Friday, 7 November 2014

Shot at Dawn : The 15 Welshmen executed during the First World War by their own side by Rachel Misstear

                                                                           William Jones is on Left of Picture

Yr  Aflonyddwch  Mawr says its is time to  have a monument in Wales to those who heroically resisted the First World War on the Western Front as well as at Home.

We are aware of mutinies in three Welsh Regiments on the Western Front  which have been edited out of regimental histories.

The executed and dead will have their say and will not remain excluded from history for  ever.

Private William Jones was probably suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) induced by the horrors of the Great War.

But after deserting the young solider turned himself in – and later found himself blindfolded and put before a firing squad.

The young solider from the Vale of Neath was one of 306 young British soldiers – 15 of them serving in Welsh ranks – who received the ultimate punishment for military offences such as desertion, cowardice, falling asleep or striking an officer.

They were all shot at dawn.

In 2006 a blanket pardon was issued for the men who died this way following a petition in the years after the First World War.

Now a new book by Neath author Robert King, who campaigned and supported the petition, portrays the brutality faced by the 15 Welshmen who all faced this terrifying end.

Shot at Dawn looks at how during the First World War the concept of ‘shell shock’ – now known as PTSD – was not known and was not accepted as an excuse for desertion or any of the other offences which resulted in men being shot..

Pte Jones’ name has since been inscribed on Glynneath war memorial nearly 90 years after he was executed.

Suspected to have been too young to join the army, Mr King thinks Pte Jones was one of the many hundreds of volunteers who lied about their age and signed up by a desperate army.

“Private William Jones, 9th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was a Kitchener volunteer who hailed from Glynneath,” said Mr King.

“Jones was a stretcher bearer in France who went missing on June 15, 1917, after taking a wounded soldier to the dressing station.

“The job of a stretcher bearer entailed going out into no-man’s-land collecting wounded and dead soldiers and their body parts and returning them to the dressing station.

“It was a horrendous duty for such a young man and it could have unhinged him, causing him to desert.”

During the early days of September 1917, having been away from his battalion for about three months, he handed himself in to Neath Police Station – possibly encouraged by his family – and the officers there promptly sent him to the assistant provost marshal in Bristol.

“If he had not made the decision to surrender it is probable that he would have been undetected for the duration of the war,” said Mr King.

Pte Jones was executed a month later. In a foreword to the book Neath MP Peter Hain said the men who died had been victims of war rather than failures at war.

Mr Hain supported a proposal in the House of Commons to grant a blanket pardon to the men.

“The terrible injustice suffered by 306 British men executed under the Army Act has been like a deep festering sore,” he said.

“Their ‘offence’ was quite likely to be suffering from shell shock – now called post-traumatic stress syndrome. Through no fault of their own they downed arms and could not serve, so breaching the regulations stipulated by the Army Act.”

In the years following the First World War the executed soldiers’ cause was raised with great passion in the House with Labour MP Ernest Thurtle being one of the first to do so in the early 1920s.

He argued that the executed soldiers should be laid to rest in graves alongside those men who fell in action after responding to a petition submitted by a soldier who felt that they should be honoured in the same way.

Mr King, a local history author from Neath, has been campaigning since the 1970s to have the soldiers pardoned and placed on memorials to those who died in the First World War.

“My attention focused on those Welshmen who had been regulars, volunteers or conscripts and then faced a firing squad for committing one of the variety of offences either through, in some cases, alcoholic inebriation or shell shock (now called post-traumatic stress syndrome).”

Mr King said soldiers who made up the firing line were also mentally scarred by the dawn shootings.
“It must have been horrendous to be instructed to carry out this duty – in some cases the members of the firing party would have known the condemned. To be involved in a firing party would often leave a mark on a man who had knowingly shot someone who had been fighting on the Allied side.”

Four of the 15 Welshmen executed by the British Army had been convicted of murder and were not subject to the blanket pardon that was granted for other offences.

However the court martials they faced were nothing like a civilian murder trial and did not take into account any of the mitigating circumstances surrounding the killings.

Corporal George Povey, from Flintshire, became the first Welshman to be executed and the first soldier to face the firing squad for the offence of leaving his post. He was just 23.

He was executed at Saint-Jans-Cappel in France on February 11, 1915. His immediate grave was lost during the confusion of the war and his name is commemorated on the Menin Gate.

Private Major Penn and Private Albert Troughton, both regular soldiers and single men serving in the 1/Royal Welsh Fusiliers, became the fifth double-execution of the war.

Both had been involved in the fighting around Ypres when the battalion of 300 or so soldiers came under an intense attack from the Germans who, it seemed, had almost penetrated the Allied line. The commanding officer, according to Troughton, told him his brother had been killed along with hundreds of others in the attack.

Troughton said his commanding officers shouted ‘Everyone for himself’ so Troughton and, one assumes, Penn wandered off.

Troughton, along with Penn, was found guilty of deserting his post and executed on April 22, 1915.
Private James Grist Carr was a regular serving in the 2/Welsh 1 Division and was executed for desertion on February 7, 1916.

The circumstances surrounding his alleged desertion are vague. Reasons that led to his desertion are sketchy or nonexistent.

Private Anthony Victor O’Neill (some documents spell his surname as Neil) was a Kitchener volunteer serving with the 1/South Wales Borderers.

The reasons that led to his desertion are, again, sketchy or nonexistent. He was executed on April 30, 1915.

Private John Thomas, a reservist with the 2/Battalion Welsh Regiment 1 Division, was executed for desertion.

The 44-year-old from the Pembrokeshire village of Lamphey was married with three children.

In his defence he argued that, being much older than the majority of soldiers in the ranks, he found it difficult to keep up with them and had expected to be given a job behind the front line.

The argument was not received sympathetically – nor was his marital status nor that he was the father of three children.

He was executed on May 20, 1916.

Private George Watkins was a reservist with 13/Welsh Regiment who was twice wounded and then returned to the action following a period of convalescence.

He deserted his battalion, which was resting behind the lines, during December of 1916. The 32-year-old was shot on May 15, 1917.

Private William Jones, 9th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was executed on October 25, 1917, for desertion.

Private Thomas Henry Basil Rigby – known as Harry – served with the 10th Battalion South Wales Borderers.

He was a brigade runner on the front line when he absconded from the recently-captured enemy trenches on the Ypres Salient in August 1917.

He was a recidivist already serving a three-year suspended sentence for desertion. The 21-year-old was executed at Armentières on November 22, 1917.

Private William Scholes, 2nd Battalion South Wales Borderers, was a conscript born in 1893.

He became the last man serving in a Welsh regiment to be executed for desertion or any other offence during the war.

He was executed on August 8, 1918, for desertion.

Sub-Lieutenant Edwin Leopold Arthur Dyett of Albany Road, Cardiff, 21, was shot dead on January 5, 1917 for desertion.

Another four soldiers were executed for murder.

Private Richard Morgan and Lance Corporal William Price were both serving with the 2/Welsh Regiment and were both from Rhondda. They were aged 32 and 41 respectively.

The two soldiers got drunk on the evening of January 20, 1915, and shot Company Sergeant Major Hugh Hayes.

Reports say Hayes had been victimising the pair. Both were executed on February 15, 1915.

Private Charles William Knight 28, was a Kitchener volunteer from London, serving with the 10th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

He killed Private Alfred Edwards when he shot at his platoon while drunk. He was executed on November 15, 1915.

Private James Skone was a Kitchener volunteer from Pembroke attached to the 2/Welsh Regiment. He was placed on arrest for absence from duty got drunk and shot a man.

He was found guilty of murder and shot on May 10, 1918.

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