Sunday, 8 November 2015

Remembering Welsh boy and men soldiers executed in First World War by Gethin Gruffydd


Unfortunately, I did not manage to complete until this Morning and am still one poppy short of the 15 I required for this tribute.

I had hoped to put it on display at the 'National' War memorial in Caerdydd but that is out now, but next year 2016 as appropriate and perhaps with an organised Great Unrest Remembrance ( Yr Aflonyddwch Mawr) Commemoration.

The three crosses at top represent the regiments in which these men served and yes there are 'Three Feathers' but in this instance I am not letting hard line Nationalist opinions get in the way of this particular tribute

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.

Our History Commission is investigating and hopes to Report in 2016 on these Mutinies.

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.


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