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Ron Clifton

For the Sake of Example

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Ron Clifton

As many Pals may be aware, this is the title of a book about military executions, written by Anthony Babington, a barrister and Circuit Judge. This post will not discuss the rights and wrongs of the "shot at dawn" cases, but relates only to an anomaly I found while leafing through the book for other reasons.

 

"[Ernest] Thurtle [MP] went on to quote a lengthy extract from an article which he said had already been published,purporting to be a description by an ex-soldier of a triple execution in France which he had been forced to witness. In endorsing the veracity of the account Thurtle said that he had the complete details of the case in his possession. He added that the victims had been a sergeant and two corporals belonging to a light infantry regiment, which he named, and he explained that the alleged offence had consisted of carrying out the orders given to them by a captain who was dying of wounds. The matter can be disposed of very shortly. During the whole war this particular regiment never had a triple shooting, and none of its sergeants were executed. Furthermore, there was no capital court martial in any unit the facts of which were in any way similar to those attributed to this case."
(For the Sake of Example, page 51. The emphasis is mine.)

 

Those Pals who are familiar with some of these cases will immediately recognise that there was indeed such a case, and Babington himself gives the details in pages 90-91 of his book. The discrepancies are as follows:

1. The case affected a lance-sergeant and two lance-corporals. The lance-sgt was convicted of "casting away arms" and the two lance-cpls of "quitting post."

2. The three were executed on the same day, although not apparently at a triple execution.

3. The dying officer was a lieutenant, not a captain. He was apparently a popular officer in the battalion, and there was probably some feeling that the NCOs had deserted him.

4. The regiment and battalion concerned was 19th Bn Durham Light Infantry.

 

I confess myself surprised that a qualified barrister could not recognise that some of the details in Thurtle's report (which had come to him second hand) had been muddled in transmission to him. I don't think that the sentence I have highlighted can be sustained.

 

Ron

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ilkley remembers

Babington doesn't seem to have had a particularly high opinion of Thurtle variously describing him as naive and having difficulty in distinguishing between veracity and falsehood and consequently appears to me to dismiss the evidence produced in the 1924 pamphlet Shootings at Dawn; The Army Death Penalty at work. Yet, as you say, later in the book Babington recounts the events which clearly concern MacDonald, Stones and Goggins of 19 DLI and their subsequent execution. Much of what Babington writes reads more like a legal judgement and perhaps he was more prepared to believe the official files than what he seems to have considered as 'hearsay' evidence included in the Thurtles pamphlet.   

Edited by ilkley remembers

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Gunner Bailey

Perhaps the key quote regarding Thurtle is on page 49. "It was, perhaps, somewhat naive of Ernest Thurtle to have placed so high a trust in the probity of his witnesses"

 

I'm currently reading this book, having looked for it for a number of years, and Thurtle was not alone. In other books there are anecdotes, sometimes from famous people regarding SAD executions and they do not always tie in with the facts.

 

Fog of war - human nature?

 

 

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seaJane

This one was to rumble on: searching Hansard 1803-2005 for Ernest Thurtle's contributions on the death penalty is interesting:

1924

1930

sJ

 

 

Edited by seaJane
correct date

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Ron Clifton

We have to remember that Thurtle had an axe to grind, and Babington as a lawyer was particularly committed to testing all evidence carefully. It is also true that other sources bring in anecdotes concerning the SAD cases, including a reference to a newspaper article about a certain well-known dance-band conductor who, according to the article, had once been part of a firing squad. Study of his military record - he was discovered in 1916 to have enlisted under age and was discharged, only rejoining in 1918 and not serving in France in an armed unit - shows that the story cannot be true.

 

Ron

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ilkley remembers
On 23/05/2019 at 00:58, seaJane said:

This one was to rumble on: searching Hansard 1803-2005 for Ernest Thurtle's contributions on the death penalty is interesting:

1924

1930

sJ

 

 

The 1930 amendments were passed by the Commons and sent on to The House of Lords which voted against them. Plumer and Allenby both spoke in the debate and against the removal of the death penalty for cowardice and desertion. the noble Lords voted against the amendments and the bill was returned to the House of Commons. Sec. of State for War, Thomas Shaw, rejected the Lords vote and the Bill was passed. Thus Thurtle achieved what he had set out to do 10 years earlier.

 

The Lords debate can be read at this link

 

https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1930/apr/15/army-and-air-force-annual-bill

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Scalyback

Fully aware of the case.

As an aside to the general public and laymen, the "lance" part of a rank means noting. Thus you will get Sgt or Cpl when they are lance ranks. That is noting to get over worked over imho. 

I go with gunnerbailey and the fog of war but many SAD reports get mixed up once you look at the detail.

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