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Remembered Today:

Shot at dawn - British WW1 Military Executions.


Lancashire Fusilier

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With regard to officers from lower socio-economic backgrounds sitting on courts-martial, there is no good statistical evidence on the social status of officers in the war. As was pointed out, there is some information, on pp. 707 (army) and 713 (RAF) in SMEGW on the industrial groupings of officers when demobilized. There are serious problems with these figures, as there is no way of knowing where any officer stood within, say, the category "Cotton": owner of mill?; son of owner?; spinner? But more than half of the army officers came under the categories "Commercial and Clerical", "Professional men" and "Students and Teachers". But whether they still served in the field is unknown.  More than half who were analyzed were in Home Commands when demobilized (51,516 were in France). But there were over 1000 working in coal mining; 228 in building trades including navvies; 184 dock labourers; and 148 horse carters.

 

Whether they were teeth or tail, in the MGC or Tanks rather than infantry regiments, or had some combatant experience but were at home because of wounds etc just cannot be estimated. 

 

Mike

 

 

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On 14/11/2017 at 13:20, voltaire60 said:

 

     Yes,-exactly so.  Yes, 10RF-Stockbrokers-  or,more correctly, "Commuters" as many of the actual stockbrokers had gone off to commissions elsewhere (FT listing through 1914-1915)- the  ranks were the lower middle-class-the clerks. as the official historian of the HAC observed, the artillry battalion -used as an officer factory- had over 3000 commissions up during the war

     The group whose attitudes  would be the most interesting to me would be the pre-war Regulars commissioned up-  proper "jumping the counter"

 

Stock-jobbers might have been more apposite. Their colours have been stolen. It also raised a secret 10b Bn of policemen, thugs, crooks, roues, thieves, charlatans, multilinguists, immigrants, foreigners, D grade socialites, ex criminals and various clandestine types and degenerates as an Intelligence Battalion.  This weekend the granddaughter of one was visiting and she revealed he spoke seven languages had been imprisoned in three different countries. He was later the Queen's hairdresser. I suspect the CO could 'walk with Kings yet keep the common touch'. 

 

 

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9 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

Many officers faced FCMG, but only two were shot. It is a staggering statistic and one that has not been addressed in this thread. 

Do you have the figures for how many were tried for military capital crimes; how many convicted and how many sentenced to death? And how do those statistics compare with those for ORs?

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33 minutes ago, QGE said:

 

Stock-jobbers might have been more apposite. Their colours have been stolen. It also raised a secret 10b Bn of policemen, thugs, crooks, roues, thieves, charlatans, multilinguists, immigrants, foreigners, D grade socialites, ex criminals and various clandestine types and degenerates as an Intelligence Battalion.  This weekend the granddaughter of one was visiting and she revealed he spoke seven languages had been imprisoned in three different countries. He was later the Queen's hairdresser. I suspect the CO could 'walk with Kings yet keep the common touch'. 

 

MG

 

A little early in the day to be on the sauce, but I can understand that you were driven to it. This thread has the same effect on me.

PS. Father knew Lloyd George.

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52 minutes ago, John_Hartley said:

Do you have the figures for how many were tried for military capital crimes; how many convicted and how many sentenced to death? And how do those statistics compare with those for ORs?

The relevant figures are all in Statistics, though I don't think that the figures for civil capital crimes (principally murder) can be easily stripped out..

 

Ron

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5 hours ago, John_Hartley said:

Do you have the figures for how many were tried for military capital crimes; how many convicted and how many sentenced to death? And how do those statistics compare with those for ORs?

 

You know, John, I don’t. I am at a disadvantage in all this. I am in the middle of a house move and I am living temporarily in a small rented house. All my books and papers are in boxes in the garage and storage. I don’t know where anything is, and it is likely to stay that way for some time.  The figures will be in Oram. That’s possibly in box 25 under the workbench in the garage. ... I think.

 

i think it would be interesting to see the figures you suggest for both officers and other ranks. The acquittal rates for both groups might be illuminating, too.

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Hedley

 

I know the feeling - I had the same experience in 2015 and I still haven't unpacked and sorted all my books!

 

However, I am fairly sure that Statistics is available online somewhere. The relevant pages are 643 to 672 although many of these are consolidations of other tables, e.g. At Home and Abroad; Officers, other Ranks and Civilians; and GCMs, DCMs and FGCMs.

 

For what it may be worth, here are the "grand totals":

305062    Trials    
271593    Convictions    
24255    Acquittals    
5063    Quashed    
4151    Not confirmed    
        
    Offences:    
171    War treason    
544    DORA Regulations    
1709    Offence agnst inhabitant    
1807    Mutiny    
551    Cowardice    
38630    Desertion    
88188    Absence    
13104    Striking/violence    
30082    Insubordination    
11602    Disobedience    
8810    Quitting post    
41762    Drunkenness    
1226    Injuring property    
28754    Loss of property    
9343    Theft    
293    Indecency    
1738    Resisting escort    
3327    Escaping confinement    
51186    Misc military offences    
3186    Misc civil offences    
3904    Self inflicted wound    
206    Scandalous conduct    
1838    Fraudulent enlistment    
200    Enlisting after discharge    
489    False answer    
105    Neglect    
1061    Fraud    
        
    Sentences:    
371    Death    
163    Penal servitude - Life    
463        - 15 years
1907        - 12 years
448        - 9 years
2955        - 6 years
1655        - 3 years
9310    Impris't +HL    - 24 months
2141        - 18 months
10395        - 12 months
16536        - 6 months
137    Imprisonmnt    - 24 months
61        - 18 months
386        - 12 months
1427        - 6 months
13597    Detention    - over 6 mos
27668        - 6 months
63967        - 3 months
60210    Field punishment No1    
20759    Field punishment No2    
377    Cashiered    
1085    Dismissed    
954    Forfeiture of seniority    
2640    Reprimand    
970    Ignominy    
27639    Reduction    
33469    Stoppages & fines    
2433    Quashed, partially    
842    Not confirmed, partially    
1657    Wholly remitted    
9469    Suspended    
 

A quick look shows that overall the conviction rate was about 90%. This accords with the fact that courts-martial were not normally convened unless there was a very strong likelihood of a conviction. However, the conviction rates for officers only were closer to 75%.

 

Ron

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QUOTE: Commissioned men from the Ranks were made Temporary Gentlemen and once the War was over they were sent back to the class and the where they had come from. 

 

This is only partially true, and fails to recognise the fact that regular soldiers when commissioned were granted regular commissions, both before and during the war. In partiular, there was a surge of such commissions in September to November 1914, often several from one battalion, thus half a dozen from a regiment of infantry. I have long suspected that there was an undeclared secret list prepared before the war for this contingency.

After the initial surge there was a slow trickle of commissioning as pre-war privates and JNCOs rose to higher rank and were creamed off. This was still happening in mid 1916.

Whilst insignificant in numbers compared with the wartime temporary officers and gentlemen, such regular soldiers were, I submit, a breed apart.

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Thanks for that, Ron.

 

Taking the two (or three) officers executed, what i was trying to get at was to see what % that was of officers convicted of a military capital crime and sentenced to death - and to see how that compared with the roughly 10% of ORs who were executed. As mentioned much earlier, I am reluctant to put too much store on analysis of very tiny numbers but it would be a starting point to consider Hedley's suggestion that the process was biased in favour of officers.

 

John

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50 minutes ago, Muerrisch said:

I have long suspected that there was an undeclared secret list prepared before the war for this contingency.

After the initial surge there was a slow trickle of commissioning as pre-war privates and JNCOs rose to higher rank and were creamed off. This was still happening in mid 1916.

Whilst insignificant in numbers compared with the wartime temporary officers and gentlemen, such regular soldiers were, I submit, a breed apart.

 

     Perhaps not a "secret" list but it was the job of the CO to be on top of  the abilities and standards of his men-thus, the CO would have a good idea of who to bump up.  The peacetime Army was not static. With completion of engagements, transfers and normal wastage (medical,etc), then the NCO structure of a battalion was unlikely to be a constant for more than a few months at best. And in peacetime,  a number of officers off doing other things.

    It looks like the expectation of forming service battalions  was already planned for - I have 2 local casualties who illumine your point. -  Lt Harold Marten, South Staffords- arrived back in the UK from secondment in West Africa literally on th eve of the war. Transferred to a new service battalion(7th SS) after 3 weeks, and bumped up to Captain. The other illustrates that commission from the ranks continued through the war- I have a man, Captain Thomas Samuel Gayes, 11th Border Regt, killed 1918- actually stepped down from LCPL to the ranks at own request on the eve of the war but then up to Sergeant and commissioned  in mid-1917. Killed as a Captain, so must have shown his mettle.

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There was certainly a plan before the war to give a certain number of NCOs commissions as soon as war broke out. I've read that somewhere, but can't remember where. The policy was agreed in 1912 or 1913. These weren't to be Quartermaster Lts or Riding Masters, but regimental officers.

 

Mike

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Thank you both. I did not make my point very well. The regiment of which I have a little knowledge, RWF, had its 2nd battalion as the second unit to land in F&F, and was rather busy from Le Cateau onwards. The 1st battalion followed a month later and was shockingly knocked about at 1st Ypres. 

Given that COs did not have commissioning authority, I find it difficult to envisage correspondence through military channels from the War Office to the units after 4th August politely asking the CO for his recommendations, the CO finding time to reply, the reply finding its way to London, through the turmoil of decimated but expanding bureaucracy, to the London Gazette, all in time for September/October.

What I do find feasible is a pre-war list ready to use, on a desk in Whitehall.

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13 minutes ago, Muerrisch said:

What I do find feasible is a pre-war list ready to use, on a desk in Whitehall.

Entirely feasible and, indeed, surprising if such did not exist in some form or another.

 

I base this on recentish information from civilian life. Firstly, as part of my partner's annual appraisal process, her manager would update an assessment of her likely progression "up the ranks" over the course of her career. And, secondly, I was informed (fairly reliably) that the personnel department of the British arm of a major American car manufacturer kept a "family tree" whiteboard of its management structure, indicating likely promotions, as and when someone higher up the pecking order might retire., etc.

 

If those two major civilian bodies can forward plan for a known need, it seems entirely likely that the Army, in its planning for expansion in the event of war, did not consider how it was going to officer the structure.

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Officers. Trying to establish any difference between Officer and Other Ranks convictions for capital crimes is the easy part. What is signifantly more difficult is to 'prove' underlying causality or bias for the simple reason one is not comparing like with like. There is an implied assumption in the allegation of "class bias" that Other Ranks and Officers were equally predisposed to commit capital offences yet one group was prosecuted more than the other.The (implied) assumption is I think simply wrong. Populations are not homogeneous and Officer selection itself acted as a further filter.

 

In simple terms if Officers were less predisposed to commit capital crimes, we would expect them to be underrepresented in the data. 

 

Class bias Would have to assume Officers and Other Ranks had similar social and military conditioning, training and selection, similar expectations and similar codes of behaviour and attitudes towards discipline. They  quite clearly didn't.  Added to the complexity are the the multiple sources of Officers; Special Reserve, Reserve of Officers, TF, Locally Raised, Connections (e.g. Kipling), Sponsorship (K1, K2, and particularly K3 and the Locally raised battalions), Promotions in the Field, OCTU, direct commissions etc. School, University, performance in the Field....the list is seemingly endless. 

 

On the surface the data 'proves' that Officers were less likely to be charged and less likely to be convicted and less likely to be sentenced to death. I think this is potentially misleading. The data is minuscule, however even if were were to agree it was still statistically meaningful, any conclusions would have to overcome a low wire entanglement of counter-arguments. Briefly;

 

1. The strong contemporary correlation between Class and Crime. 

2. Officer Selection - particularly the selection of Other ranks for Commission.

3. Officer Training

4. Officer Graduation ratios 

5. Class Cultural factors

 

A cursory trawl of historical crime stats shows undeniable correlations between 'class' and crime (as defined by the UK Govt). In the current climate it is the big elephant in the room as it lays bare the correlation between crime, poverty and by extension some sub groups - something the Irish stats confirm. Criminal stats are one thing; the underlying causes are another, but It would be extremely naiive to assume the Great War set of Officers and Other Ranks was homogeneous. 

 

Total War and Universal Conscription. The MSA meant that every man of a specified age bracket, regardless of his characteristics was eligible for conscription. After early 1916 Officers had to have done their time in the ranks. It stands to reason that the men who were selected fitted the quantitative and qualitative requirements. Shirkers, delinquents and men predisposed to non-compliance with Military Laws had a close to zero chance of making it through the selection process. Tens of thousands were also weeded out of the OCTU training. It seems fairly obvious that any form of filtering whether it is physical, cultural, educational., empirical (military tests) peer group assessment, etc will change the characteristics of the residual sub set. I would argue that the filtered graduates of the OCTUs were a class apart from the average Other Rank in all senses of the word. My speculation. 

 

Officer selection has always been a serious process, never more than in 1915-1918:

 

Ten men well led

Will beat a hundred without a head

 

Euripides 466 BC

 

In my day (466 BC) it took five weeks to train a soldier. It took a more than year to train an Officer. The first five weeks were exactly the same as a soldier's training and the attrition on week five was the highest. I went through Sandhurst in a Platoon of 30. Only 11 made it to Commission. I suspect the ratios at the OCTUs were different in 1915-1918 but the principles would have been similar. Serve to Lead. 

 

 

SGC 87/3

 

 

 

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If it took only five weeks to train a soldier (Hoplite?) in your day, , why did it take so long in 1914-1915? Could a soldier be trained in weapons, firing them, fitness, etc etc in such a short time?

 

Mike

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On 16/11/2017 at 03:14, Perth Digger said:

If it took only five weeks to train a soldier (Hoplite?) in your day,  why did it take so long in 1914-1915? Could a soldier be trained in weapons, firing them, fitness, etc etc in such a short time?

 

Mike

 

There is a difference between training an infantryman and training an infantry battalion. When the New Armies were formed, the announcements included an outline of their training schedules (six months). Most of this training was Section, Platoon, Company and Battalion manoeuvres. Basic training of infantry soldiers did not take long (assuming equipment was available). Some men with no prior service who enlisted in August-September 1914 were in the front line as early as Nov 1914. Large numbers arrived as reinforcements in Jan 1915. This is well documented in the medal rolls. The delay during this period was largely due to limited clothing and equipment. Incidentally the man with the shortest training I can find was eventually SAD. Having research him in some detail it seems he was a trouble maker and had a charge sheet as long as your arm. I sometimes wonder if he was sent out early simply to park the problem elsewhere. 

 

The first manning crisis happened in March 1915 when some regiments had run out of trained men by way of reinforcements. The bulk of the New Armies were still not ready due to delays in equipping them. It is perhaps no surprise that this is when the British Army came under huge pressure and rates of desertion started to climb sharply. Again it is this type of context that is important in understanding the prime driver of capital crimes in the shape of desertion in particular.

 

My point is that training a soldier then (and now) took considerably less time than training an Officer. Time spent on training Officers varied considerably during the War depending on a number of factors. it is distinctly possible that the class that the British Army targeted for its Officers (Public School educated men) were generally underrepresented in crime stats before the War. If one is recruiting from a sub group that has been conditioned for years to obey orders, having spent time in highly organised and regimented establishments (Public Schools from the age of 5 to 18, institutions where participation in OTC was strongly encouraged and sometimes complusory), and who were conditioned to respect regulations and laws, it should be no surprise that they are underrepresented in the FGCM data. Similarly those ex NCOs who had spent many years in the ranks and who were subsequently commissioned might also have been better conditioned through their service. It was difficult to get a commission from the ranks without a clean sheet. It is distinctly possible that these groups were less inclined to Commit capital offences under Military Law.  As Muerrish points out, this latter group were a class apart. 

 

It it seemsdistinctly possible that differences in conviction rates between Officers and Other Ranks might be driven by fundamental differences in attitudes towards discipline and the law.. Populations are not homogeneous and the byproduct of any selection process will alter the fundamental characteristics of the selected group(s). 

 

By way of a more modern illustration of how populations are dissimilar, yesterday Scotland introduced a minimum price for a unit of alcohol. The first country in the world to do this. Govt stats show that per capita, on average the Scots consume 1.2 times the amount of alcohol than the English. Consequently the Scots are over represented in drink related illnesses and crime stats. One would be wrong to conclude from the crime data that the law showed anti-Scots bias. It simply reflects an underlying difference between one aspect of (average) social behaviour of the Scots and the English and their unfortunate consequences. The reasons behind this painful difference are extremely complex but it is a measurable difference nonetheless. I deliberately chose this example as it has strong parallels with disciplinary drink related problems in the British Army 100 years earlier. 

 

Back to to the Great War. Chen's statistical study of all Courts Martial shows very clear cut differences between groups. For example, The Irish born were more than twice as likely to desert than English born. It is a simple fact that proves the point that the Army was not homogeneous in its behaviours. I suspect the Sub set of Officers would show remarkably different trends to those of Other Ranks.

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Thanks,.

These data settle one point, I think. Source: Cathryn Corns & John Hughes-Wilson: Blindfold and Alone, p. 325.

46 officers tried for desertion during the war. 4 death sentences and 2 carried out.

38,584 soldiers tried for desertion. Just over 2000 sentenced to death and 266 carried out.

 

7.7% of officer courts-martial ended in execution.

0.7% of soldier courts-martial ended in execution.

 

Mike

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3 hours ago, Perth Digger said:

Thanks, Martin.

These data settle one point, I think. Source: Cathryn Corns & John Hughes-Wilson: Blindfold and Alone, p. 325.

46 officers tried for desertion during the war. 4 death sentences and 2 carried out.

38,584 soldiers tried for desertion. Just over 2000 sentenced to death and 266 carried out.

 

7.7% of officer courts-martial ended in execution.

0.7% of soldier courts-martial ended in execution.

 

Mike

 Thanks Mike. I am aware of the data but this is useful for anyone who has not read Blindfold and Alone. I am not sure such small data means anything. One of the Officer SAD deserters had committed murder. Is this included or excluded in your calcs? 

 

I think this does not fully address the "class bias" critics' allegations. They argue that there should have been more prosecutions of Officers for capital offences simply based on numbers served.  They argue that 46 of the 259,000 Officers is a smaller ratio than the 38,584 of the 5.4 million Other Ranks (base figures vary on which definition one uses). I am not sure how one proves or disproves that argument as it assumes (incorrectly in my view) that both groups were equally disposed to desertion and other capital crimes.

 

for anyone interested in SAD, Charles Messenger's book Call to Arms: the British Army 1914-18 has a very interesting chapter on Discipline which includes a very balanced assessment of the SAD issue. It is beautifully illustrated with detailed case studies. One striking aspect is how in some cases officers did their level best to exonerate their men which might mitigate preconceptions of universal class bias. MG

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These class bias figures are useless. Only desertion while overseas was a capital offence, so you need to know how many of these men in the figures did not go overseas, for starters. 

 

Mike

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33 minutes ago, QGE said:

it is distinctly possible that the class that the British Army targeted for its Officers (Public School educated men) were generally underrepresented in crime stats before the War.

My evidence for supporting this suggestion comes from extensive reading of my local newspapers of the time. Then as now, newspapers love the court reports so, each week, there's a fair number of cases reported. Most crimes reported fell into two categories - acquisitive crimes and crimes of violence fuelled by alcohol (20 years working in the criminal justice system suggests little has changed). And, almost invariably, the crimes were committed by working class men. That is not to say that the middle classes did not commit crimes but these do appear to have been rare. Generally speaking, the tended to be minor frauds - the farmer who watered down milk and so on.

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