the disciplinary records of individual soldiers.

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Can we trust the figure of 30 for German executions? Ulrich & Ziemann 'German Soldiers in the Great War' suggest (p131  & p142) that we can't rely on the official figures of 76 death sentences for desertion and 28 of them carried out. They also quote 1918 orders for superiors to use their weapons to enforce obedience 'in cases of urgent need and extreme danger.'(pp155-6) 

Michael

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40 minutes ago, Hedley Malloch said:

so why the variations

 

   Human nature-both individually and collectively. The old joke about  what happens if you lock 5 economists in a room-answer 7 different economic forecasts- applies.

       There is no particular reason why punishment regimes, military law codes,etc should be a constant across all armies. If that logic applied-that there is a universal "right" way on this, then EVERY army of the Great War would have been using exactly the same calibre weapons and ammunition.

     As regards the French and the Germans- their civil legal codes are based on different starting  points in law- Common Law v Roman, Romano-Dutch,etc. 

 

 2) There has been discussion about courts martial only lasting 20 minutes on average (or less). Courts Martial tend to work from a different starting point. There is no outright presumption of innocence. There is not extended cross examination and argument of the matter. The basic premise is that the facts are to be tested. The military observes this but extended remand, debate etc would be seen as a temptation to sedition and not good for the general maintenance of army discipline if everybody could argue the toss ad infinitem-the basis of military discipline is immediate obedience to a lawful command.. It is perhaps akin to the French system of investigating magistrates-  where they establish the "facts" and these are tested in court.

     My reading of court martial papers or boards of enquiry show several things clearly- the courts, of amateur officers, did endeavour to do things properly- that evidence was rehearsed comes across very strongly when looking at testimony by ORs.

 

 

    

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