Jump to content
Free downloads from TNA ×
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Executed by the Germans


Recommended Posts

I am looking into those who were executed by the Germans during the war, such as Captain Fryatt or Lieutenant Command Oswald Hanson. I have their details but wondered if there were others?

Whilst researching various soldiers I have read of a German officers or soldiers who were sent for Court Martial and subsequently executed? Any thoughts on where further information on them could be found?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Four able seamen of Hood Battalion RND (W Bunting, W Hamilton, B Hepburn and G Lochhead) were executed 24 Jun 1918 for the murder of a German soldier while on the run as escaped POWs. There was a considerable correspondence with the post-war German authorities about the fate of these men.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The book 'My Four Years in Germany', by US Ambassador James W. Gerard, offers the following insights

I received information of the shooting of one prisoner, and although the camp authorities had told Dr. McCarthy that the investigation had been closed and the guard who did the shooting exonerated, nevertheless, when I visited the camp in order to investigate, I was told that I could not do so because the matter of the shooting was still under investigation. Nor was I allowed to speak to those prisoners who had been witnesses at the time of the shooting. I afterwards learned that another Irishman had been shot by a guard on the day before my visit, and the same obstacles to my investigation were drawn about this case.

There is a later report in Hansard about this incident

"On July 7 1916 we learned, from a Report made by two members of the American Embassy at Berlin, that Patrick Moran, of the 2nd Connaught Rangers, was shot by the guard at a working camp near Limburg on May 28. The explanation given by the commandant of the camp is that Moran, when in a state of intoxication, attacked the guard and the burgermeister, and that the guard fired in self-defence. Moran was given a military funeral, and the matter reported to the Army Corps of the district. We have been given to understand that Moran's comrades were not allowed to attend the funeral, and that their request that his body should be buried with other men of his regiment who had died at this camp at Limburg was refused. On July 10 we were informed by the American Ambassador here that another British prisoner, William Devlin, of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, had also been shot at one of the Limburg working camps.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Major and Mrs Holt's "Battlefield Guide the Western Front-South" (from page 336) mentions a visit to Le Catelet where four British soldiers were shot by the Germans in May 1916,having been living as French people in a small village and eventually charged and shot,despite a seeming amnesty for those who gave themselves up before the certain date set.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Edith Cavell?


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks to corinsande, sotonmate and brucehubbard for your kind and most helpful posts. Some more research for me to undertake, I am really grateful to you.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are various categories of casualties of those executed by the Germans. There are the franc-tireurs like Fryatt, PoWs executed in captivity, British and Allied soldiers caught whilst on the run, and the civilians, like Cavell and Chalandre, who helped them.

Regarding the British casualties one estimate is that there were about 50-60 British soldiers executed by the Germans for failing to give themselves up. Of these about 30 are known. The figure does not include those who were shot out of hand during mop-up operations

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Of the 30 that are known, do you know who they are? Or where does that figure come from?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

William Devlin (1878 – 3rd July 1916)


2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers

William Devlin was entitled:

- Victory Medal (Roll B/103 B2 Page 106)

- British War Medal (Roll B/103 B2 Page 106)

-14 Star (Roll 132/Page 39)

William Devlin was born in 1878 and grew up in Dublin.

After his early life in Dublin, William enlisted to the army at the age of 25 on the December 1902. His service number was 8635 (3).

He most likely enlisted for 7 years full time service with the colours, to be followed by another 5 on the National Reserve. He was posted to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers 2nd Battalion, which returned to Dublin from the South African War the 1903 (9).

After the Boer war, the battalion was based in Buttevant, Co.Cork until 1910, when they were moved to Aldershot, where the Battalion received its new Colours from the Regiment's Colonel-in-Chief the Duke of Connaught at Aldershot (5/9). Probably at this point William’s 7 years of service was up and he was sent back to the National Reserve.

Regarding Census of Ireland 1911, William married with the Ellin Devlin around 1907 and they had three children; Esther, Elizabeth and William. At this time William worked as a General Labourer and they lived Stephen Street (Royal Exchange), Dublin 2 (11).

Also regarding the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website indicates that his contact person during his service was his nephew Christina Doran of 48 South Great George Street (7).

When the Great War broke out, the 2nd Battalion was in Gravesend, part of 10th Brigade in 4th Division, commanded by Brigadier-General J.A.L. Halden C.B., D.S.O.

On the 4th August 1914, 5.5 p.m. the order to mobilization was published. On the 8th of August at 12:30 a.m. the unit was moved to Harrow, where the whole Division was concentrated (10).

After a short period of preparations, the division was attached to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and on the 20th of August orders were announced that Saturday 22nd Division will be departed. On that day 2nd Battalion was embarked on the S.S. Caledonia” and 11:30 a.m. start sailing to France (10).

Private Devlin landed in France 23rd August 1914 where the whole battalion found themselves in heavy battles almost immediately.

They took part in the retreat following the Battle of Mons, taking part in their first engagement on 26th of August 1914 at Le Cateau that helped delay the German advance towards Paris, inflicting such heavy casualties that the Germans thought they faced more machine-guns than they actually did. But many men, including men from the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, were stranded behind German lines, and many were taken prisoner by the Germans (5).

Probably at this time, Private William Devlin became a POW.

He was held in Limburg POW camp in Hesse.

At the early start of the war some of Irish the POW's was separated into a camp at Limburg where they were visited by Sir Roger Casement, who was trying to raise an "Irish Brigade" with almost no luck. Out of 2,200 Irish soldiers who were moved to Limburg, Casement managed to recruit only 55 (9/10).

On the 10th July 1916 British authorities were informed by American Ambassador that one of the British POWs was shot in the Limburg camp.

Incorrectly they stated that this person was William Devlin from Royal Munster Fusiliers but sadly the wrong part was only the unit, where William served with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

On July 13 the Foreign Office addressed a strong protest to the German Government against their action in endeavoring to place obstacles in the way of Mr. Gerard inquiring into the shooting of Moran (another Irish soldier who was shot), and in concealing the death of Devlin. An extract from the protest was as follows

”We demanded an immediate inquiry, in the presence of a member of the United States Embassy at Berlin, into the shooting of the two prisoners and the punishment of those found guilty. We pointed out that the proceeding would be all the more infamous if it was found to be connected with the refusal of the men to join Casement, and we asked leave from the American Government to publish the correspondence”.

The Germans trial found out that the guard Gefreiter (Corporal) Wust at Kordof shot William Devlin on the 2nd July 1916 as a self defense, after 2 warning shots. Devlin died next day on the 3rd July 3:30 to his fatal wounds. No future action was taking against Gefreiter (Corporal) Wust (1).

William's death is confirmed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site, Ancestry website and also Irish casualty listings (6/7).

William is buried Cologne Southern Cemetery, Grave XIV.D.5. He was 38 years old (7).


(1) Royal Dublin Fusiliers – a forgotten regiment


(2) British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920


(3) Army Service Numbers 1881-1918


(4) The Long, Long Trail – The British Army of 1914-1918 – for family historians


(5) Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


(6) UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919


(7) Commonwealth War Graves Commission


(8) The Irish in Uniform – Royal Dublin Fusiliers


(9) Irish Prisoners of War in WW1


(10) Crown and Company, 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers

(11) National Archive: Census of Ireland 1911


His VM and BWM namings







Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a matter of interest, and to give some context, how many German prisoners were killed by the British? Not counting the many hundreds/thousands who did not long survive their initial surrender.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To add to Hedley's list there are also several thousand mainly Belgian civilians who hadn't assisted anyone who were executed, particularly in August 1914. Several French soldiers were executed at that time also, for example the incindents highlightede in the link in this thread: http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=186788&hl=

To add to Wexford's post, although it is right to acknowledge the atrocities of August 1914, I feel it is important to also remember the many examples of extreme kindness and caring that exist, often from the same regiment at the same time. Also spare a thought for, as an example, the experiences of the people of the Woevre: part of France but whose residents and their loyalties were viewed with suspicion by many French regiments as well as the advancing Germans and were treated accordingly.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is a copy of some research i posted a couple of years ago.

While checking some local men I came across this entry in The National Roll Great War, Leeds. I may get some criticism for posting this but i make no excuses.

Bywood, H., Private 3rd West Riding Regiment.

Volunteering in August 1914 he was quickly drafted to France, where he took part in the Battle of Ypres and was taken prisoner at Kemmel.

Whilst in captivity he was badly ill-treated and on August 16th 1915, was foully murdered when he asked for food.

He was entitled to the 1914 Star and the General Service and Victory medals.

“He died the noblest death a man may die”

71, Macauley Street, North Street, Leeds.

CWGC has incorrectly recorded his initials.


Rank: Private

Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment)

Unit Text: 2nd Bn.

Date of Death: 12/08/1915

Service No: 10107

Grave/Memorial Reference: VII. A. 13.


But more interesting is the report by A Scott Williams R.A.M.C. (Augustus Scott Williams)

Gardelegen POW camp.

On the whole the English, Russians and Belgians got on very well together. A quarrelsome Englishman 10107 Pte Bywood, 1st West Riding Regiment

and a similar Belgian had a row, and the former was knifed by the latter. The Belgian was tried and apparently let off.

A French surgeon saw Bywood with me and he removed 3 inches of rib and let out much pus. He eventually died, and a post mortem

showed a sinus leading down to an ulcer in the ascending colon, the resection sinus went to an abscess above the liver and communicated

with a purulent pleurisy. The man had many bed-sores due to the impossibility of avoiding pressure by lumps of wood shaving.

After I got an air cushion and feather pillow they improved, but the lack of instruments and dressings did not tend to help the man to recovery.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks to Noor for the most extensive reply that is really interesting and helpful.

The story from Auchonvillers needs no apology in my book!

Thanks too for for the other contributions.

Greetings from a pleasant morning as I overlook the market square in Ypres awaiting to take part in the ceremonies in a couple of hours.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The story of the Le Catalet four is told in A Foreign Field by Ben Macintyre, Harper Collins, London, 2001. Separated from their fellows in August 1914, they lived in the village of Villaret with French families until they were betrayed, tried as spies and subsequently executed in mid-1916. Personally, any thought of these men being heroes is severely limited. Had the British reached them first, I suspect they would have still been shot but as deserters.

Cheer ho


Link to comment
Share on other sites

The story of the Le Catalet four is told in A Foreign Field by Ben Macintyre, Harper Collins, London, 2001. Separated from their fellows in August 1914, they lived in the village of Villaret with French families until they were betrayed, tried as spies and subsequently executed in mid-1916. Personally, any thought of these men being heroes is severely limited. Had the British reached them first, I suspect they would have still been shot but as deserters.

Cheer ho



What an interesting thought. Would you care to expand on it?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Without re-reading the book in full my recollection is that seven men were trapped behind the German lines having become separated from their particular element of the BEF retreating from Mons. The village they arrived at, Villeret, was less than twenty kilometres from the front line. When, almost two years later, the Germans came to arrest the seven, three managed to escape and evade sufficiently well to return to British lines and ultimately Britain. In the interim, the seven had been absorbed into the local community, the actions of the French in absorbing them being the brave aspect I would conject. One of the men married and fathered a daughter.

The question has to be asked: Why, if three could make their way across occupied territory when under threat in 1916, that all seven hadn't tried it, perhaps with local help and knowledge, in the intervening 18 months or so?

If one sets aside the emotive fact that four men were shot as spies, looking at the rest of the facts coldly - with an early twentieth century eye perhaps - the actions of the seven are sub-heroic and could be construed as desertion, casting away arms or alternative forms of cowardice. Being captured and incarcerated as prisoners of war would have been unfortunate but noble. Finding oneself a 'cosy billet' for the duration would not have been considered so kindly one suspects.

I look forward to any comments that could confirm or dispel my personal thoughts on this event.

Cheer ho


Link to comment
Share on other sites


Thank you for this. My memory of A Foreign Field is a little hazy and I cannot put my hands on a copy at the moment. But my recollection is that the soldiers who tried to escape were in fact captured by the Germans - and they did not get very far.

The escape routes for British soldiers trapped behind the lines did not pass through the front-line. It is virtually impossible to imagine anyone escaping this way. The routes home were via Belgium and Holland and these were closed down by mid-1915.

It is very easy to impugne base motivations - 'desertion, cowardice and casting away arms' - to the actions of those who stayed behind the lines. On the other hand, I think many were sitting tight until the Allies returned, thinking that they would be more use fighting the enemy than sitting in a PoW camp. Others were overwhelmed by the situation in which they found themselves. Better to sit tight and keep your head down until an opportunity presented itself. All of them knew, too, that if they were caught, then unlike PoWs, they had a good chance of being executed.

So I think your description of them is a little unfair.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is the English translation from the German report into the execution of, Hepburn, Hamilton, Lochhead & Bunting all from the Royal Naval division (WO141/41

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10











Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've not posted all of the file, as there is about 80 pages however, it is interesting reading and I feel it brings to light the position soldiers are placed in on the battlefield, wears one day they can kill the enemy but if they get captured and kill the enemy then they are executed, catch 22

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...