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libitina

Why Were Soldiers Shot At Dawn?

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Why were they not shot when the sentence was passed? Whats the tradition?

Reason I ask is, we went to Lichfield Arboretum (memorail park) today and they have a section dedicated to those shot at dawn in the first world war -youngest was only 17 years old!

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Some were actually younger than 17, " The British State had disallowed the execution of anyone under 19 years of age since 1887, and after 1908, no person under 17 could be sentenced to death under civil law. Yet the British Army were indifferent about executing much younger men, often for minor offences!"

Over 300 soldiers were 'shot at dawn' or to put it another way they were brutally gunned down by the authorities, not in the name of justice, but as a stupid, spiteful and shameful example to others, for crimes such as, desertion, falling asleep on guard, striking an officer, running away from the enemy, throwing down your arms or ammunition, etc.

Many of those soldiers were suffering from 'shell shock', many had no medical treatment and had unfair trials.

"Field Marshal "Butcher" Douglas Haig, repeatedly lied when he said that all soldiers charged with desertion or cowardice were medically examined. He also insisted that no soldier was sentenced to death if suspected of suffering from shell-shock, though he didn't have the stomach to visit the wounded and dying in military hospitals. Yet in the summer of 1916 a secret order was given to all officers of the rank of captain and above, instructing that cases of cowardice were always to be punished with death. Medical excuses were not to be tolerated. And what did he do to boost morale? He authorised more executions just prior to, or during major offensives thus matching the brutality of the enemy with his own."

"Those condemned to death usually had their sentences confirmed by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig on the evening following their court-martial. A chaplain was dispatched to spend the night in the cell with the condemned man and execution took place the following dawn, with some men facing their last moments drugged with morphine or alcohol.

When the time came, the offender was tied to a stake, a medical officer placed a piece of white cloth over the man's heart and a priest prayed for him. Then the firing line - usually made up of six soldiers - was given orders to shoot. One round was routinely blank and no soldier could be sure he had fired a fatal shot.

Immediately after the shooting, the medical officer would examine the man. If he was still alive, the officer in charge would finish him off with a revolver."

Also -

"The night before an execution, the condemned soldier should have been told he could make a petition for clemency to the King. It's an alarming fact, but not one was made! There's no historical evidence they were ever told. This quite disgraceful omission has to be judged in the light that a number of Commissioned Officers were successful in obtaining a pardon from the Sovereign in far less serious cases. At least 15 officers were spared in this fashion. Some even received a Royal pardon and were reinstated with full military honours. This is absolutely outrageous when compared with the way junior ranks were treated. Little wonder then, that the Government should not wish that you know about such blatant intolerance. Additionally, unlike the rank-and-file, officers were not subject to field punishments."

I am not entirely sure this has answered your question of "Why were they not shot when the sentence was passed", one of the only matches i have found so far to do with 'shot at dawn' relates to duelling/pistols at dawn, but that was carried out at dawn because there would be no one else around.

Unlike the first ever soldier to be executed in WW1 for desertion, his sentence was to be promulgated and to be executed at once as publicly as possible, and with the brigade group marching past.

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[

One round was routinely blank and no soldier could be sure he had fired a fatal shot.

Sorry but this is an urban myth. Any soldier will tell you that there is a difference between the recoil of a blank and live ropund,. Especially from a Lee Enfield rifle. The soldier with a blank round will feel it in the recoil so that will negate the idea of not knowing if he fired a fatal shot.

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I saw that site on my travels, also http://www.greatwar.nl/frames/default-shotatdawn.html is a good one, though not for the faint hearted (or children) due to graphic photo's.

Thanks for the replies guys, the only explanation anyone has come up with was that so it wouldn't interfere with the days work (?)

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Guest Guy_Montag

Btw, I remember hear that French prisoners sentanced to death would not be given an execution date. They would know that they would be taken to the guilotine at dawn, but they wouldn't know which dawn.

I think it would drive you mad eventually.

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Guest Charlie The Tramp
"Field Marshal "Butcher" Douglas Haig,

And to think that b*****d has a bronze statue of honour in the grounds of the MOD.

Strange that NuLabour decided not to grant pardons to these poor souls. Probably thought the living relatives would claim compensation. :(

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Why were they not shot when the sentence was passed? Whats the tradition?

Reason I ask is, we went to Lichfield Arboretum (memorail park) today and they have a section dedicated to those shot at dawn in the first world war -youngest was only 17 years old!

So how is the Arboretum in August? Mum bought a tree there last year for her sister who had just passed away (eligible as the ex-wife of an officer).

We were staying in my Aunt's house dealing with estate matters (Mum was executor and sole beneficiary; I was there as chauffeur and emotional support), and we went and had a look at the Arboretum as it was only a few miles away, but you don't get a true feel on a miserable November afternoon and it isn't exactly a day trip from here in Australia :) .

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I would have thought that having to organise a medical officer, firing squad, and give the offender chance to appeal would be part of the reason along with the waiting for your fate being part of the punishment.

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So how is the Arboretum in August?  Mum bought a tree there last year for her sister who had just passed away (eligible as the ex-wife of an officer).

We were staying in my Aunt's house dealing with estate matters (Mum was executor and sole beneficiary; I was there as chauffeur and emotional support), and we went and had a look at the Arboretum as it was only a few miles away, but you don't get a true feel on a miserable November afternoon and it isn't exactly a day trip from here in Australia :) .

It was a nice walk, if rather breezy. I wouldn't bother coming all the way from Oz just to visit it though :D

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