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Shot at dawn - British WW1 Military Executions.


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On 05/11/2017 at 07:59, Hedley Malloch said:

But for black soldiers, it fell to 50%. How do you account for this? Similarly, how do you explain that so few officers were shot?  

 

 

But both are comprehensively explained by the fact that very small numbers are involved and statistical analysis of such small numbers  is deeply flawed (as any statistician will happily tell you). The pardons campaign had many good points to make - but this has never been one of them.

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The executions of black and Chinese personnel were nearly all for murder, for which crime commutation of the death penalty was rarely given, regardless of ethnicity.

That, rather than the statistical distortion created by drawing conclusions from a small number of cases, is the reason for any difference in levels of commutation.

 

 

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On 11/4/2017 at 21:59, Hedley Malloch said:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hedley

 

The Irish Government's grasp of what is statistically meaningful appears to be almost non-existent. The sample size is simply minuscule and nothing can be drawn from it that has any meaning. Eire's track record on acknowledging its citizens' participation in the Great War is somewhat challenging to say the least; the focus on the 26 rather than the tens of thousands who served and died is a good example of the distorted perspectives.

 

I don't know the religious split of the 26 Irish SAD but I cant help notice that five were Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers which largely recruited from the Protestant side of the sectarian divide. Also of note is that men serving in the 16th (Irish) Div and 36th (Ulster) Divs were equally represented. The other Irish SADs appear to be randomly distributed across 11 other formations. Are you suggesting the Battalion, Brigade, Division, Corps commanders in all 11 formations deliberately singled out these men because they were Catholics? And are we to assume that Haig (the ultimate arbiter) was anti-Catholic? The pre War Army was nearly 15% Catholic - far greater than the UK's population as a whole. I simply don't buy the argument that SAD shows an anti-Catholic bias. 

 

Your allegations on racial bias appear to have little support in the facts. All but one of the non-Caucasian SAD cases were for murder; a crime that was punishable by death in the civilian code of law at the time. Only one of the non-Caucasian SADs was for desertion. A single individual. I would repeat my assertion that there has been a disproportionate obsession with this issue.

 

As for the Irish, I think you are being "fooled by  randomness" . The distribution is an extremely small sample and again is statistically meaningless. No-one can agree on definitions of being 'Irish'. The Irish diaspora from its mass emigration in the mid 19th Century is legendary. Irish-born formed 3% of the  English population in 1861. In Liverpool it was in excess of 25%. In Scotland it was 6%. Their English-born and Scots born sons and grandsons fought in the Great War, but historians can not agree on just how many, for the simple fact that the country of origin of a soldier's parents or grandparents was not recorded. There are extensive threads that explore this is minute detail. The bottom line is that no-one knows how many 'Irishmen' served, fought or died, so we don't have a reliable base by which to measure the 'Irish' SADs. We can however be fairly certain that the official figures of Irish recruits in SMEBE understate the true figure by some considerable margin. 

 

In my view the largest factors behind the distortion in the tiny Irish SAD data is that Irishmen were far more likely to have served in the infantry than English, Scots or Welsh. Pre-War in 1913 Irish born (our only reliable measure of 'Irish') represented 9.1% of the regular British Army. In the Line Infantry they were over-represented at 10.1% and underrepresented in the Cavalry (6%) and RFA and RHA (6%). These demographic distortions were further skewed during the War as the Irish formed sectarian units from in the shape of Infantry Divisions; 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) and to a much lesser extent the 10th (Irish) Divs.

 

In addition they were more likely to have served in a regular battalion.  This is the crux of the matter. The lack of any TF battalions linked to  Irish regiments further restricted their choices. The  relatively poor response in voluntary recruiting in 1914-15 and their inability to replace losses led to a very limited expansion of Irish infantry regiments. The extremes illustrate the point; The Connaught Rangers raised just two new Battalions. The Northumberland Fusiliers  raised another 44 battalions. In 1916-1918 Irish regiments saw the largest decline in number of battalions; of the 49 New Army battalions raised from Irish infantry regiments, only 13 remained in existence on Armistice Day.  To save you the calculation that is a 73% contraction from the peak. ....  the remnants of disbanded Irish battalions were constantly used to suatain the remaining 17 regular Irish battalions (2nd Bn Connaught Rangers itself having been amalgamated with the 1st Bn). If one considers the length of time each Irish battalion battalion existed during the war, (battalions multiplied by months = "battalion months" in theatre) there is a massive skew in the Irish infantry;  regular battalions represented 41% of the total 'Battalions months' served by Irish infantry during the War. An Irish volunteer was more likely to have served in an Irish Infantry regiment in an Irish formation and if he served in a New Army battalion he was more likely to have ended up in a regular battalion. These are simple facts that are easy to demonstrate.

 

If we do a similar exercise with non-Irish infantry regiments, the regular battalions represent less than 19% of the total. In simple terms this is because English, Scots and Welsh recruits served in (proportionally) more New Army Battalions, TF battalions, Reserve Battalions, Garrison Battalions, Training Battalions etc. This is particularly pronounced in English infantry regiments for the simple fact that it had the highest concentration population and the necessary legal empowerment in the form of conscription. The 19% figure is over-stated as it does not include those units that served outside theatres of war in India and policing the Empire's garrisons. If these are included the number drops to around 14%. If we take the Northumberland Fusiliers as a simple benchmark (and the largest line infantry Battalion) just two of its 51 Battalions were Regular battalions. For the infantry as a whole there were 161 Regular Battalions of 1,761 in total (9%). Of these 6 were left in India for the duration of the War, 

 

In addition to the above, one needs to consider the numbers passing through the Regular battalions. As part of wartime doctrine, Regular battalions' manning levels were prioritised throughout the war. consequently more men served in the average regular Battalion than the average New Army or TF battalion in the same regiment. This again becomes skewed as New Army battalions were disbanded. The CWGC data for the Irish infantry tells us that 52% of all fatalities occurred while serving in Regular 1st and 2nd Battalions rather than New Army Battalions. Again we don't see this level of concentration in non-Irish battalions. 

 

Either way one chooses to slice and dice the big data, it is an inescapable fact that the an Irish volunteer was far more likely to serve in a regular infantry battalion. Consequently he was far more likely to have faced the full force of Military Law which the regular infantry applied  more forcefully than the TF or New Armies.  The infantry represented 81% of all British SAD cases and of these the Regulars represented 41% of the Infantry cases despite representing only 9% of all the 1,761 British infantry battalions that served during the war. Put another way the regular infantry were over represented in the data by a factor of 3.5. 

 

15 of the 24 Irish Infantry SADs served in a Regular battalion: 62.5% i would argue that the high correlation between serving in a regular infantry battalion and being subject to a harsher interpretation of Military Law is casual. 

 

MG

 

 

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On 05/11/2017 at 07:59, Hedley Malloch said:

The pardon rate for soldiers condemned to death was about 90%. Much is made of this by SAD apologists. But for black soldiers, it fell to 50%. How do you account for this?

 

 

 

On 05/11/2017 at 06:02, QGE said:

As for the other racial allegations, I cant help notice that all the Chinese SADs were for murder and all three Cape Coloured Labour Regt SADs were for murder leaving a single British West Indies soldier SAD for desertion. Not exactly overwhelming evidence supporting your claim of racial prejudice...One non-caucasian individual.....

 

 

 

Hedley, Guest made the attempt at answering your point 2 hours before you made it, however I've decided to post as there are inaccuracies in both your arguments.

 

In addition to the 4 men mentioned above, 2 other men from "African" Regts were executed, I make no assumption on whether they were "Black", only that they served in predominantly Black Regt's, they were:-

 

Aziberi Frafra, Gold Coast Regt for "Casting away arms" 28/09/16

 

Samuel Sabongidda, 3/Nigerian in his case both "Shot at Dawn" and Blindfold and Alone" list his offence as "Violence" however that offence is not covered in official figures, the disparity in those and the 2 books I mention make it almost certain his offence was "Striking a Superior".

 

In relation to the claims of "racism" in relation to the rates of confirmation of sentence I'd refer you to Gerard Oram's excellent study "Death sentences passed by courts of the British Army 1914-1924" gives the following information on page 123 of my edition.

East African Div:- Condemned 11, SAD 4

West African Div: - Condemned 7, SAD 2

 

This ties in with the number of men mentioned and as is demonstrably clear the percentage actually SAD is not 50% as claimed above but 33.3%! Hedley, I'd be interested in reading the source of your information?

 

Also in the book on page 122 it gives the following figures for the Indian Army: - Condemned, 54, SAD 6

 

To answer any claims on the impartiality of these figures, one of the co-editors of the book is Julian Putkowski, who was a leading figure in the successful campaign for pardons for those SAD.

 

I had no intention of getting involved in this disagreement, however as an earlier contributor to the thread I get notifications of new posts and I simply couldn't let the inaccuracies pass without clarification. I hope this contributes some light to the heat.

 

In relation to the case put forward by the Irish Government, I'd be interested to read whether their figures included those executed for taking part in the Easter Rising in the most part convicted for Rebellion as they were convicted and sentenced by military not civilian courts, it'd certainly affect the figures if they were, I should add though that of around 88 condemned in the immediate aftermath of the rising only 16 were executed.

 

Sam

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Steven Broomfield

Out of interest (and I apologise if this has been mentioned before), were there any executions in the London Irish, Liverpool Irish or Tyneside Irish battalions? I just wondered if they give any 'evidence' one way or the other.

 

Also, thanks to contributors for keeping this often difficult and emotional subject respectful.

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2 hours ago, roughdiamond said:

 

In addition to the 4 men mentioned above, 2 other men from "African" Regts were executed, I make no assumption on whether they were "Black", only that they served in predominantly Black Regt's, they were:-

 

Also in the book on page 122 it gives the following figures for the Indian Army: - Condemned, 54, SAD 6

 

Sam

 

Sam Thank you for the corrective. My error was using an imperfect online source. So we go from one to three. I remain completely underwhelmed by the magnitude of the data.  I would simply point out that the addition/subtraction of a single person is equivalent to 33% of the sample  which is why the sample remains statistically meaningless. 

 

On your  numbers we have  a pardon rate of 88% for the Indian Army. Given the close proximity to Hedley's 90% for Causcasians this suggests to me that there is very little evidence to support the idea of institutionalised racism being an influence on these decisions. The Indian Army was (I think) around 1.7 million, so 54 convictions seems to suggests capital punishment was used rather less. I assume it does not include the mutineers of the 5th Light Infantry in Singapore? If we were to follow some of the skewed logic, using the Indian Army data if one was so minded one could just as easily fabricate an argument that there was racial bias; against Caucasians given higher numbers were convicted and carried out as a percentage of those who served compared to the Indian Army. Clearly this would be utter nonsense, but I think illustrates how stats could be bent to fit an argument.

 

 Incidentally Indian Army Law was different to British Military Law. The Indian Army was still administering flogging as a punishment until 1922. It had been abolished in British Military Law for some decades by the time of the Great War, although if Churchill's description of the Royal Navy as  purveyors of "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash" holds any truth, the Law in the Royal Navy might have been different. 

 

I would be interested to see the names of the 6 Indian Army unfortunates or indeed the longer list of 54 if it exists. I have a few diaries that mention executions in the IEF-A but no names. Some should be Gurkha Riflemen  - something not widely known - so it would be interesting to see if the diaries and the data actually converge. 

 

MG

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12 minutes ago, Steven Broomfield said:

Out of interest (and I apologise if this has been mentioned before), were there any executions in the London Irish, Liverpool Irish or Tyneside Irish battalions? I just wondered if they give any 'evidence' one way or the other.

 

Also, thanks to contributors for keeping this often difficult and emotional subject respectful.

 

4567 Pte Joseph Brennan. 1st/8th King's Liverpool Regiment, executed for desertion on 16th July 1916

26/626 L/Cpl Jesse Robert Short,  24th Northumberland Fusiliers, Etaples Mutiny, executed 4th October 1917

 

Don't count your chickens.

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4 minutes ago, IPT said:

 

4567 Pte Joseph Brennan. 1st/8th King's Liverpool Regiment, executed for desertion on 16th July 1916

26/626 L/Cpl Jesse Robert Short,  24th Northumberland Fusiliers, Etaples Mutiny, executed 4th October 1917

 

Don't count your chickens.

 

One might add

No. 45688 Pte John Milburn 24th/27th Northumberland Fusiliers desetion 8/1/1917. 34th Div. 

No. 2974 Pte Bernard McGeehan 1/8th Bn King's (Liverpool Regt) (Liverpool Irish). 2/11/1916.  55th Div.

 

I assume these were in the Irish Govt's list. the caveat is that they are on the same online list that missed the two African soldiers. 

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The quantitative (statistics) evidence is based on small numbers, but it does point in one direction. It has to be taken along with the qualitative (literature, interviews, biographies) to explain the numbers. The numbers themselves don’t explain anything.This qualitative evidence points  in the same direction - In the years before WW1 British society was infected by attitudes which were profoundly anti-catholic and anti-Irish. They were regarded as treacherous and ignorant. Catholics did not get the vote until the 1830s, and (I think) were not allowed to sit in Parliament until much later. Even today we cannot have a Catholic monarch. The Irish immigrants were regarded as stupid - the Irish ‘jokes’ which we know were just one symptom of this.

They were poor, uneducated and excluded and they represented a type of simple Catholicism not to be found in the aristocratic ranks of ‘Brideshead Revisited’. Their treachery was clearly demonstrated in their rebellions (1798, 1867) and their political rejection of British rule which culminated in the movement for Home Rule.  Catholics were educated separately something which permitted these divisions to grow. This is reflected in the literature of the period. The Irish government submission has some interesting quotes from classics of Victorian literature as well as some remarks by senior British officers of the Edwardian army which points to an all-pervasive sentiment of anti-Catholicism and prejudice against the Irish. I grew up in a working class area of Tyneside in the 1950s and there was still a lot of this feeling even then.

This created a certain culture which made it very difficult for them to be treated fairly especially in a hierarchical, socially conservative organisation such as the Edwardian army. The key word is ‘culture’ - this means that assumptions and attitudes are tacit, implied and all pervasive. Nobody spells them out - and nobody likes them questioned.  So Haig or any other British officer never says - ‘you can’t trust the Irish - let’s make sure we shoot a few of them’.  Cultures don’t work like that. They programme the mind to work in a certain way. And that’s what we see in the operation of the death penalty in the British Army during WW1.

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10 minutes ago, QGE said:

No. 45688 Pte John Milburn 24th/27th Northumberland Fusiliers desetion 8/1/1917. 34th Div. 

 

Could I make an observation to his SAD date which I believe should be the 8/11/1917.

 

Powerful arguments either way gentlemen.

 

John

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1 hour ago, Steven Broomfield said:

, thanks to contributors for keeping this often difficult and emotional subject respectful.

Passage of time, again, Steve.

 

The conditional pardons brought about by the government in 2006 produced a result over which few, if any, observers would take exception. The once heated discussions as to the rights and wrongs of the matter have passed into history over the last decade and a bit. It's become a non-issue. And, to my mind, rightly so.

 

John

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Interestingly SMEBE (page 649) shows completely different stats and gives 324 as the total for soldiers...

 

Of related interest is the fact that 91 of the 324 were already under suspended sentences. Of these, 40 had previously been sentenced to death (all but 2 for desertion). "One soldier had been sentenced to death on two previous occasions for desertion. In 9 cases the accused were under two suspended sentences"... which might explain why some were not commuted.

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1 hour ago, QGE said:

Interestingly SMEBE (page 649) shows completely different stats and gives 324 as the total for soldiers...

 

Would this discrepancy be the addition of those 18 that were SAD between 1 Jan 1919 and 31 Dec 1920 in France,Belgium,Egypt and Turkey?

 

John

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1 minute ago, Knotty said:

 

Would this discrepancy be the addition of those 18 that were SAD between 1 Jan 1919 and 31 Dec 1920 in France,Belgium,Egypt and Turkey?

 

John

I dont think so... because it provides a breakdown of each theatre...Specifically addressing one of the points further up the thread on the number of SAD of non-Caucasian origin, it shows  the Chinese and (separately) just '4' from African units ... i.e. the 3  convicted of murder and one for desertion I mentioned earlier. Clearly this is the source that the online table has used... I suspect it simply was a miss in collating the data from multiple sources. I am not aware of a later edition of SMEBE so any errors or misses would not have seen daylight. 

 

I simply highlight it as I note that journalists and online sources don't all align on the numbers and given the very small numbers involved - particularly the subsets that are being used as anchors to make very broad claims. I thought it worth highlighting; the inclusion or exclusion of a few individuals will swing the data by a considerable margin. 

 

I thought the recidivism was the most interesting aspect.

 

SMEBE can be found online  too. 

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Thank you for the succinct reply, much appreciated, a difficult and emotive subject for anyone to tackle.

 

John

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4 hours ago, QGE said:

Interestingly SMEBE (page 649) shows completely different stats and gives 324 as the total for soldiers...

 

Pardon my ignorance but what is "SMEBE"?

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On 11/4/2017 at 16:16, Hedley Malloch said:

Irish and black soldiers were shot in numbers out of all proportion to their numbers enrolled

 

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?  

 

23 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

 

The key case was Private Crozier, the only Ulster SAD, and not Harry Farr as is popularly imagined. The Irish government said unless HMG pardoned them all, then they would do so. The prospect of the Irish government pardoning U.K. citizens raised too many post-Good Friday constitutional problems and niceties, so HMG conceded pardons.

 

 

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

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1 minute ago, roughdiamond said:

 

Pardon my ignorance but what is "SMEBE"?

 

Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire. The Bible on Great War Stats. 880 pages of millions of cold hard facts. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell on mathematics "Cold and austere in its beauty." 

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Some figures on the Irish side of things from Oram's "Death sentences passed by courts of the British Army 1914-1924" that I quoted in post #154. I should clarify these figures are "Irish Infantry Regts" and it should be bourne in mind that not all men in Irish Regts were Irish (I had 2 Scottish Gt Uncles who served in Irish Regts). The figures also do not include Irish men serving with Corps or non-Irish Regts. These are listed on page 121 by seniority of Corps/Regt rather than alphabetically hence the Connaught Rangers are lower on the list:-

 

Irish Guards:- Sentenced to Death 7, Executed 3 (All Desertion)

Royal Irish - Sentenced to Death 12, SAD 0

Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers:-  29, SAD 5 (All Desertion)

Royal Irish Rifles:-  63, SAD 5 (All Desertion)

Royal Irish Fusiliers:- Sentenced to Death 29, SAD 2 (All Desertion)

Connaught Rangers:- Sentenced to Death 17, SAD 1 (Post War 02/11/20 for Mutiny)

Leinster:- Sentenced to Death 23, SAD 3 (2 for Desertion, 1 for Disobedience)

Royal Munster Fusiliers:- Sentenced to Death 37, SAD 2 (1 for Desertion, one for Disobedience)

Royal Dublin Fusiliers:- Sentenced to Death 22, SAD 3 (2 for Desertion, 1 post War 06/11/20 for Murder)

 

So

 

Sentenced to Death 239, SAD 24 That is a rate of 10%, the rate for all British and Dominion forces was 11.23%, that's 3080 sentenced to Death and 346 SAD, unless I'm very much mistaken! Hardly screams anti-Irish, anti-Roman Catholic sectarianism when it comes to Military Death Sentences as Hedley pontificates above? Again as with Hedley's discredited claims of racism being responsible for disproportionate rates at execution of "Black" Servicemen, I'd love to read their documentary evidence as the subject of Military Death Sentences does interest me.

 

A little perspective on the high number of Royal Irish Rifles men Sentenced to Death, the following also had over 60:-

 

Durham Light Infantry 70

Northumberland Fusiliers 66

Royal Fusiliers 64

Manchester 63

London 63

Liverpool 62

 

The highest number SAD in an Irish Infantry Regt was 5, a total of 25 non-Irish Regts had 5 or more, 16 of those had 6 or more, 2 were in double figures:-

West Yorkshire 12 

King's Royal Rifle Corps 11

 

Sam

 

As an aside, although no Australians were executed, 113 were 

Sentenced to Death.

 

 

 

 

Edited by roughdiamond
To add "Offence" data.
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Steven Broomfield

Good Lord: given the respective number of battalions, the figure for the Royal Irish Rifles is astounding; that said, a rate of less than 8% for executions is pretty low. Lower than the overall figure, indeed.

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I express no personal opinion, ever, on any aspect of the SAD issue, although I have my own views. The law seems pretty clear. That said, no one  seems to have offered the opinions of those who served alongside the men executed. I can only recall seeing one and, unfortunately, can no longer reference it. Someone else may well be able to do so. The single view of the individual concerned was that he felt that the sentences were just, he did not wish men alongside him who might let him down.

Neverheless, this thread has certainly thrown clear light and perspective on the issue.

 

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1 hour ago, David Filsell said:

That said, no one  seems to have offered the opinions of those who served alongside the men executed. I can only recall seeing one and, unfortunately, can no longer reference it. Someone else may well be able to do so. 

 

I came across the following eye witness account in "Diary of an Old Contemptible" by Eric Roe a pre-War Regular and mobilised reservist then serving with the 6th East Lancs on Gallipoli.

 

"11th December: Execution of Pte Salter at 7.15 am. The youth barely 19 years of age was shot by 12 of his comrades for taking 'French Leave' from his Regiment on two occasions and attaching himself to the Anzacs.

Not by any stretch of the imagination could my colleagues or I catalogue it as desertion as twas impossible to desert from the Peninsula even had he so desired. Our position in comparison to the position that the Anzacs held was as heaven compared to hell. He therefore did not seek safety; he absconded because his life was made hell by the CSM of my Coy (D). In barrack room parlance he was 'sat upon'.

I was one of the firing party; he was marched from the dugout about 80 yards away, to a kind of disused quarry where the final scene was enacted. A clergyman proceeded the doomed youth and his escort reading prayers for the dying (the mockery of it all). The doomed youth was tied up to a stake, his grave already dug. His last request was 'Don't blindfold me'. What followed I'll leave to the readers imagination, in other words, I'll pull the pall of oblivion over the ghastly scene - 'If I can ever forget it'. I only wish that the distinguished person who signed the death warrant, without taking into consideration extenuating circumstances, would leave his comfortable island residence and visit the men under his command who were 'going through it'. Well we'd have a bit more faith in our leaders and confidence in ourselves. I don't suppose for a moment that the executed Salter ever heard the sentence ending read out to him - 'Death or such less punishment' - as in this act mentioned".

 

Sam

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As a generality there is a hitherto untouched-on possible aspect which might be exacerbated by very small samples.

 

In a small population size X, there may be a small sub-set Y. 

 

Y appears to get more than "its fair share" of whatever it is we are considering. We do not need to automatically blame external bias for this.

Y may have a characteristic that predisposes to more than "its fair share".

Thus, tall people in shallow trenches, short people in deep water, those disposed to be intolerant of disclipline in a military environment.

I am not suggesting that this is so, but we are not only looking at a very small playing field, we may be looking at a very uneven playing field. 

 

 

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Here is a quotation from Dr Dunn DCM DSO RMO 2nd RWf in October 1917:

 

" Plainly no action is to be taken against our habitual deserter, clear as is the evidence of wilfulness if it were offered. And yet, what use? To gratify a mawkish humanitarianism two or three score fellows are encouraged  to slip away every time there is a risk to their skins, so more and more average men learn to shirk with impunity; attacks fail, and losses run into untold thousands , because the most dutiful of our men are not backed up".

 

The war the Infantry knew

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24 minutes ago, Muerrisch said:

Y may have a characteristic that predisposes to more than "its fair share"

Are you suggesting that a tiny number of soldiers had a characteristic that predisposed them to desert (often more than once)?  I would understand that it might be the case - as the vast majority of men went through the same experiences without deserting. But it is, surely, a very tenuous proposition and impossible to back up.

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