Author Topic: Executions in World War One  (Read 20796 times)

Offline themonsstar

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Executions in World War One
« on: September 19, 2008, 01:11:17 AM »
346 men were executed by the British Army from September 1914 until November 1920. 312 were members of the British Army 266 of them were executed by firing squads for desertion.

Desertion was punishable by Death in WW1 as were many other military offences,63 Soldiers within the Manchesters had Death sentences passed on them, 7 Soldiers from the Manchester Regiment were executed by firing squads for desertion in WW1.

1.1957 Pte William G.Hunt 18th Bn, Age 20, Execution date 14th Nov 1916 commemorated in Bailleulmont Comm Cem.

2.10495 Pte Albert Ingham 18th Bn att 90 Coy MGC, Age 24, Execution date 1st Dec 1916 commemorated in Bailleulmont Comm Cem.

3.10502 Pte Alfred Longshaw 18th Bn att 90 Coy MGC, Age 21, Execution date 1st Dec 1916 commemorated in Bailleulmont Comm Cem.

4.26685 Pte Ellis Holt 19th Bn, Age 22, Execution date 4th March 1917 commemorated in Berneville Comm Cem.

5.2064 Pte William Wycherley 2nd Bn, Age 24, Execution date 12th Sept 1917 commemorated in Coxyde Mil Cem.

6.43499 Pte Thomas Foulkes 1/10th Bn, Age 21, Execution date 21st Nov 1917 commemorated on Loos Memorial.

7.300199 Pte Thomas Brigham 1/10th Bn, Age 22, Execution date 4th June 1918 commemorted in Warlincourt Halte Brit Cem.

Over the next week I will be posting the Courts Martial Proceedings from there CM's, All of the info on the photo's is copyright to The National Archives Kew.
Tel +44(0)20 8876 3444
Website:
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk



1957 Pte William G.Hunt 18th Bn Shot At Dawn
Private William Hunt was a regular soldier with two years service on the Western Front. Originally he had landed in France on 9 November 1914 before being posted to 2nd Manchester Regiment. He had previously been convicted of the military crime of disobedience, and had received 1 years HL in Hunt's case this had been commuted to 83 days field punishment No.l. The Recollections of an eyewitness to the private's execution recalled events surrounding the case and these were published in the early 1970s — The First Day on the Somme' by Martin Middlebrook, and the eyewitness later elaborated on some of the details.

The eyewitness, Private Paddy Kennedy was serving with 18 Manchesters and recalled that Hunt was drafted to the battalion during the latter part of 1916. 30 Division had seen a lot of action in the opening month of the Somme offensive and during a subsequent operation Kennedy maintained that Private Hunt had become detached from his unit and had gone into action with one of the South Lancs battalions. Kennedy maintained that Hunt had become lost and, because the attack failed, it was decided to make an example out of Hunt. Kennedy had no personal knowledge of these events and his description is also clouded by the passage of time. However, what can be verified as correct, is that Private Hunt was tried for desertion (the account given in Middlebrook's book incorrectly states that the offence was cowardice.) on 22 October and that he was not represented or assisted by a prisoner's friend.The commanding officer's comments, submitted to the court, stated that in his opinion, Hunt's behaviour was generally, *satisfactory. Later the Brigadier also recommended leniency for Hunt.

Private Kennedy recalled how news of the sentence was publicised. As was the custom the battalion was paraded for the promulgation. As the men stood to attention Private Hunt was ordered to step forward, then the sentence and confirmation were read out. Kennedy stated that he and five other privates were detailed to be the firing squad Once the sentence was known the Military Police were also in attendance to ensure the ritual's eventual performance. As was standard practice an attempt was made to get the soldier drunk. With the prisoner in a drunken state everyone's task became that much easier. Intoxication was also regarded as more humane for the condemned man. Private Hunt however refused drink, and as dawn approached on the following morning he was equally uncooperative. Refusing to walk, his escort dragged him downhill into a quarry, the place of execution. There they tied him, with arms and legs bound, into a chair. His final act of defiance was to refuse the offer of a blindfold.
Kennedy recalled that the firing squad had their rifles temporarily taken from them, so that a supposed blank round (which acted as palliative for troubled consciences) could be loaded into one man's rifle. The officer warned the firing squad to take care with their aim, as he did not wish to be the final executioner. Private Kennedy also mentioned that one man in the firing squad stated he knew the victim from their regular soldiering days and declared he wanted nothing to do with the execution, as Private Hunt was a good lad. The soldier's objection was ignored. With a white handkerchief pinned over the victim's heart, the unsteady firing squad took aim. The officer's worst fears were realised. Hunt was still alive when the officer stood forward and blasted the badly wounded private in the side of the head with his revolver. The grisly spectacle over, Private Kennedy and his comrades were left to bury the body and clean up the mess. The execution had been the first in 18th Manchesters and also the first in the Division but others were to follow before this blood letting came to an end. Twenty year old Private Hunt was a native of Manchester, and seemingly an orphan. On the last day of November the local paper reported his death saying that Hunt had died of wounds(Manch Evening News 30th Nov 1916). * It says unsatisfactory on the CO report.

The Thin Yellow Line
The men of the 18th Manchesters were glad to be leaving the crashing, flaring chalk uplands of the Somme. They had seen enough of them in the summer of 1916. As the cattle trucks rumbled through the night away from the pulverised villages and splintered woods most of them slept. Some sat and stared, with feverish eyes while a few talked of what they had been through. In one wagon, guards shared their food with a com¬rade who had been court martialled a short time previously. There was a good deal of chaff and banter. The prisoner had been remanded to await sentence and his captors reckoned that he would be kept on cookhouse fatigue or made sanitary man for 'the duration'. It was the sort of scene one might expect in a Pals battalion.
There was something special about these formations made up of the volunteers who responded to Kitchener's call in 1914. They were so much more than a processed wodge of patriotic ardour. They were real 'pals'—in the 18th (3rd Manchester Pals) all clerks and warehousemen. They had something to be proud of too. On 1st July, when so many other units had lost nearly all their men with little to show for it, the 3Oth Division, to which the Manchesters belonged, had notched up one of the rare successes of the day.
General Headquarters, which had expressed some doubts about the division before the battle, was delighted. Further deeds of valour were required of the three brigades, one Regular, one of Liverpool Pals battalions and the other of Manchesters. During the remainder of July they struggled to wrench the shattered copses of Trones Wood and the tumbled ruins of Guillemont village from the Germans. It was in one of these gruelling actions that the prisoner disappeared from his platoon.
When he reported after the attack he explained that he had become separated from his section during the confusion but had attached himself to a group of men from the 11th South Lancashire Regiment, the divisional pioneers. He had not thought it necessary to get a note from the officer. And he was not sure exactly where he had been. After all he had been lost! When inquiries failed to trace anyone who could corroborate his story—hardly surprising under the circumstances—the soldier's position came under more serious scrutiny. He was 'put back' for court martial and duly tried for desertion in the face of the enemy.
The prisoner told his story over and over again on the way from the front to the battalion's rest area. He was not a well-educated man, just an ordinary working lad who had been sent out with the first draft of reinforcements to join the battalion after it arrived in France in 1915. The general consensus opinion was that he would 'click' for the dirty jobs in the next few months.
The men who guarded the prisoner on the train were taken off escort duty at the end of the journey. When next they saw him they were standing with the rest of the battalion formed in a hollow square. They had been expecting to hear some new order or even an exhortation from the General read out. Instead a horse-drawn ambulance had driven up to a table in the centre of the square. The prisoner had been marched to a prominent position near the table where the officers were gathered, his hat had been removed brusquely by the Regimental Sergeant Major, and the adjutant had read out his sentence. His punishment, awarded by field general court martial and confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, was to be shot. The execution would take place the following morning at dawn. At the bark of the R.S.M. the prisoner wheeled about and vanished into the ambulance which rattled out of sight.
The 18th Manchesters stood stunned. Faces remained blank but the eyes betrayed a hurt, questioning look. Under steel helmets brains were racing. They'd all heard announcements of the sort before but no-one had really believed them. After all, they were volunteers. They didn't have to be there. Even as they marched away there were plenty of men in the shabby khaki ranks who muttered about appeals and 'They're only doing it to frighten us'. But they were not in the little group which had been assembled immediately after the parade at which the sentence had been promulgated. This unhappy squad had known the serious nature of their errand the moment the captain told them in strangled tones, 'I only hope to God you shoot straight.'
There were, in addition to the officer, a sergeant and ten soldiers. Six of the men were to form the firing squad. The remaining four were to act as stretcher bearers and remove the corpse. The bearers collected a limber and twenty-four hours' rations for the party and drove to a small farm some distance away.
The prisoner was housed in a hut with a Military Policeman present at all times. Not far away the execution squad brewed tea in an old barn. They didn't have much appetite. It had been impossible to conceal their intentions from the farmer's family and from time to time the soldiers bumped into weeping daughters of the household. Not being able to explain to the women that they were only doing their duty and that to disobey orders would imperil their own lives made the situation even more harrowing. Someone asked a military policeman what 'he' was doing. 'Writing letters' was the reply.
At some point the padre arrived to see the prisoner and the firing squad were ordered out and marched to a quarry on the outskirts of the farm. A staff officer was waiting, the red band on his hat providing the only colour in an otherwise unutterably drab scene. The squad filed down steps cut into the side of the quarry and lined up with a lot of nervous shuffling, riflemen in front, the stretcher party immediately to their rear. As the staff officer engaged the captain in earnest conversation all eyes focused on a single object. Some eight or nine paces from the firing squad stood a heavy kitchen chair.
'The prisoner will be placed in that chair in the morning,' the staff officer announced when the squad had been called to attention. 'After you have been brought to the "present" I will give the signal by dropping my handkerchief and you will fire at the mark. Is that clear?'
After a moment's pause a worried looking soldier coughed, swallowed and asked, 'Sir . . .'
'Yes, what is it?'
'Aa doon't think Aa should be on this duty. Aa know the prisoner well. We coom from the same town. And we're in t'same coompany.'
The staff officer and the captain exchanged glances. Then the Red Band made up his mind.
'I can understand your feelings,' he said. 'I am aware this is an unpleasant duty for all of you. It isn't pleasant for me either. But the responsibility is not yours. It lies elsewhere and you've got to obey orders. We all have. So I can make no exceptions. I'm afraid you will have to go through with it.'
The squad stood silent. The Manchester officer bit his lip.
'Right. Shall we try it now?'
The captain barked out the orders, six pairs of unwilling eyes stared down the barrels of six unloaded rifles aimed at an empty chair and an unharmonious clicking announced that six triggers had been squeezed in response to the dropped handkerchief.
After the staff officer had explained that six rifles would be issued the next morning, one of which would contain a blank round, the squad filed up the steps and back to the farm. In the deserted quarry dusk closed over the empty kitchen chair.
In the barn the night dragged interminably. A bottle of whisky had been sent to the condemned man but the guard reported that he had refused to touch it. He was continuing to write his letters. Even at this late hour he did not seem to comprehend his peril. Just before dawn the sergeant shook the dozing soldiers. Stiff and silent they made their way to the quarry filling their lungs with the damp air. A muffled rumble in the distance told them that the war was still going on where the sky was growing paler in the east. The hateful chair stood where they had left it, dark and ominous and damp with dew.
Many men are reported to have faced a firing squad bravely. This man, who had gone 'over the top' on 1st July and endured the terrors of Trones Wood, was not one of them. The waiting Manchesters saw the shirt-sleeved figure sway at the top of the quarry steps and watched the escort almost carry him down. His body seemed to be rigid as he was dragged to the waiting chair and the Military Police had difficulty as they tied his limbs to the wooden legs and arms. Someone pinned a piece of white cloth over the man's chest and stepped back. In the anxiety to get the business over with the man had still not been blindfolded when the volley crashed out, its noise magnified by the quarry walls.
'Oh, my God!'
The victim's head had fallen to one side but it was obvious that he was still alive. Without bothering to consult the medical officer who had been present throughout the affair, the Manchester captain strode forward muttering between clenched teeth: 'I shall have to finish him off.' With an obvious effort of self-control he put his pistol to the dying man's ear and pulled the trigger.
As the white-faced bearers moved forward one of the Military Police muttered accusingly out of the side of his mouth: 'Your men's rifles were shaking.' But the little party could not take their eyes off the dead man. When they cut the limp arms free and pulled him from the chair one of them noticed that the dead man's hair was 'standing up stiff and straight from sheer terror'. After the firing squad and the officers had left, the heavy stretcher was manhandled up the quarry steps and placed in the waiting limber. At the cemetery near Bailleulment, where they had been instructed to bury the man, the bearer party discovered that nothing had been prepared. So they borrowed the tools and dug the grave themselves, wrapping the body in a waterproof cape. Some months later a visitor to the cemetery reported that the grave bore a cross but instead of the words 'Killed in action', as on similar crosses, it merely said 'Killed' along with the date of the execution. Nothing else.
On the afternoon of the execution the burial detail returned to their billets and, under the gaze of their comrades, swilled the blood off the stretcher. Some of the watchers looked puzzled and resentful. Only 18 months earlier, Sir Douglas Haig had listed the 18th Manchesters in his despatches as among units which had been 'specially brought to my notice for good work in carrying out or repelling local attacks and raids'. Now the battalion would be associated with the execution when it was announced on parades or published in Orders. Both the praise in the despatch and the rebuke implied in the report of the death sentence were essential, it seemed, for the maintenance of good order and discipline ... but no-one could quite see why.

 "Compiled from an eye-witness account given by P. J. Kennedy, a former private in the 18th Manchester Regiment and Military Medal holder".







Books & notes
Shot at Dawn by Putkowski & Sykes 1989.
The Thin Yellow Line by W.Moore 1974.
Blindfold & Alone Corns & Hughes-Wilson 2001.
Soldiers Shot at Dawn 1914-1920 Vic Morris (Western Front).
Death Sentences Passed by the British Army 1914-1924 Oram 2005 (Revised Ed).
Photo's by Themonsstar from the Courts Martial files WO71 at The National Archives Kew.










« Last Edit: September 19, 2008, 10:48:09 AM by themonsstar »

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2008, 01:12:53 AM »
More CM paper work from WO71/516 Pte Hunt 18th Bn.
« Last Edit: September 19, 2008, 01:18:17 AM by themonsstar »

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2008, 01:14:13 AM »
More CM paper work from WO71/516 Pte Hunt 18th Bn
« Last Edit: September 19, 2008, 01:19:05 AM by themonsstar »

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #3 on: September 19, 2008, 01:20:09 AM »
More CM paper work from WO71/516 Pte Hunt 18th Bn

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #4 on: September 19, 2008, 01:21:38 AM »
More CM paper work from WO71/516 Pte Hunt 18th Bn

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2008, 01:23:04 AM »
More CM paper work from WO71/516 Pte Hunt 18th Bn

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #6 on: September 19, 2008, 01:24:31 AM »
More CM paper work from WO71/516 Pte Hunt 18th Bn

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2008, 11:12:13 AM »
Military Law Tables around the time of World War One

No7 The Procedure at a Field General Court-Martial

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #8 on: September 19, 2008, 11:14:36 AM »
No1 Sequence of Steps in dealing with an Offence

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #9 on: September 19, 2008, 11:16:35 AM »
No2 How to Take a Summary of Evidence

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #10 on: September 19, 2008, 11:19:25 AM »
No3 Scale of Punishments Showing Maximum Powers of Each Tribunal

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #11 on: September 19, 2008, 11:21:53 AM »
No4 Schedule of Crimes (Section 4-41 of Army Act)

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #12 on: September 19, 2008, 11:22:58 AM »
No4 part 2

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #13 on: September 19, 2008, 11:23:55 AM »
No4 part 3

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Executions in World War One
« Reply #14 on: September 19, 2008, 11:24:57 AM »
No4 part 4