The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #35624   Message #489039
Posted By: Peter K (Fionn)
21-Jun-01 - 02:22 PM
Thread Name: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
The figures given at Brakn's link are widely accepted. ( The five New Zealanders have been "pardoned" by the NZ government, but so the UK authorities have refused to budge, on the basis that there are few records of the events. This is Catch-22. The main reason records are scant are that in most cases there was no attempt at "due process" before the deserters were shot.

I don't know if this affects your view, Lonesome, but many of those shot were below the legal age for combat - sometimes by as much as two years. (Many lied about their ages to enlist, either swept along by hysterical propaganda or just to escape grinding poverty.)

And just a word about the conditions. British soldiers in WW1 could be disciplined or even court-martialled for rushing to the aid of the wounded in no-man's land, or exposing more than their heads when on lookout duty. Either of these actions was sometimes a deliberate attempt to to increase the risk of non-fatal injury - this offering the only prospect of escape from the trenches while still alive.

The memory of the "deserters" should be honoured, and I applaud the Alrewas initiative, which is a powerful tribute. But I wonder whether the campaign for pardons might be misconceived. For a start, those who were shot don't need "pardoning" because they did nothing wrong. And in any case their tragic fate can never be undone. To overturn the convictions at this stage smacks of re-writing history - airbrushing out an episode that we should learn from, and remember with shame. I'd be inclined to let the verdicts stand, as a permanent stigma on pre-democratic Britain. (Until 1918, only eight million people were entitled to vote.)