First World War in the News is an edited review of hand-picked World War I (1914-1918) articles - covering everything from the soldiers and generals to the trenches and militaria.

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World War II

American Civil War

Executed Cowards of War

Latest hand-picked First World War news. See also: See also 'Britain in World War I', 'WWI Memorabilia, Mementos', 'Victoria Crosses', 'Battle of Somme'.

The riddle of executed Robert Digby : E-mail corrects First World War book
Ben Macintyre believed he knew who condemned runaway Robert Digby, a Private in the Royal Hampshire Regiment, to death in France in 1916, and wrote a book about it. 10 years later, an unexpected e-mail has convinced him that he had the wrong man. A Belgian historian gained access to a forgotten archive in Brussels that included information about WWI espionage. He had read "A Foreign Field: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in the Great War" and had uncovered essential documents relating to the events it described. The new evidence offered an unexpected postscript: The person suspected of the crime was most certainly innocent.
(timesonline.co.uk)

A new legacy in Belgium for First World War deserters
World War I still hangs over Ypres, a focal point of slaughter during the Great War, as they called it when they believed it would be the last. Countless monuments to the war's fallen were erected after the armistice, but it took almost 85 years to set up a monument to a different group: soldiers executed by their own side for refusing to continue the fight. As the seemingly endless war went on, desertion and mutinies became an increasing problem. To deal with the problem, commanders began tying deserters and mutinous troops to poles where they would be executed by firing squad. The British shot 320 men and the French 700. The Germans shot about 50.
(nytimes.com)

France may clear names of executed First World War mutineers
France may posthumously clear the names of hundreds of soldiers shot for refusing to obey orders to fight during WWI, told Jean-Marie Bockel, the minister in charge of veterans' affairs. "I am considering a way of rehabilitating, on a case by case basis, those shot as an example during the First World War." Hundreds of French soldiers were executed, many for refusing to continue to fight after a bloody and unsuccessful attack near the Chemin des Dames area in 1917. The mutinies, in which many regiments refused to move, brought up fears among French leaders that the army could collapse.
(reuters)

WW1 Memorial visit for granddaughter of a soldier shot for desertion
The granddaughter of a soldier shot for desertion has met the man behind adding his name to a war memorial on a visit to the monument. WW1 soldier Pte Joseph Bateman - one of 306 British deserters shot - was executed in December 1917 by firing squad. Historian Graham Hodgson got Dudley Council to add the soldier's name to Wordsley's war memorial. The Staffordshire Regiment soldier's grand-daughter, Judith Lampitt, was tracked down after a TV appeal. "Mr Hodgson has done all of the hard work. We didn't know how my grandfather had died. I knew he died in the war, he'd been shot in the war, but I had no idea at all he had died in that way."
(bbc)

Brothers at war: The WW1 soldier and the pacifist... who was the hero?
One marched his soldiers towards the German guns in the bloodshed that was the Somme. The other refused to fight and was doomed to death as a traitor. Now book "We Will Not Fight" by Will Ellsworth-Jones asks... which was the braver brother? --- Second Lieutenant Philip Brocklesby was desperate to see his older brother. "I sat on a grass hummock and waited. Then some 40 men came marching up the hill and I saw Bert... I shall never forget how his face lit up when he saw me." There was a distressing slant to this reunion: Bert was not a fellow soldier, a brother-in-arms, but a prisoner under escort, and about to be sentenced to die.
(dailymail)

Shot soldier 'must be remembered' - Pte Joseph Bateman
December 1917: Pte Joseph Bateman was shot in Ytres at the height of World War I. The rifle shots belonged to his fellow servicemen. He was one of 306 British soldiers put to death by a firing squad after being found guilty of desertion. Now historian Graham Hodgson is trying to track down the soldier's relatives: "If I could meet any of them I would say that their relative died as a victim of an awful war. He needs to be remembered like all the other victims in that war." He had been one of the first to sign up to the Army in November 1914 when the call came for volunteers. However, less than 6 weeks into his service, Bateman went missing, twice.
(bbc)

The truth behind the 28 Irish soldiers shot at dawn during WWI   (Article no longer available from the original source)
28 Irish soldiers were executed by the British Army during the Great War for disobedience and desertion. For decades, the full story of how they died remained secret. For the first time, journalist Stephen Walker tells their story. --- In his uniform, lance-corporal Peter Sands looked at ease, back in the narrow streets in west Belfast. To the casual observer he looked like any other serviceman enjoying a few days' leave away from the horrors of battle. However, he harboured a secret: he should have been with 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles in France and was now listed as a deserter.
(belfasttelegraph)

Two pardoned WW1 soldiers formally honoured on a war memorial
Two WW1 soldiers who were shot dead for cowardice but pardoned 90 years later have been formally honoured on a war memorial. The names of Privates Harry Farr and James Swaine were unveiled in a ceremony at the Wealdstone war memorial, in London. "I have always argued that my father's refusal to rejoin the frontline, described in the court martial as resulting from cowardice, was in fact the result of shell shock. I cannot believe that his name is now going to be remembered for future years, proving that he wasn't a coward but a very brave soldier," Pte Farr's 94-year-old daughter Gertrude Harris said.
(bbc)

Memorial for pardoned soldiers 90 years after their deaths
Two soldiers executed by the British Army during World War I will be honoured on a memorial, 90 years after their deaths. Private Harry Farr was branded a coward after a 20-minute court martial, while Driver James Swaine was shot for being a deserter. Before Private Farr's death, he spent 5 months in hospital being treated for shellshock. He was executed after refusing to fight at the Battle of the Somme. Driver Swaine was killed despite being declared unfit by doctors. Terry Morrish only found out about his grandfather's death in 1979: "I was never told anything. I grew up believing my step-grandfather was my real grandfather."
(harrowtimes)

Pardoned World War I soldier to get recognition on a war memorial
A First World War soldier shot for cowardice and pardoned more than 90 years later is to be formally recognised on a war memorial. The family of Private Harry Farr, who was executed aged 25 in Oct 1916, are overjoyed that his name will be engraved alongside others who died in the war. The unveiling ceremony at the Wealdstone war memorial in north-west London is set to take place next month. Pte Farr was one of 306 soldiers shot for military offences during World War 1. After years of campaigning, all have since received pardons from the Government.
(thisisthenortheast)

A new law has pardoned more than 300 executed servicemen
A new law has pardoned more than 300 servicemen executed for breaches of discipline during First World War. The measure is included within the Armed Forces Act which gained Royal Assent. The government says the law is intended to remove the dishonour of execution. It does not cancel sentences or convictions and does not apply to servicemen convicted of murder. "This is not about rewriting history. I do not want to second guess decisions made by the commanders at the time." 306 British soldiers were shot for desertion, cowardice or other offences during the 1914-1918 war.
(bbc)

War pardon will clear First World War rogues and innocents
By the time that Private David Stevenson set sail for war in 1917, his military record already marked him out as a heavy-drinking "malingerer" with 24 offences. Once in France with the Lowland Field Artillery, his conduct included dishonesty and desertion. He was shot at dawn on July 13, 1918, aged 23. Stevenson, whose commanding officer described as being of "distinctly bad" character, will receive a posthumous pardon under the Government`s proposals for all 306 WW1 soldiers executed for battlefield offences during the Great War. The case shows that not all the 306 were shell-shocked victims.
(timesonline)

Son of Field Marshal Douglas Haig slams WW1 pardons move
The son of First World War commander Field Marshal Douglas Haig attacked the Government's move to pardon more than 300 men who were executed for military offences during the conflict. Ex-Colditz Prisoner of War George Haig, whose father signed a number of the death warrants, said many of those executed were "rogues" and "criminals" who deserved to be shot. "This is history and we should respect the decisions taken by commanders at the time as they knew best."
(thisislondon)

Disaster of the Somme led to Haig's order to shoot more officers
Shot at Dawn group paints a grim backdrop to Edwin Dyett's death. "Nearly 350 British and Commonwealth soldiers were executed by firing squad during the First World War. Only 3 officers suffered a similar fate. The case of Edwin Dyett cries out for justice. In October 1916, in the aftermath of the disastrous Somme offensive Field Marshall Haig ordered that more officers be shot for cowardice, rather than be sent home for recuperation. This evidence, only recently discovered, demonstrates his misguided preoccupation with extreme measures to suppress fear and panic among the officer class.
(icnetwork)

Executed First World War soldiers to be given pardons
All 306 British first world war soldiers executed for desertion or cowardice are to be pardoned the defence secretary announced. For 90 years campaigners for the soldiers have argued that their deaths were a stain on the reputation of Britain and the army. In many cases, soldiers were suffering from shellshock but officers showed no understanding for fear that their comrades would have disobeyed orders and refused to go "over the top".
(guardian)

Yorkshire Regiment "Coward" soldier may get pardon
The government said it would reconsider its refusal to give a posthumous pardon to a soldier who was shot dead for cowardice on the orders of his own officers during World War One. The government had previously said it would not pardon Private Harry Farr, who was shot at dawn on October 2, 1916 for refusing to return to the front line. Family had argued that his court martial was unfair because he was suffering from severe shell shock. Farr, a soldier with the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, was in his mid-20s when he was killed and had already witnessed some of the horrors of the 1914-18 conflict.
(tiscali)

New pardon plea for WWI soldier shot for cowardice
The family of a World War I soldier shot for cowardice are to ask the High Court to overturn a government decision refusing to pardon him posthumously. The family insist he was suffering from shell shock when he refused to go back to the front line. But the minister said there was no conclusive evidence. Pte Farr fought with the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment and was just 25 when he was shot at dawn on 2 October, 1916.
(bbc)

306 wartime "cowards" that Britain executed
Eight decades on from the end of the First World War, the 306 British soldiers shot for desertion are still dishonoured, still shamed, still the subject of the official disapproval of Her Majesty`s Government. We shall not remember them. We shall not remember Herbert Morrison, the youngest soldier in the West India Regiment when he was led in front of the firing squad and gunned down for deser­tion. A ‘coward` at just 17. We shall not remember the moment when Gertrude Farr went to the local post office In 1916 and was told: "We don`t give pensions to the widows of cowards." She was left destitute, with a 3-year-old and a 4-month-old to feed.
(aftermathww1)

UK Battle to clear the "cowards"
Private Charlie Nicholson never came home from the First World War. He wasn't killed in action - he was shot by his own side for desertion and branded a coward. The records of his court martial show that the 19-year-old fled terrified after a particularly heavy bombardment. His niece Doris Conroy now wants justice for Charlie and is backing calls in the Scottish Parliament to have him and hundreds like him pardoned. "I just want something to come out of this to give peace to the families. It is a terrible thing to think that your relative was a coward."
(bbc)


See also

'Britain in World War I'

'WWI Memorabilia, Mementos'

'Victoria Crosses'

'Battle of Somme'.