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Shot at dawn - British WW1 Military Executions.


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charlesmessenger

So, Hedley, as I understand it, you imply that SAD was largely a question of Class. Also, worth regard to the irish, I did research into this some years ago for my book Call to Arms, which includes a chapter on discip;line, and concluded that there was no bias against them, as Guest has rightly stated. Much of the twisting of facts came from the SAD campaign itself. A classic example of this is when they quoted Victor Silvester the famous bandleader, who claimed that he was a member of a firing squad in France. Unfortunately for him, his service papers have survived and show that he never served in France.

 

This is not to say that I blindly uphold all death sentences which were carried out. There were miscarriages of justice, especially when it came to failing to recognise that the victim was clearly suffering from shell shock. On the other hand, there were rogues who repeatedly deserted, and deserved their fate.

 

The whole subject has to be looked at entirely dispassionately, without trying to prove a particular premise. Hindsight. too, must be avloided. It is not merely a question of black and white.

 

Charles M

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On 14/11/2017 at 04:10, Hedley Malloch said:

the beliefs and assumptions (often founded on racial stereotypes and social eugenics) of officers. 

 

   I must pick you up on this.  Gerry Oram's  "Worthless Men"  book is an interesting read and has many very useful  bits of information and outlook. But,again, you confine yourself (above) that officers are the ones with racial stereotypes and  eugenicist outlook.

 

1)  Why officers only?     Often, it was the testimony of the relevant NCOs that did for one of the SAD victims. By reverse,more than likely that it was the good  word of an NCO that stopped many potential prosecutions going into FGCM on capital matters-and those of junior officers as well.  The views of  NCOs  are not just one-way bigotry- on balance, Sergeants and WOs do seem to know their men in detail.Much is made of the small percentage of sentences carried out- but not of the even vaster numbers of matters that didn't even get to FGCM or prosecution. I suspect-having tracked some of my local casualties and their unit histories-  that the inadequates who ended up in the front line  were more usually sorted out by informal measures- Some of my local men whose records suggests they were inadequate either physically or mentally seem to end up as "base details"

 

2)  Any study of the outlooks and views of the Ranks during the war will show that they were not paragons of virtue. 

 

       May I recommend one of my favourite books?  Geoffrey Searle: The Quest for National Efficiency      -Sets the developments in British society and politics post-Boer War to 1914 in a wider context of the National Efficiency movement- pulls together a lot of threads-Darwinism/Eugenics, Compulsory Service, School meals, Social reform- an excellent wider perspective than Gerry Oram. (The same author has written a rather harder to find book on Social Darwinism in Britain, covering, effectively,the same time-frame. I strongly recommend  "Quest for National Efiiciency

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2 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

 

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.

Well, as pointed out, the AIF did very definitely have disciplinary problems, for whatever reasons. The Canadians executed roughly pro rata with the British, as did the French. The Americans did not, but had a dreadful AWOL problem, again for whatever reasons (there are numerous factors). Australians and Canadians were, effectively, all volunteers (tho' conscription did eventually come in, the number of conscripts who actually served in the front line on the WF was relatively rather small), if you are looking for differences.

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21 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

 

   I must pick you up on this.  Gerry Oram's  "Worthless Men"  book is an interesting read and has many very useful  bits of information and outlook. But,again, you confine yourself (above) that officers are the ones with racial stereotypes and  eugenicist outlook.

 

1)  Why officers only?     

 

Because it was officers who made the decisions.

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Steven Broomfield
1 hour ago, EastSurrey said:

Can we trust the figure of 30 for German executions? 

Michael

 

I must say that question has been coming to my mind more than once while perusing this thread.

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41 minutes ago, Steven Broomfield said:

 

I must say that question has been coming to my mind more than once while perusing this thread.

 

    I am with you on that. I thought Peter Barton was a good exposition of the matter in his documentaries on the Somme. But it does grate with the historical memory of the savagery of the German military code and it's exercise in 2 world wars.  (eg Northern France in WW1,around Sedan-known through family links, the stay-behind soldiers shot as spies-even the defenders of the Danzig Post Office who defended in September 1939 and were shot by the Germans as franc-tireurs). The low,low figure is very,very suspect.

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On 14/11/2017 at 05:29, charlesmessenger said:

So, Hedley, as I understand it, you imply that SAD was largely a question of Class. Also, worth regard to the irish, I did research into this some years ago for my book Call to Arms, which includes a chapter on discip;line, and concluded that there was no bias against them, as Guest  has rightly stated. Much of the twisting of facts came from the SAD campaign itself. A classic example of this is when they quoted Victor Silvester the famous bandleader, who claimed that he was a member of a firing squad in France. Unfortunately for him, his service papers have survived and show that he never served in France.

 

This is not to say that I blindly uphold all death sentences which were carried out. There were miscarriages of justice, especially when it came to failing to recognise that the victim was clearly suffering from shell shock. On the other hand, there were rogues who repeatedly deserted, and deserved their fate.

 

The whole subject has to be looked at entirely dispassionately, without trying to prove a particular premise. Hindsight. too, must be avloided. It is not merely a question of black and white.

 

Charles M

 

Charles, no, you have misunderstood. It was not just a question of class. SAD was the outcome of rank, stereotypes based on religion, nationality, and social eugenics, military codes and military crises (the big push, 1917), and previous experiences with the British army’s disciplinary system (the Australian army and the Breaker Morant affair). Decisions were not based on a dispassionate evaluation of their cases. 

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8 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

 

Because it was officers who made the decisions.

 

Hedley, I must admit to being staggered regarding that remark. Did not every SAD have to be ratified by the C-in-C before confirmed. I may also say that many officers faced Court Martials as well. Strange, it would seem that you have a downer on officers although an Army could not function without them and it's military laws and codes etc.

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ilkley remembers
33 minutes ago, Steven Broomfield said:

 

I must say that question has been coming to my mind more than once while perusing this thread.

I don't know if the German figure for executions is accurate, but many German deserters simply went across the Dutch border. The Dutch were relatively tolerant of them and housed them in camps. I have read stories of German deserters gaining their freedom and even travelling to the USA

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54 minutes ago, Hedley Malloch said:

Because it was officers who made the decisions.

 

 That's the way the armies of the Great War worked. And before the war. And after the war. And up to right now. And for the Australians who,as you say, did not have a death penalty.

      No army is a democracy. Never have been -unlikely to be in the future. 

 

         Would the FGCM results have been different if  ORs were the panel?  

 

 Let me add 2 points:

 i) - Personally, in the world of today, I am opposed to the death penalty. I look with today's spectrum of morality at it's use in past times with horror. I neither support nor condemn the use of the death penalty in the Great War. It was. Nor more, no less- I cannot change it regardless of my own moral outlook

ii)  Any army system reflects the civil power that sets it up and regulates it. That the army system of the Great War stopped with  Haig is nonsense.  If capital punishment in the Great War was such a horror then the civil power-Asquith  Liberal or the Lloyd George Coalition would have stopped it. Neither did,it continued and was used- in civil society as well as in the army.  You seem to assume that all faults are with the Army-which is not so.All officers -from Field Marshal down to the humblest "one pip wonder" on a FGCM have power that is delegated to them. You really must look  at the civil framework of granting and controlling the Army's use of powers given to it as well. 

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36 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

 

 

 That's the way the armies of the Great War worked. And before the war. And after the war. And up to right now. And for the Australians who,as you say, did not have a death penalty.

      No army is a democracy. Never have been -unlikely to be in the future. 

 

         Would the FGCM results have been different if  ORs were the panel?  

 

Though I can't speak for whoever originally brought up the issues, I assume one key point here is precisely the lack of ORs on court martial panels. In other words, officers were tried by their peers, but other ranks were not.

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On 11/13/2017 at 21:04, Hedley Malloch said:

 

SAD was the outcome of rank, stereotypes based on religion, nationality, and social eugenics, military codes and military crises (the big push, 1917), and previous experiences with the British army’s disciplinary system (the Australian army and the Breaker Morant affair). Decisions were not based on a dispassionate evaluation of their cases. 

 

Hedley. None of the academics who have studied this in excruciating detail agree with your biased, religious, racial, class based rants. Really. Not one. The stats don't support any of your claims. None. It is noticeable that as each of your increasingly bizarre allegations gets systematically demolished that you conveniently ignore the arguments and swiftly start new, even more bizarre allegations. It has ceased to be a debate and has become a pantomime. It is possiby the most bizarre thread I have ever participated in. I have to leave it and agree to disagree with your rather biased arguments. Next you will be telling me McGreevy knows what he is talking about. He is about as ill informed as you are in my view. Good luck. MG

On 11/13/2017 at 22:47, Wexflyer said:

 Oh dear!

According to you, the US Army has been taken over by socialists! Whoever knew!

[The US Army provides for enlisted men to serve on court martial panels for precisely this reason]. 

 

Nope. I simply think you have no idea what you are talking about. MG

 

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22 minutes ago, QGE said:

In the civilian code at the time it was extremely rare that people were tried by a jury. Few could afford it.

 

      Trial by jury is not dependent on whether the defendant can afford it- The nature of the alleged offence is the usual decider- though there a number of "each way" offences-either that can have a summary treatment or trial by jury-the latter usually in matters where the maximum possible sentence is more than 6 months in chokey-the maximum a magistrate can award.

    In one sense, FGCMs of the Great War were fairer to the accused than the civilian court process of the time- a man had a defending officer. OK, might only be an officer of the quality of a Duty Solicitor- "Dock brief" of former times)  now (ie-not great) but a soldier facing a serious charge was better off than a civilian.

     A FGCM was equivalent to being tried before a bench of Justices of the Peace-  Justices similarly were not legally qualified, so the criticisms of the the FGCM must also apply to the civilian court system for many offences of that time.  In one sense, FGCM panels were likely to be fairer-in that, being officers, they were required to be of an acceptable educational standard before being commissioned. 

    Again, the Army worked within parameters set for it by the civil power- and the various Army Acts and the like are referenced against the prevailing civilian systems, with the proviso that the nature of discipline in the Army is formally different to civil society  and that war conditions must be met head on, with the consequent abatement of peacetime  civil liberties. .

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9 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

 

      Trial by jury is not dependent on whether the defendant can afford it- The nature of the alleged offence is the usual decider- though there a number of "each way" offences-either that can have a summary treatment or trial by jury-the latter usually in matters where the maximum possible sentence is more than 6 months in chokey-the maximum a magistrate can award.

    In one sense, FGCMs of the Great War were fairer to the accused than the civilian court process of the time- a man had a defending officer. OK, might only be an officer of the quality of a Duty Solicitor- "Dock brief" of former times)  now (ie-not great) but a soldier facing a serious charge was better off than a civilian.

     A FGCM was equivalent to being tried before a bench of Justices of the Peace-  Justices similarly were not legally qualified, so the criticisms of the the FGCM must also apply to the civilian court system for many offences of that time.  In one sense, FGCM panels were likely to be fairer-in that, being officers, they were required to be a an acceptable educational standard before being commissioned. 

    Again, the Army worked within parameters set for it by the civil power- and the various Army Acts and the like are referenced against the prevailing civilian systems, with the proviso that the nature of discipline in the Army is formally different to civil society  and that war conditions must be met head on, with the consequent abatement of peacetime  civil liberties. .

 

Courts Martials at Home had a higher requirement of representation than the Civilian code. 40% 46% of all Courts Martial. So I disagree with most of the above. M

 

Edit Home Courts Martial were 46% of the total, not 40%. Source: GARBA 1914-1919 page 88 Summary Table "Courts Martial on Soldiers at Home and Abroad held during the period. MG

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On 11/13/2017 at 23:06, Wexflyer said:

Oh dear again! Unfortunately for you, the facts are against you.

Pray enlighten me. Exactly how many courts martials involved

 

1. Evidence of Other Ranks

2. Were judged by Offers who had been ex rankers

 

I'll save you the trouble. Close to 99% for 1. And more than 50% for 2. For the simple fact that there were not enough Officers from the 'class'  you so clearly despise. No one actually knows for the simple fact that records were not kept. Given that at least 25% and arguably more than 50% of Officers were ex rankers would in itself demolish your unfounded arguments that they were not judged by their peers. Time weighted I would argue at least 80% of officers in 1916-18 had spent time in the ranks (possibly more if Hansard is any guide) for the simple reason of demographics. Like many ill informed commentators on this subject you need to do the hard yards in the archives before making these bizarre claims.. Pray tell me what your calculations are. MG

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16 minutes ago, QGE said:

Courts Martials at Home had a higher requirement of representation than the Civilian code

 

    I think this is agreement?  A soldier.at home or in the field, whether in peace or war, had a greater prospect of representation  in a trial than a civilian.

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Just now, voltaire60 said:

 

    I think this is agreement?  A soldier.at home or in the field, whether in peace or war, had a greater prospect of representation  in a trial than a civilian.

 Furious agreement on this. I think 40 % of all Courts Martial ( I will check and amend in the morrow) and somewhere between seven (minimum) and twelve members of the board. Something that the civilian code at the time did not demand. Happy to be corrected. 

 

One might reasonably assume they were not all hell bent on sending the proletariat to the gallows. As mentioned earlier, a significant proportion had served in the ranks which to my mind demolishes the Socialsits myth of class bias. 

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2 minutes ago, QGE said:

 

See my above. Can I suggest you do a bit of time in the archives before spouting more ill informed nonsense. 

 

 

Oh dear, dear! 

Let me review our wonderful little conversation.

1. I pointed out that "officers were tried by their peers, but other ranks were not."

2. You responded that this was "Socialist nonsense.... ill informed statement.....  I am truly astonished by this nonsense."

3. I responded that in that case "the US Army has been taken over by socialists... The US Army provides for enlisted men to serve on court martial panels for precisely this reason".

4. This brought forth the following erudite observation from you "Nope. I simply think you have no idea what you are talking about. MG"

5. I reminded you that "unfortunately for you, the facts are against you."

6. Which elicited a response from you (#293), the relevance of which escapes me.

 

To short circuit this dialogue of the deaf, may I refer you the US UCMJ, Sec. 825, Art. 25(c)1.

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15 hours ago, Wexflyer said:

 

Oh dear, dear! 

Let me review our wonderful little conversation.

1. I pointed out that "officers were tried by their peers, but other ranks were not."

2. You responded that this was "Socialist nonsense.... ill informed statement.....  I am truly astonished by this nonsense."

3. I responded that in that case "the US Army has been taken over by socialists... The US Army provides for enlisted men to serve on court martial panels for precisely this reason".

4. This brought forth the following erudite observation from you "Nope. I simply think you have no idea what you are talking about. MG"

5. I reminded you that "unfortunately for you, the facts are against you."

6. Which elicited a response from you (#293), the relevance of which escapes me.

 

To short circuit this dialogue of the deaf, may I refer you the US UCMJ, Sec. 825, Art. 25(c)1.

1. I think a substantial proportion of Other Ranks were tried by their peers. Men form the same social class if one wants to get specific. The hard evidence is in the battalion War diaries* which record the Officers who were sent to FGCM duty. The proportion of FGCMs in 1914 is tiny compared to later years. 

2. ?

3. I have no idea why your point is. 

4. I would reiterate this. 

5. I disagree.

6. Let's agree to disagree

 

you still haven't told me what proportion of FGCMs heard evidence from ORS or were presided over by ex rankers. It might help establish some of your bizarre claims. 

 

MG

 

* I have transcribed hundreds of BEF and MEF war diaries which record in meticulous detail the names of those sent to preside over FGCMs. When a Battalion has 90% officer casualties and has to promote substantial numbers from the ranks, the arithmetic us indisputable. The TF and the New Armies After their initial slaughters at Gallipoli and Loos were similarly dependent on ex rankers for their officer replacements. As the war progressed the proportion of ex rankers steadily increased. This is a simple fact and one that is constantly ingnored by ill informed authors and journalists too lazy to do the hard yards in the archives. MG

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3 minutes ago, QGE said:

1. I think Other Ranks were tried by their peers. Men form the same social class if one wants to get specific. The proportion of FGCMs in 1914 is tiny compared to later years. 

2. ?

3. I have no idea why your point is. 

4. I would reiterate this. 

5. I disagree.

6. Let's agree to disagree

 

you still haven't told me what proportion of FGCMs heard evidence from ORS or were presided over by ex rankers. It might help establish some of your bizarre claims. 

 

MG

 

I think it is very, very telling that the quotation in point No. 2, which you now say you don't understand (question mark, above), was your own words!

 

I don't know who you are in real life, but I have been impressed by examples of your writing - clear, logical, well written, with good use of language. However, I think you also have a tendency to jump into arguments and make generic comments which can be arguable at best, and sometimes clearly wrong. When confronted over these questionable statements, I think you throw up diversions and smoke screens. An example of this latter tendency is your statement above that ORs were tried by their peers. 

 

Just my opinion. 

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On 11/13/2017 at 23:53, Wexflyer said:

 

I think it is very, very telling that the quotation in point No. 2, which you now say you don't understand (question mark, above), was your own words!

 

I don't know who you are in real life, but I have been impressed by examples of your writing - clear, logical, well written, with good use of language. However, I think you also have a tendency to jump into arguments and make generic comments which can be arguable at best, and sometimes clearly wrong. When confronted over these questionable statements, I think you throw up diversions and smoke screens. An example of this latter tendency is your statement above that ORs were tried by their peers. 

 

Just my opinion. 

 

 ** groan**. Here we go.....

 

Q. What proportion of Brutish Officers had previously served in the Ranks? 

 

You are ill informed. I think I am reasonably informed on this aspect as I have spent decades wading through hundreds of war diaries and transcribing them. Millions of words of meticulous, cross referenced research. It provides a very solid platform and one that challenges a lot if ill informed preconceptions about the Great War.  If you are looking for proof of how this works I would  refer you to the Kipling thread.  Thousands of meticulously recorded data points that simply dismantle some utterly ridiculous arguments based on supposition and conjecture. My interest is in psychology and in simple terms how arguments are constructed. SAD is a truly brilliant example of how people simply make up facts to support their increasingly fantastical and implausible arguments. It is a rich seam of study for psychologists. It is a joy. Just an opinion.  

 

The "?" In point 2. was simply that I don't have a left-handed clue what your point is. 

 

You still can't tell me what proportion of FGCMs involved ORs as witnesses and ex-ORs as presiding officers. MG

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16 minutes ago, QGE said:

 

You still can't tell me what proportion of FGCMs involved ORs as witnesses and ex-ORs as presiding officers. MG

 

I am very happy to agree that you have done many years of admirable work on original material, such as war diaries. I also complimented your  writing style, such as your summaries and introductions for such diaries. But I think our present discussion illustrates how your learning may blind you to other perspectives. Yes, many of the officers may have started off as other ranks (but remember that this was required in some divisions, so could be more than a bit artificial). But even in those cases where the officers truly started at the bottom, when they were commissioned they ceased to be the social or actual peers of enlisted soldiers. They were now officially gentlemen - by royal fiat - and a caste apart. They were no longer the "peers" of the enlisted soldiers.

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Out of interest does any one know if it was only OR's who formed the firing parties.? and is it known how many men refused to do so.

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