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Shot at Dawn: The Fifteen Welshmen Executed by the British Army in the


The Scorer
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This is the title of a new book by Robert King, who was part of the campaign to pardon the 306 men shot at dawn during the First World War.

In Sarurday's Western Mail Magazine, there's an article about the book and an interview with the author, Robert King. In the article, he touches on the lack of recognition on war memorials for those who were executed, and makes this statement:

"A Government directive stopped the names of the executed being displayed in their home towns and villages."

I have read most of the recent books relating to the shot at dawn casualties, and I can't recall having seen (or heard) anything about this "directive" before. I know that local decisions were taken not to include names, but I wasn't aware of an actual "directive" ... does anyone know whether this is true, please? If it is, when and by who was it made?

Thank you.

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It isn't true. Maybe he heard a statement issued by the government several years ago stating that their names SHOULD be added to war memorials, and assumed that this was a reversal of an earlier statement or directive to the contrary. Local war memorials were in the hands of local communities, and only subject to their own rules (if there were any) regarding inclusion or exclusion.

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Perhaps he should check his facts before saying such things. He could also check to see how many SAD men are on memorials and how many not. As mentioned above it had nothing to do with government.

SteveM

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Actually, I was wondering whether there are many instances of SAD's being left off memorials? I suspect that the majority are recorded, although I understand that most (but not all) are missing from SDGW. I remember feeling that the government statement asking for missing names to be 'restored' to memorials was a very cynical piece of PR.

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Thanks very much for your comments, one and several!

My first reaction when I read the article was to think that the statement wasn't true, and I'm pleased that this has been confirmed.

The reviews on Amazon are quite mixed; one of them (by Jeffery Hodson) says this:

"An interesting book but at the same time a little disappointing.

I ordered this book having read "For God's Sake Shoot Straight - Sub Lieutenant Edwin Dyett" as it seemed to offer the opportunity to learn about a further 14 Welshmen who were executed during WW1. the book is 135 pages (excluding endnotes, references and the index) and only 42 pages relate to the unfortunate Welshmen who were the subject of military executions. Included within the 42 pages were 28 pages dedicated to Sub Lieutanant Dyett leaving only 14 pages for the remaining 14 soldiers. In several cases minimal information is known due to papers being lost or misplaced or in some cases destroyed in WW2 during the blitz. The sub title to the book is therefore very misleading.

However the book makes a fascinating read with respect to the extracts from the parliamentary discussions in 2006 discussing the posthumous pardons to the 306 executed soldiers who were executed for cowardice, desertion and leaving their post. It illustrates the two sides to the argument and touches upon other issues such as the position of the 2,700 soldiers who were found guilty, sentenced to death but who subsequently had their sentences commuted.

i recommend the book to anyone who wishes to give further consideration to the right or wrong of the 2006 pardon but if you are buying it to learn about the facts behind 14 out of 15 of the Welshmen executed then give the book a miss to avoid disappointment."
I'm therefore not sure that it'll be on my wants list.
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I'm sure that there are/were memorials which excluded executed soldiers. A few years ago there was news of a village which never had a war memorial because the Great and Good who formed the local committee had decided that the name of a SAD wouldn't be included. The local population then withdrew their financial support and voted not to have a war memorial at all. A few years ago, attitudes having changed, the present population resurrected the idea of a war memorial and built one, with the name of the SAD included. I can't remember any more detail that that, but I'm sure it was mentioned on the Forum.

Tom

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This village?

....One village, Fulstow in Lincolnshire, did not have such a memorial. It's not that they hadn't suffered the tragic loss of young lives cut short: ten Fulstow men died in the Great War. The villagers wanted a memorial. During the discussion about who should be honoured and remembered, the inclusion of one particular name was objected to, and a disagreement arose.

Private Charles Kirman
Pte Charles Kirman of the Lincolnshire Regiment had served nine years in the Army then left to take a job in civvy street. He got married and started a family. When war was declared, Kirman was recalled to the Army......
See more HERE (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition.
Two forum threads:
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Two of the SAD were Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway men who were shot on the same day. Their story is well known on this forums so I won't go into the details. Both are listed on the LYR Roll of Honour and on the memorial at Manchester's Victoria Station (Which to add a bit of interest was unveiled by Field Marshall Haig, the very man who added the final signature to their death warrants)

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Obviously by the title of the book, his mind was made up before he actually researched anything! Is he a PC (welsh party) man? :w00t:


I have only researched one SAD man and even his mother disowned him!


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Not a topic I've researched but I'm attending a talk by the author on Saturday. The Government diktat quote filled me with dread...but let's see what he has to say.

Bernard

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Not a topic I've researched but I'm attending a talk by the author on Saturday. The Government diktat quote filled me with dread...but let's see what he has to say.

Bernard

Do you have the details for the talk?

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Pte. Peter Black is on the Newport & Forgan memorial.

There was disagreement at the time whether or not to include his name. The memorial committee were against and the returned veterans who knew him were having none of it, he was added.

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In Sarurday's Western Mail Magazine, there's an article about the book and an interview with the author, Robert King. In the article, he touches on the lack of recognition on war memorials for those who were executed, and makes this statement:

"A Government directive stopped the names of the executed being displayed in their home towns and villages."

The author has clearly not asked himself by what authority the government could issue such a directive. It is theoretically possible that a catch-all regulation under DORA about causing alarm and despondency could have been interpreted as forbidding the inclusion of the names of SAD men on such local memorials as were first erected during the continuance of the war.

However, with the lapse of such regulations after the war, there would have been no power for such a directive.

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Obviously by the title of the book, his mind was made up before he actually researched anything! Is he a PC (welsh party) man? :w00t:

I have only researched one SAD man and even his mother disowned him!

I have no idea of his background, not having heard of him before seeing the article, which doesn't give many clues (see below).

Not a topic I've researched but I'm attending a talk by the author on Saturday. The Government diktat quote filled me with dread...but let's see what he has to say.

Bernard

I will be interested in your report of his talk!

Here is a copy of the article.

Shot by their own friends - the Welshmen executed for desertion in World War I

By Kirstie McCrum

During World War I, shell shock – now known as PTSD – was not accepted as an excuse for desertion, resulting in the ultimate punishment. Robert King’s book Shot at Dawn tells the story of the Welsh soldiers who were among the executed
memorial.jpg
Shot At Dawn memorial in Staffordshire

My interest in documenting the recollections of soldiers, mostly from Wales, dates back to the early 1960s. It started quite by accident because those of us who were educated in grammar or secondary modern schools were not told too much about either the Great War or World War II despite the end of the latter being only 15 or 16 years before.

I was working in Lingen, a village on the Herefordshire side of the Marches, employed in Peter Ransom’s racing stable, and one of the lads had numerous communication problems (he was 40 years old), which included isolating himself and a paranoid determination it seemed not to mix or indeed to communicate unless it was absolutely necessary.

He was single, no ladies in his life, and other lads described him in derisive terms by referring to him as the “moon man” because when there was a full moon he would stare at it for hours. I didn’t know his name then, he was called simply Ginge, but we rode out together frequently, nearly always in silence – until one morning a low-flying aircraft came across the Deerfold and he fixed his eyes on it with such intent he nearly fell of his horse. Then he started to talk.

“I love the aeroplanes,” he said quietly. “But I don’t want to go in one again.” My questions provoked him into telling me that he had been a tail-end Charlie, arguably the most terrifying job in the Royal Air Force. Little wonder that he was insular in nature.

DSCF0002JPG.jpgRobert at the memorial

But his story enthralled me and even as a 15-year-old I wrote it down and started to ask anyone who was of an age to have served to tell me about their experiences. This soon led to older men who had served in the Great War and most would regale me with their stories. But not one of the men from that war ever mentioned the subject of allies being executed by their own side.

Getting to know the subject

That subject became known to me in the 1980s, by which time I had been writing and publishing for 20 years. The first time I set down on paper regarding this subject was in a newspaper article in which I concluded by saying, “Until the government faces this subject head-on and posthumous pardons are granted the subject will fester like a sore.”

There was a loosely aligned campaign whose aim was to secure pardons for those men who had been shot at dawn. Those involved argued in articles, books, letters to government departments that those unfortunate soldiers should have the stain against their records removed – arguing generally that they had acted out of character due to the stresses of warfare.

Naturally, not everyone agreed. My esteemed uncle, a World War II veteran, didn’t. We argued and debated the subject often. The argument was often posed: “You are trying to rewrite history.”

This one was disposed of immediately by saying that we were not. Ernest Thurtle, the Labour MP, raised this matter in the House of Commons on numerous occasions in the 1920s and the work was continued by people like John Hipkin and more latterly by Andrew Mackinley.

JS50182301.jpg

In 2001 the Shot at Dawn memorial was erected at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire. A haunting sight of 306 posts together with names and regiments and dates of execution faced by a statue depicting Private Herbert Burden who all face six cypress trees depicting the firing squad.

In 2006, the government decreed that posthumous pardons would be granted to the 306 men who suffered death because they contravened the Army Act by deserting, through what was deemed to be cowardice, casting away arms, striking a senior officer. Those executed for murder were exempted from the pardon. My attention then turned to those Welshmen who had suffered this fate. Those in the other home countries had been documented. Welshmen and those who had served in Welsh regiments had not.

The Welsh names on the list

The research was difficult but I found 15 soldiers and traced as much as was possible their stories. The shooting, for example, was evident in many of them but in the years of the Great War the army was following its template of conflicts in the past when discipline had to be maintained. Its method was to shoot those who committed offences against the Army Act. It was in 1930 that Ernest Thurtle had this punishment removed from the Army Act.

The more enlightened attitude now to punishment and understanding and reasons why people commit offences is more reasoned. We are the better for it. When in 2006 I wrote to my MP Peter Hain asking him to support the vote on the subject of pardons in the House of Commons, he readily agreed and some years later he kindly wrote the foreword for my book.

On many war memorials the names of those executed are still missing, although the bodies of the men are honoured in the cemeteries of Belgium and western France. They are buried next to those who died in action. A government directive stopped the names of the executed being displayed in their home towns and villages. This must be redressed. In Glynneath the name of William Jones has been etched on to the stone memorial and that town council held a religious service when it was unveiled.

The writing of this book was a complete remove for me. I’m happier writing my ghost stories or relating events of local history. But once the writing starts, on any subject, you get drawn into the time and place of the subject matter and while working on the latest book it was as though my whole being was not battling on the front but waiting in some shed for dawn to break and then being led out to be shot by my friends. You do get involved. One of the beauties of writing.

Shot at Dawn by Robert King is published by The History Press, priced £9.99

The author has clearly not asked himself by what authority the government could issue such a directive. It is theoretically possible that a catch-all regulation under DORA about causing alarm and despondency could have been interpreted as forbidding the inclusion of the names of SAD men on such local memorials as were first erected during the continuance of the war.

However, with the lapse such regulations after the war, there would have been no power for such a directive.

Yes, I agree.

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Two more things have occurred to me about the title of the article.

"Shot by their own friends - the Welshmen executed for desertion in World War I"

Firstly, were the firing squads always raised from the soldiers' own Battalion? I'm sure that I have read somewhere about soldiers from another battalion being "told off" for an unknown duty and then finding out that they had been "volunteered" for a firing squad - and I might have read it a couple of times as well.

Secondly, I would ask whether all the Welsh soldiers executed were actually found guilty of desertion. I realise that the book could answer this, but I'm still undecided about buying it,

Has anyone any thoughts about these two points, please? Thank you.

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There was a loosely aligned campaign whose aim was to secure pardons for those men who had been shot at dawn. Those involved argued in articles, books, letters to government departments that those unfortunate soldiers should have the stain against their records removed – arguing generally that they had acted out of character due to the stresses of warfare.

.Ernest Thurtle, the Labour MP, raised this matter in the House of Commons on numerous occasions in the 1920s and the work was continued by people like John Hipkin and more latterly by Andrew Mackinley.

In 2001 the Shot at Dawn memorial was erected at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire. A haunting sight of 306 posts together with names and regiments and dates of execution faced by a statue depicting Private Herbert Burden who all face six cypress trees depicting the firing squad.

In 2006, the government decreed that posthumous pardons would be granted to the 306 men who suffered death because they contravened the Army Act by deserting, through what was deemed to be cowardice, casting away arms, striking a senior officer.

The shooting, for example, was evident in many of them but in the years of the Great War the army was following its template of conflicts in the past when discipline had to be maintained. Its method was to shoot those who committed offences against the Army Act. It was in 1930 that Ernest Thurtle had this punishment removed from the Army Act.

The more enlightened attitude now to punishment and understanding and reasons why people commit offences is more reasoned. We are the better for it.

Shot at Dawn by Robert King is published by The History Press, priced £9.99

Ernest Thurtle, much respected and still remembered, was, sadly, not able to have the death penalty for purely military offences entirely removed from the Army Act. Though removed for some offences in 1930, it remained for others throughout most of the 20th century; albeit that it was never carried out after WW1.

During consideration of the Armed Forces Bill 1996 military top brass insisted in evidence to the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee that retention of the death penalty for certain military offences was essential for good order and discipline, even though it had been abolished for murder in armed forces life in 1965, along with abolition in civilian life. Notwithstanding that insistence, the Labour group on the Committee took advantage of the absence of some Conservative members on a particular day to push through an amendment to abolish the death penalty for all the military offences where it remained. However, to their eternal shame, the then government of John Major persuaded a majority of the whole House of Commons to reintroduce the death penalty on the third reading of the Bill. So, eighty years after WW1, the House of Commons solemnly took positive action to retain the death penalty within the Army Act and on the British statute book.

There it might have remained, but for the occasion in 1998 when the question arose of UK accession to civil protocols to the European Convention on Human Rights, which, inter alia, would involve complete and permanent renunciation of capital punishment. This time, the Labour government, under Tony Blair, again to their eternal shame, wanted to write in an escape clause, giving the UK the right to reinstate the death penalty if it so chose. To their credit, the Commons, on a free vote, overruled the government, and the military top brass, and bound the UK to complete and permanent abolition of capital punishment in any circumstances whatsoever. Eighty years since WW1 may be a lifetime, but that is how long campaigning on this issue took.

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The talk is this Saturday, 11 am in Neath library, Victoria Gardens, Neath. You're asked to phone the library and book a seat as space is limited.

Robert King (who I don't know) is regarded as a local historian of Neath. He's definitely had a book on Neath ghosts published and he conducts `ghost walks` around the town. I think he's also done a book (or two) of old, local photographs.

I'll report back and will comment at the talk if I think I know what I'm talking about! SAD is not an area I've paid any attention to. Might buy a copy of the book if its discounted...

Bernard

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Pte. Peter Black is on the Newport & Forgan memorial.

There was disagreement at the time whether or not to include his name. The memorial committee were against and the returned veterans who knew him were having none of it, he was added.

I have only researched one SAD man and even his mother disowned him!

You both touch on a good point here, in my opinion.

It would seem by numerous accounts, that the men against whom these S.A.D. were found guilty of offending, were the prime, if not the only source of sympathy for the accused. Not surprising really, because they were the only people capable of understanding just what the poor ******* had been subjected to. Including shell-shock, etc.

The thing that I find most appalling about the whole thing, is that once the higher ranks had washed their hands of them, these executions were allocated to the ordinary ranks to actually perform. Very often friends and men from the same battalion too.

I know it was done to set an example, but was it really necessary to involve ordinary soldiers, and put them through an ordeal that was bound to traumatise them for evermore?

If the deed had to be done, the army should have had their own section of Pierrepoints to do it. The message would have been the same.

They did their best, and many were brave enough to volunteer in the first place. R.I.P. all of them. :poppy:

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Bernard, thank you can't make an AM slot in Neath, logistically impossible.

The counter argument I can see against by the government, the GWGC did not distinguish between any men buried. Indeed on gravestone mentions the fact the soldier is SAD, so if the government was so vindictive this would also be subject to censorship.

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The gravestones I have visited just have the usual info and do not mention them being SAD. Once the sentence was carried out the army treated them as any other of the dead.

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