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Remembered Today:

Summary execution


PhilB
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Phil

The BBC of over twenty years ago was widely respected for the care they took in checking the veracity of anything broadcast in the public domain. Hence the probability of this story being true is high. As I said in my original posting I have never endeavoured to find out more about the incident for the very reason you note in your contribution. Also, like you, I have never come across any mention of it in the WW1 literature I have read.

I posted this info as an example of how, when the need is desperate, men will react with extreme violence at low levels of command. After all, this could not have been an action sanctioned by the Higher Command before the event. There would have been no time. The decision to act must have been taken at "local" level and with the approval of, at least, one Other Rank.

Regards

Jim Gordon

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Guest Geordie Lad

Its always interesting to read in these threads when somebody brings up treatment of the ordinary soldier

Some dive straight in to the defence of the Officers

Its just like being back in them days again

Its them and us all over again

Then as now I think its the ordinary soldier gets the raw deal even on here

Let the truth be out I say

Regards Geordie Lad

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  • 5 years later...
Guest Thomas Atkins

I have read an account of Battle police killing a young soldiers from the KOYLI's who failed to go over the top.

I cant remember the book, but it also mentioned that a month or two later in a repeat attack the same Battn left a number of men behind to "settle scores", retribution served then they went over.

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If you do recall the title of the book, I'd appreciate a reference. Corroborated instances of killing by battle police are very few indeed.

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I'd disagree, Tom. I'd say they're non-existant.

There seem to be lots of apocryphal stories about blokes who knew someone who heard, sort of thing, but I really don't think I've ever seen a really well-documented, verifiable source.

I'd be interested to read such.

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Does Crozier mention an incident in one of his books? It may have been an officer shooting soldiers retreating in disorder rather than battle police.

I supppose this is similar in nature to stories of prisoner execution. Not formally reported.

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Does Crozier mention an incident in one of his books? It may have been an officer shooting soldiers retreating in disorder rather than battle police.

I supppose this is similar in nature to stories of prisoner execution. Not formally reported.

Brass Hat in No Man's Land.

He describes two units routed and running back in fear. The first, he manages to stop, gives them water, and they return to the fray. The second is a larger group, fail to stop, and Crozier sends a young subaltern to head them off. They refuse to stop, and the officer fires into the khaki, a man drops; the group gather their senses, and return to the fight. I forget which battle though.

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It's a long time since I read Burrage's "War is War", and I don't recall whether he mentions them shooting soldiers out of hand, but he does speak approvingly of the Australians shooting battle police!

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Rather than debate the merits of anecdotal evidence, would someone who believes that battle police executed men without trial please produce some evidence that this actually happened, and that battle police were authorised to do this. If this was army policy there must be orders and instructions authorising it.

The burden of proof lies on the person making the claim, not on those who would refute it.

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Same thought was in my mind Heid. Is there an Army publication outlining in detail the conduct and work load of 'battle police'? Was there such a term as 'battle police?' They were either redcap MPs or subalterns /WOs given a specific order as illustrated by Crozier above. Men skulking in the trench at the outset of a patrol or push would, presumably be arrested and tried for cowardice (as thousands were) and not just summarily shot?

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Lt Colonel Stockwell of 2nd RWF (and later a Brigadier) had the reputation of at least threatening to shoot his own men according to Frank Richards, which is why he acquired the soubriquet 'Buffalo Bill'. Richard Holmes concludes in 'Tommy' that the stories of Battle Police shooting stragglers is probably an urban (or more correctly 'trench') legend. An incident whereby a British CO orders a subordinate to shoot a retreating officer from another battalion is featured in the BBC Drama-Documentary 'Dunkirk'. I tried to gauge the veracity of this story on an equivalent World War II forum. I seem to recall that the balance of opinion was that the incident did actually occur as depicted although some sources rather coyly state that shots were directed 'towards' rather than 'at' the officer involved.

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I have just read this thread, and at last it has come to its senses.

I know of no policy, no orders and no substantiated cases of so-called Battle Police carrying out summary execution. There are fairly well documented cases of junior ranks [including junior officers] who took extreme action to avert a crisis, but as individuals acting as they thought fit

and liable to disciplinary action equally as to gain a VC.

I think the topic ranks with the Crucified Canadian and Blue light brothels for officers only. All very much at the Robert Graves end of history-telling.

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I can easily contemplate events that happened in the heat of the moment- I can see that during a fire fight, a man fleeing would be shot, or a hideously wounded soldier crying 'shoot me' would and did have his wish fullfilled. The same goes with hot blooded murder of prisoners during conflict. It's another thing to cold-bloodedly shoot a cowering wretch in a cold situation.

How did the shooter justify his actions to his superiors on debriefing? "He was hiding in the mud gibbering; so I shot him in the head, but missed as he was squealing, and blew his shoulder off. I tried again, the revolver wouldn't fire, so I got my mate's rifle and shot him again, this time blowing his chin off. I tried again, forcing my muzzle into the remains of his mouth, smashing his teeth and blowing his cheek off. That didn't kill him neither. So we all clubbed him to death."

An arrest is so much simpler.

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Lt Colonel Stockwell of 2nd RWF (and later a Brigadier) had the reputation of at least threatening to shoot his own men according to Frank Richards, which is why he acquired the soubriquet 'Buffalo Bill'. Richard Holmes concludes in 'Tommy' that the stories of Battle Police shooting stragglers is probably an urban (or more correctly 'trench') legend. An incident whereby a British CO orders a subordinate to shoot a retreating officer from another battalion is featured in the BBC Drama-Documentary 'Dunkirk'. I tried to gauge the veracity of this story on an equivalent World War II forum. I seem to recall that the balnce of opinion was that the incident did actually occur as depicted although some sources rather coyly state that shots were directed 'towards' rather than 'at' the officer involved.

To be fair, Stockwell was a captain company commander when he was last seen waving a revolver around. His subaltern was Deadye Dick. He was never a Lt Col commanding 2nd battalion, he commanded 1st battalion twice, once after the war. He also had a drunken sergeant tied to the barbed wire in the snow for several hours. Full of charm, grace and compassion was our Bill. Richards hated him [this is clear in his private correspondence] but had a regard for his bravery and his professionalism.

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Sorry, Grumpy, I was relying on memory; should have checked my Richards' facts where you are concerned! Interestingly, from reading his papers Bury Grammar School old boy Thomas Floyd (an officer in 2/5th LF, 55 DIV) appears to have had a very high opinion of Stockwell but regarded his one-time battalion commander Best-Dunkley (posthumous VC) and Divisional CO Jeudwine as maniacs.

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Thanks: Stockwell was a man you would want on your side if you were of higher rank ..... he won fights, he won minor battles, his sort win wars.

Not too many friends!

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Quote:-

"As far as provost duties were concerned, no instructions existed as to what these might be, and they had to be defined and acted on as they became apparent. In France these mainly included the manning of 'stragglers' posts', traffic control, dealing with crime committed by British soldiers, the control of civilians within the battle area, handling prisoners of war, and patrolling rear areas and ports. Of these, perhaps the operation of stragglers' posts has become the least understood, giving rise to the legend of the Redcap, pistol in hand, forcing shell-shocked Tommies forward to certain death. The facts paint an entirely different picture. Stragglers' posts or battle-stops, as they were sometimes called, were collecting points behind the front lines where prisoners of war were taken over from the infantry, runners and message-carriers were checked and directed. Walking wounded from Regimental Aid Posts were directed to casualty collecting stations for evacuation, and 'stragglers' were dealt with. This last-named duty involved halting soldiers who were obviously neither casualties, signalers or runners, re-arming and equipping them if necessary, and sending them forward to rejoin their units, individually or in groups. With so few MMP or MFP men available, this type of work was mostly done by 'trench police' or 'battle police', men from a division's cavalry squadron or cyclist company, regimental police or corps cavalry, who also directed traffic in communication trenches. All worked under the direction of the divisional APM. Later in the war, a typical division in the line employed over 250 officers and men on provost duties within its area. They manned four straggler posts, provided an MP presence at the casualty collection post, operated various road traffic control posts and a number of mobile traffic patrols."

http://home.mweb.co.za/re/redcap/rmp.htm

The quote shows that battle/trench police were part of the formal police organization, under the APM. It makes no mention of their role when an attack was mounted. Were they in the jumping off trenches (as some veterans claimed) or were they at the collecting points? If they were in the jumping off trenches, what exactly were they expected to do?

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The OP states:

"After the recent discussion about WW1 executions, it is surprising that more fuss has not been made about these "summary executions" where there was not even the pretence of a trial. Can this procedure have been legitimized by military law? Has anything official ever been written about these procedures? Who did the shooting? Was it NCOs of the Regimental Police?

Does anyone have any info? Phil B "

Phil B you began the thread with the stated assumption that summary executions took place. As this is your starting point it is really up to you to show that battle police were in the trenches and what they were authorised to do. Asking other people questions to prove or disprove your assumption is not how this works. Do you still believe summary executions took place?

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Asking other people questions to prove or disprove your assumption is not how this works. Do you still believe summary executions took place?

I`ve made no assumptions. When did I say I believed they took place? I`ve been told by veterans that it happened but I don`t take that as gospel. It may well be a myth, but the GWF is the place where these questions can and should be raised so that, if anyone has evidence, it can be aired and the myth disposed of. Or otherwise.

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I quote:

After the recent discussion about WW1 executions, it is surprising that more fuss has not been made about these "summary executions" where there was not even the pretence of a trial.

That really does sound like someone who has their mind made up.

Did you mis-speak or did I misunderstand? If the latter, I am in good company.

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