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Britain to pardon executed WWI troops

UK Pardons WWI soldiers 2006

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#1 Talkie Toaster

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 01:52 PM

http://news.bbc.co.u.../uk/4796579.stm

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More than 300 soldiers who were shot for military offences during World War I will receive formal pardons, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

Defence Secretary Des Browne said he would be seeking a group pardon, approved by Parliament, for the men.

It is thought 306 British soldiers were shot for cowardice, desertion or other offences in the 1914-1918 war.

Among them was Private Harry Farr, shot for cowardice in 1916 aged 25. His family said they were "overwhelmed".

They have been campaigning for years for him to be pardoned, arguing that he was suffering from shell-shock and should not have been sent back to the trenches.

Mr Browne told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that, after 90 years, "the evidence just doesn't exist inside the cases individually".

"I don't want to be in a position of second guessing the commanders in the field who were making decisions," he added.

But injustices "were clearly done".

"We can't be in a situation morally where we cannot redress injustices because we don't have paperwork in relation to an individual case.

"But we can in other cases where we have some paperwork."

'Terrible cases'

A statutory "blanket pardon" recognised that the men should not have been executed, Mr Browne said.

"But it also recognises that everybody involved in these terrible cases were as much victims of World War I as those who died in the battlefield."

But Gary Sheffield, professor of modern history at King's College London, told Today the decision raised "some very difficult issues" about how historical evidence was used.

He said that when the government had previously considered the issue in 1998 it had decided against a blanket pardon.

The reason given was because it said it could not "distinguish between those who deliberately let down their country and their comrades and those who were not guilty of desertion of cowardice", he said.

"That struck me as being true in 1998 and equally true today," Mr Sheffield added.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand it is very hard not to feel sympathetic for Parr and the situation he was in and I'm not against issuing pardons if an injustice was done; but on the other I'm against re-writing history to suit current mores and preferences.

As pointed out in the article back in 1998 the government decided against a blanket pardon due to lack of evidence; and now for the same reason they are issuing a blanket pardon? Most of those executed were guilty and dealt with by the law *as it stood at the time* (including 37 murderers). Personally this looks like Labour trying to get some "feel good" news in the papers without actually doing anything. I'd be far more impressed if they did something for the many living veterans that could do with help and to which the government could do more than make meaningless gestures.
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#2 Rhea

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 02:06 PM

Wow. Who'd a thunk it, after all these years. Sad, though, to think of all the PTSD kids they probably shot for cowardice. But they had no mechanism in place to differentiate between run-of-the-mill criminals, deserters and kids whose nerves were shot to hell and who should have been sent home.

Edited by Rhea, 17 August 2006 - 06:10 PM.

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#3 G-man

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 02:45 PM

Well, the question raised was "were they guilty of cowardice?"

In 1998 there was no evidence to suggest that they weren't, in 2006 they discovered that there was an equal lack of evidence proving that they were, that is outside of the tribunal's verdict.

To my mind, if you can't prove they were guilty of cowardice as opposed to suffering from PTSD, then perhaps you ought to pardon them, even if the pardon is posthumous.

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Edited by G-man, 17 August 2006 - 02:45 PM.

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#4 Kosh

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 03:34 PM

Reguardless of guilt, the military had no business executing people.
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#5 offworlder

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 04:47 PM

well that's easy to say from our perspective now, not only not UK but also not 1910 and not military, and tradition, and honour, and control.

Things were very different then: that's why there's this huge debate over this in UK today, whether those doings, by the convicted and by the convictors, be judged by us now in our moral set, or by those then there under their ways of the times?

Most of us here and now don't understand the British military up to that time, the seriousness and firmness and blunt and sometimes brutal ways and means they had for centuries up to then, where the 'order' and the 'subordination' and the good of the whole way far outweighed any good for the individual, and the individual was sacrificed for the better good of the better whole; that's just the way it'd always been.

And those ordering the punishments were far from the spot, far from the person, didn't want to know any circumstances, know any factors about 'the miscreant' Just judge it, execute it, ensure safety and order and all.

They believed disobediance, mutiny, desertion, AWOL (which in war is desertion), thievery, cowardice, and such were dangerous against the others in the unit, against the whole and the whole is more important than one individual and 'why he did it'. ............... So they had longstanding code about Shot At Dawn for many things; heck they only recently before that got past Flogging with the Cat-o-nine-tails! ............ It's really tough to judge those doings by our now ways, it's night and day; but the MoD have decided to ask Parliament for the broad pardon as a service to us now, for our ways and Morale now; 'morale' has always been such a big thing to those Brits ;) :D

I did read up on those sites on the shot and dawn stuff, those men, some really act-up cases and some stress disorder, which of course was not understood then but even if it had been would not have been excused in today's manner. And some of them, they were just young and shocked and needed a bit of understanding, and let's not forget that a great number of those who could have been sentenced to be shot were not so done, there were some with understanding; it's just these other ones who didn't have someone come forward ......
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#6 Talkie Toaster

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 05:55 PM

View PostG-man, on Aug 17 2006, 08:45 PM, said:

Well, the question raised was "were they guilty of cowardice?"

In 1998 there was no evidence to suggest that they weren't, in 2006 they discovered that there was an equal lack of evidence proving that they were, that is outside of the tribunal's verdict.

To my mind, if you can't prove they were guilty of cowardice as opposed to suffering from PTSD, then perhaps you ought to pardon them, even if the pardon is posthumous.

/s/

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Eighteen men were shot by the British Empire for "cowardice" during the First World War - of these fifteen were British.
Of the few cases of those executed that I think are cause for concern most are for cowardice. I think several of these men were treated harshly, even by the legal and moral standards of the day and some might well have been diagnosed with shell-shock if brought before the courts later in the war when the problem was better understood.

However, I do have less sympathy for most of the other cases. 91 were already under suspended sentence for other serious offences and 9 were under two suspended sentences. Of that 100, 40 had already been sentenced to death and overruled by the C-in-C , and 1 had been repreieved from the death sentence twice. They were guilty of the charges and sentenced fairly by the law of the time and therefore I fail to see why they or the 37 convicted murderers should receive a pardon.

Edited by Talkie Toaster, 17 August 2006 - 05:55 PM.

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#7 Ilphi

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 06:02 PM

I'm also uncomfortable with the handling of this affair – seems to me to be further vandalising Britain's WW1 history.

When you read case specifics like the one that prompted this, its impossible not to feel like some of these men were very poorly treated and given an unfitting death.

But I dislike the anachronistic and broad assumptions coming to bear about the executions. Ghastly? Yes. Necessary? Another yes. Of the allied armies on the Western Front the British was the only force involved in the more for more than a year that did not suffer a collapse of morale and discipline, and was the only army that could lead the final advance (ref: Corrigan, et all).
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#8 Talkie Toaster

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 06:06 PM

View PostKosh, on Aug 17 2006, 09:34 PM, said:

Reguardless of guilt, the military had no business executing people.

While I agree, I think it is incorrect to apply todays standards on those of nearly a century ago with an army that was fighting for its life against one of the finest mass armies the world has ever seen. Otherwise how far back in time to you apply this to- do we pardon all men executed by Wellington's army all the way to Legionnaire Petrus Maximus who served on Hadrian's Wall?
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#9 Nonny

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Posted 18 August 2006 - 08:47 AM

I'm overwhelmed by grief at what shell-shocked soldiers in times past had to endure, by horror at how their families were brutalized, by despair at how they are still cruelly judged and by dismay at notion that the lumping of the stories of us all called history could be too important to allow recourse to setting mistakes right, however late it may be for the individuals who suffered great injustice.  I'm too upset to express the joy that lurks deep inside that this occured while one of the victims of this great injustice, the 96-year-old daughter of a courageous man who cracked, is alive to know of it, so I will share the words of a friend of mine, the wife of a retired British Army sergeant:

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This has been dragging on far too long. They should have been pardoned years ago. I watched the interview with Private Farrs daughter who is 96. It was the terrible impact this had on the family too. Her mother was only 21 when Pte Farr was executed. She didn't tell her family and only confessed when her army pension was stopped and she was evicted from her home with her child.

No one can know what those veterans of WW1 went through. Of course the majority of the Generals ordering the executions never got within 30 miles of the front line and no one suggested they be taken out and shot. Look at the list of those executed and I doubt you would find many ex pupils of Eton or Harrow on it. Blackadder Goes Forth portrayal of General Melchett was a great parody.

Lions led by Donkeys that was the fate of "Tommy Atkins" and what did they come home too but more of the same class structure that kept the Mrs Farrs of this world struggling in poverty.
And yes you can see my working class anger coming through here.
I share her anger.  

Nonny

Edited by Nonny, 18 August 2006 - 08:49 AM.

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#10 Talkie Toaster

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Posted 18 August 2006 - 01:33 PM

^^^As I've said I have no problem to looking at those individual cases. It is the blanket thing I dislike because it is lumping in a few genuine cases that might well deserve a pardon with many that most definately were quilty and dealt with fairly by the standards of the time.

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This has been dragging on far too long. They should have been pardoned years ago. I watched the interview with Private Farrs daughter who is 96. It was the terrible impact this had on the family too. Her mother was only 21 when Pte Farr was executed. She didn't tell her family and only confessed when her army pension was stopped and she was evicted from her home with her child.

I agree this is appaling and is just as worthy of correction as, say, the treatment of FE POWs or of the men who "mutined" at Salerno. Of course, the latter involve living veterans and would actually cost the government money if they did anything about it.

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No one can know what those veterans of WW1 went through. Of course the majority of the Generals ordering the executions never got within 30 miles of the front line and no one suggested they be taken out and shot.

All FGCMs were headed by field offiers who most certainly did have idea of what the front was like. The statement that the generals all never got within 30 miles of the front line is a myth that needs to die. High level officers frequently went to the front line (often to the dismay of local commanders) and many were killed for their trouble.

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Look at the list of those executed and I doubt you would find many ex pupils of Eton or Harrow on it. Blackadder Goes Forth portrayal of General Melchett was a great parody.

She seems to be implying that it was low rankers that were doing all the fighting while all the ex Eton and Harrow pupils sat back sipping champagne. This is not only defamatory, but it is also clearly untrue. Being a subaltern was the most lethal position in the British army on the Western Front- most of the ex Eton boys died at the front.

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Lions led by Donkeys that was the fate of "Tommy Atkins" and what did they come home too but more of the same class structure that kept the Mrs Farrs of this world struggling in poverty. And yes you can see my working class anger coming through here.
I share her anger.  

Nonny

Many of the remaing WW1 veterans, the last time a blanket pardon was proposed in 1998, was very vocally against it. Many of those executed were repeat offenders; some already pardoned a death sentence. Every deserter from the front meant that those who stayed and fought had to take up the slack. A blanket pardon who also exonerate some 37 murderers as well- and I think that would be an insult to the overwhelming majority of men who served.

Edited by Talkie Toaster, 18 August 2006 - 03:20 PM.

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#11 Nonny

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Posted 18 August 2006 - 09:12 PM

I choose to believe the wife of a sergeant over the historian of a general.

Edited by Nonny, 18 August 2006 - 09:28 PM.

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#12 Nonny

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Posted 18 August 2006 - 09:28 PM

View PostTalkie Toaster, on Aug 18 2006, 11:33 AM, said:

Many of the remaing WW1 veterans, the last time a blanket pardon was proposed in 1998, was very vocally against it. Many of those executed were repeat offenders; some already pardoned a death sentence. Every deserter from the front meant that those who stayed and fought had to take up the slack. A blanket pardon who also exonerate some 37 murderers as well- and I think that would be an insult to the overwhelming majority of men who served.
And the executions of courageous men who snapped is an insult to me.  

BTW do you know how Eisenhower responded when Patton beat up a second shell-shocked soldier during WWII?  

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#13 Talkie Toaster

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Posted 19 August 2006 - 08:03 AM

View PostNonny, on Aug 19 2006, 03:28 AM, said:

I choose to believe the wife of a sergeant over the historian of a general.

With regards to what? All officer casualties are a matter of historical record- it isn't in dispute

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And the executions of courageous men who snapped is an insult to me.

As I've said before, I do believe that some individual cases deserve scrutiny; largely those who were failed by medical knowledge of the time. It is the blanket thing I dislike, unless, say, you are claiming equivalence between the millions of men who served their country honourably and murderers?

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BTW do you know how Eisenhower responded when Patton beat up a second shell-shocked soldier during WWII?  

Nonny

Yes. Do you know what happened to Pte Slovik for desertion in WWII?

Edited by Talkie Toaster, 19 August 2006 - 08:16 AM.

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#14 Nonny

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Posted 19 August 2006 - 08:39 AM

View PostTalkie Toaster, on Aug 19 2006, 06:03 AM, said:

View PostNonny, on Aug 19 2006, 03:28 AM, said:

I choose to believe the wife of a sergeant over the historian of a general.

With regards to what? All officer casualties are a matter of historical record- it isn't in dispute
I believe my friend was quoting her husband and reflecting the fact that general ineptitude has been glossed over for centuries.  It's hard not to have inept generals when you promote by privilege and not merit, which is not in dispute as the practice of the day.  

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Quote

And the executions of courageous men who snapped is an insult to me.

As I've said before, I do believe that some individual cases deserve scrutiny; largely those who were failed by medical knowledge of the time. It is the blanket thing I dislike, unless, say, you are claiming equivalence between the millions of men who served their country honourably and murderers?
Hardly.  Are you claiming equivalence to serving courageously until the moment you snap with cowardice?  

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BTW do you know how Eisenhower responded when Patton beat up a second shell-shocked soldier during WWII?

Yes. Do you know what happened to Pte Slovik for desertion in WWII?
Yes.  Slovik was murdered.  So, what did Eisenhower say?
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#15 Talkie Toaster

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Posted 19 August 2006 - 09:50 AM

View PostNonny, on Aug 19 2006, 02:39 PM, said:

I believe my friend was quoting her husband and reflecting the fact that general ineptitude has been glossed over for centuries.  It's hard not to have inept generals when you promote by privilege and not merit, which is not in dispute as the practice of the day.
  

The purchasing of rank had been a serious problem right into the 19th century, but by the time of the First World War this system had been abolished. Those who achieved high command before the war almost without exception had proven themselves as brave men in battle. This might not have been the best merit for commanders; but it certainly wasn't a mere matter if "privilage". There were certainly men who weren't suited to the role who were promoted (not suprisingly given the massive expansion of the army and a massive shortage of generals and staff) but these men were quickly weeded out during the war. An unsuccessful commander would quickly be "stellenbosched". Conincidently, the British Imperial Chief of Staff for much of the war was General Robertson- an ex-ranker.

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Quote

As I've said before, I do believe that some individual cases deserve scrutiny; largely those who were failed by medical knowledge of the time. It is the blanket thing I dislike, unless, say, you are claiming equivalence between the millions of men who served their country honourably and murderers?
Hardly.  Are you claiming equivalence to serving courageously until the moment you snap with cowardice?

No I don't- which I have already stated in the reply that you have just quoted.

Also, if you do support a blanket pardon- including those executed for murder- this is exactally what you are doing.  

Quote

Yes.  Slovik was murdered.  So, what did Eisenhower say?

I am aware of how Eisenhower responded to the slapping of two shell-shocked soldiers in August 1943- Patton's command was revoked and he was rebuked. Eisenhower then gave Patton a new command in Europe after he apologised to the soldiers. I am unaware of Eisenhower's actual words.

However, I would like to ask what relevence this has- both men were diagnosed with shell-shock. Those who were executed were diagnosed- rightly or wrongly- as being mentally healthy. No men diagnosed as being ill were dragged from their beds and put against a wall- the major failing here was not the system or those who pashed judgement but medical knowledge at the time.

Edited by Talkie Toaster, 19 August 2006 - 11:02 AM.

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#16 waterpanther

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Posted 19 August 2006 - 11:42 AM

:welldone: Nonny


Were theose British soldiers honestly diagnosed as mentally healthy, or were they just recycled back to the front because the command needed warm bodies?  We have troops doing second and third tours in Iraq right now under just such a system, some of them, apparently, drugged up to their eyebrows to keep them from snapping overtly and many others self-medicating with alcohol.

Edited by waterpanther, 19 August 2006 - 11:44 AM.

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#17 Talkie Toaster

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Posted 19 August 2006 - 04:00 PM

The high command didnít need warm bodies- it needed soldiers. Every attempt possible was made to return men who had been wounded to duty, either to the front or to administration but if this wasnít possible then they were invalidated out. MOs were only human and could make mistakes but Iíve never seen any serious evidence to suggest that the military authorities and medical doctors at the time were routinely guilty of criminal negligence.

As for your last comment, the First World War is not Iraq; and the US army of today is not the British army of nearly a century ago.
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#18 SparkyCola

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Posted 19 August 2006 - 05:22 PM

I find it repulsive to think of the hundreds of young men getting killed by their OWN SIDE ("An English bullet in his heart!") just for being scared.

We must remember this is during the times of conscription. They were forced to face death then shot for being scared.

As Rudyard Kipling wrote:

I could not look on death
Which being known-
Men led me to him,
blindfold and alone.

The British side shot far more than any of the other sides, and often for things as minor as falling asleep on duty, to me this pardon is too late- just as a ceasefire always is. But better late than never.

shooting a boy who was forced to join up, because he's scared, is sick.

And obviously, it doesn't much help that I'm equally as against the death penalty within the military, as I am within ordinary, and I use the term ironically, "civilisation".

As for the 'judging from today's standards' issue- you only have to take a look at the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, a contemporary writer, to know that the death sentence was hardly backed by the nation.

Do you know the circumstances of those murder? What right have you to claim it is right to have condemned men to death for murdering someone when they are under, perhaps the most stress they've ever been under in their lives- a stress and hell you did not share and cannot understand.

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#19 tennyson

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Posted 19 August 2006 - 05:30 PM

Quote

The British side shot far more than any of the other sides
No they didn't. The habitual cruelty and living conditions in the Imperial Russian military was truly a horror and they tended to shoot thier own troops in mass on the battlefield when they tried to desert without trial rather than bother with any legal niceities.
Then the French had to put down wholesale mutinies within thier own military constantly throughout the middle and later stages of the war adding up to a lot more dead than the British who never had to do such a thing.
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#20 SparkyCola

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Posted 19 August 2006 - 06:37 PM

I stand corrected, yet that sentence is perhaps the least important thing I have to say in that post.

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