Saturday, March 24, 2007

executions during world war one

"Why does Christopher stay on in this God-forsaken hole?.... The inglorious base, they call it...." "Because he's jolly well got to..." Major Perowne said. "He's got to do what he's told..." She said: "Christopher! ...You mean to say they'd keep a man like Christopher anywhere he didn't want to be..." Major Prerowne said "They'd shoot him like anybody else if he bolted.... What do you think?.
In this quote Major Perowne is absolutely right in saying that Christopher would be shot if he decides to run from the battle field. During world war one there were 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers that were executed for crimes such as desertion and cowardice. Many of them suffered from shell shock. Between 1914 and 1918 about 80, 000 men suffered sympoms of shell shock in British Army.
If men ever deserted front line, they were caught and later received a court martial. If they were sentenced to death, most of them were shot by 12 man firing squad.
If anyone left front line, seniour military commanders counted it as desertion. Military commanders were afraid that if they do not punish this kind of behaviour , others would leave the front line as well. British Army would then collapse.
During World War One majority stood trial for desertion from their post.
Court Martial was fast and then execution followed. Legal status of court martials was questioned. Soldiers did not have any access to formal legal representatives-no defense. Court Martials should have "judge advocate" present but there were none present. Soldiers also had the right to petition the King for clemency but they were not aware of this right. And no one seemed to use that option. In 1915 Genereal Route Order 585 was issued and it reserved the belief of being innocent until found guilty. Soldier was guilty until evidence prove otherwise.
Many also say, that executions were based on class status. For example, James Crozier was guilty in deserting his post, he was shot. Earlier Lieutenant Annandale was found guilty but he was never sentenced to death due to technicalities.
On Nov. 8, 2006 new law was passed( Part of Armed Forces Act). It pardoned men in the British and Commonwealth armies who were executed in WW1. Law removed stain of dishonour with regards to executions on war records but it did not cancel out sentences.

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