Monday, 14 February 2011

Shot at dawn

Image: Wikipedia
In 2006, all soldiers from the First World War who had been executed for military offences were granted a universal pardon. This applied to 306 men. It is my certain knowledge that this figure lies higher, and I shall quote an example at the end of this post.

It would appear that between 1914 and 1918, 3,000 applications were made for soldiers to be executed for desertion, malingering, leaving of post and casting away of arms. Only 300 of these were approved by the courts. Some appear to have been repeat offenders. However, when you read through a few of the submissions by the soldiers themselves, it would appear that many suffered what could be termed post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition referred to as shell-shock in those days.

To our eyes, execution seems to be an incredibly harsh punishment to meet out to those, guilty of the offences listed above. However, when viewing history, it is important to do so (if possible) through the eyes of the time. The excellent "Shot at dawn" website gives a lot more information on the background to these executions.

I arrived at this subject when compiling a map, showing the locations of all the cemeteries where Lewis-born combatants from WW1 lie buried. No Lewisman is officially listed as having been shot at dawn. There should however have been at least one.

I cannot name the individuals concerned, as I was told this story in confidence.

Soldier A, a classmate of soldier B, had come down with dysentry in the trenches. Nonetheless, he was ordered to go "over the top". He was unable to do so, due to physical weakening and other effects of the dysentry. Soldier A was classified as a malingerer, and executed. A few days later, his relatives received the a telegram - stating that he had been killed in action.
Soldier B survived to the end of the war, and returned to his home village in Lewis. He went to see the relatives who, naturally, wanted to know how their son had met his end. Soldier B, having been advised that the family was told that their son had been killed in action, proceeded to tell a tale of valour and gallantry.

I cannot imagine the turmoil "B" must have experienced, when seeing his friend degraded by disease, then summarily shot for malingering. In spite of the fact that it was patently obvious that he was ill.

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