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Memorial to WWI 'cowards'

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Steve Parkes 19 Jun 01 - 11:00 AM
mousethief 19 Jun 01 - 11:33 AM
Lonesome EJ 19 Jun 01 - 01:09 PM
BobP 19 Jun 01 - 02:50 PM
Wolfgang 20 Jun 01 - 03:45 AM
dr soul 20 Jun 01 - 05:21 AM
Brakn 20 Jun 01 - 06:00 AM
GeorgeH 20 Jun 01 - 07:34 AM
Wolfgang 20 Jun 01 - 07:42 AM
Steve Parkes 20 Jun 01 - 07:54 AM
Dave the Gnome 20 Jun 01 - 08:55 AM
Lonesome EJ 20 Jun 01 - 12:22 PM
Mr Red 20 Jun 01 - 02:37 PM
Megan L 20 Jun 01 - 05:23 PM
GUEST,petr 21 Jun 01 - 12:02 PM
gnu 21 Jun 01 - 12:38 PM
Peter K (Fionn) 21 Jun 01 - 02:22 PM
Jim Dixon 21 Jun 01 - 02:43 PM
Penny S. 21 Jun 01 - 07:16 PM
The Walrus at work 22 Jun 01 - 08:31 AM
Steve Parkes 22 Jun 01 - 10:17 AM
GeorgeH 22 Jun 01 - 12:21 PM
Penny S. 23 Jun 01 - 11:17 AM
Suffet 24 Jun 01 - 08:26 AM
gnu 24 Jun 01 - 09:22 AM
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Subject: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 19 Jun 01 - 11:00 AM

Liz the Squeak asked about this in this thread. Well, the National Arboretum in Alrewas Staffordshire (UK) has memorials to many different groups that lost their lives in wars. On Thursday this week (June 21) a memorial will be dedicated to those who were shot for cowardice or desertion in the First World War. See here for details of the actual memorial, here for an account of PTSD (which was what most of the deserters were suffering), and for a rather sarcastic discussion (from Sri Lanka, I think).

Steve


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: mousethief
Date: 19 Jun 01 - 11:33 AM

Shooting cowards/deserters seems like killing your own wounded. Some people have nerves of steel, some don't. Maybe those who don't could be usefully employed behind the lines, instead of "wasted."

Sigh. War sucks.

Alex


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 19 Jun 01 - 01:09 PM

MT...unfortunately it is difficult to determine who does and doesn't have nerves of steel until the shooting starts. The onset of panic that can ensue when men begin to throw down their weapons and run away is and was well known to field commanders, and it often took the threat of execution to prevent it. Particularly in World War 1, where the tools of mechanized destruction were employed against the traditional tactic of sending waves of soldiers against the enemy, the only reasonable response of a man called upon to leave the trenches and stand up to gas, artillery, and machine gun fire would be to refuse to attack. Because this response was completely understandable, I think the tolerance by the commanders may have been even lower. The nightmare for the officers in the field was realized in the front ranks of the Russian Army, where discipline collapsed, soldiers deserted or fled, and men often turned their weapons against their own leaders.


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: BobP
Date: 19 Jun 01 - 02:50 PM

"The first World War, it came and it went, the reason
for fighting I never did get, thus sayeth Robert Zimmerman.

I have many Dylanisms in my brain, but none that
appear more to the mark (not having been there of course). They surely picked the right war for their rock.

One point that should be made, though.

It's the guy next to the runner who takes the heat
for the turntail. What about him? Anything planned?

Didn't think so!

When military discipline crumbles in a squad, platoon,
whatever, the danger to the remnants greatly increases.

So, if its alright with the guy next to the runner, who am I to differ.


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Wolfgang
Date: 20 Jun 01 - 03:45 AM

Just to give you an idea about the number of people we speak about: During the second world war, more than 30,000 German soldiers were sentenced to death for desertion (more than 20,000 of them actually executed).

The only reason given was intimidation of the others. The cynical saying accompanying these executions was: 'Who fights can die, who deserts will die.'

Wolfgang


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: dr soul
Date: 20 Jun 01 - 05:21 AM

Thank you for this post, Steve.

The institutions of war are with us yet

85 years ago, young men enlisted, did what the political and popular institutions said was honourable and proper, and were executed when caught in the horrors of reality. Think of how much the reality of machine guns, airplanes, and mustard gas differed from the "reality" proclaimed by institutions of politician, solidiers, media (it is brave and honorable to die for your country. The best way to fight is to climb out of the trench and march, side by side, across the a field just as we did in 1785 . . .)

The real horror is caused by instutions - the politicians, the military, the media. The real heroes are the real people. Thank you for sharing these stories with us.

Peaceful change is the goal.


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Brakn
Date: 20 Jun 01 - 06:00 AM

The Shot at Dawn Campaign.


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: GeorgeH
Date: 20 Jun 01 - 07:34 AM

IIRC the Shot at Dawn Campaign family memebers were allowed to march in the last Armistice Day parade in London - a long overdue recognition of the fact that they, too, died for their country, and often unjustly so.

(The figures on the front page of Brakn's link seem much lower than my recollection of past estimates, and also disagree with Wolfgang's figures.)

As for LonesomeEJ's unsympathetic contribution . . certainly it contains some truth, but the realities were altogether more complex, brutal and inhumane than the limited scenario he presents.

G.


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Wolfgang
Date: 20 Jun 01 - 07:42 AM

My German figures are for the Second World War and since I know that the number of sentences for desertion was exorbitantly high in Nazi Germany, the figures for the First War in the link can be correct.

Wolfgang


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 20 Jun 01 - 07:54 AM

If you're interested in the Shot At Dawn memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum, note that it's in Alrewas, near Lichfield, Staffordshire, not Litchfield, as it says in the SAD website (there are several Litchfields up and down the country). Also, there are the German Military Cemetary and the Katyn Forest Memorial, both in Cannock Chase forest, also in Staffordshire.


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 20 Jun 01 - 08:55 AM

I think it is a wonderful idea. It probably took as much bottle to turn back as to go on and how these men were ever branded cowards I will never know. Then again I will never understand the reasoning behind most acts of stupidity - particulary war! I for one will pay it a visit when I next pass. Interesting that the German cemetary came up here as well.

It is where Harvey Andrews got the inspiration for his song 'Hello Hans'. Quoting from the other thread "Written for Hans Steggemann, who is buried in the German military cemetery on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, England. (Notes Harvey Andrews, '25 Years on the Road')"

Son #1 lives just outside Stoke. I'm due to pay him a visit so I think I will make a day of it and do a bit of memorial/cemetary visiting. Nothing like a good cemetary to cheer myself up...;-)

Cheers

Dave the Gnome


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 20 Jun 01 - 12:22 PM

George, I am sympathetic to every soldier who had to face the hell of the trenches and battlefields in a war that was essentially a struggle for terrain and political influence in Europe between rival Monarchies. I don't seek to excuse the actions of those in authority who executed men who ran, but I do think there are some reasons why these executions were ordered besides a moral disgust over cowardice. I think these commanders were essentially schooled in the tactics of Napoleon, and were unprepared for mechanized warfare, hence the "human wave" attack approach. The fact that men refused to participate is completely understandable. What I find amazing is the fact that so many were able to muster the strength to go forward into the jaws of enemy fire.

May they all rest in peace. A lot of good any memorial will do them.


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Mr Red
Date: 20 Jun 01 - 02:37 PM

the trauma of war is still not understood

I well remember a job hunting video where a guy was asked about his experience in the Falklands war. His reaction was to end the filming session abruptly without explanation. The "job seeking" trainer dismissed him as purile. I tried in vein to highlight some supposed bad experience causing his reticence. To no avail. And this was a personnel officer. She didn't understand, PTSD, survivor guilt, shell shock and a dozen other kind phrases or I would have used them. I declined to be considered for employment with her company later!

The effect on unwilling conscripts of actually killing someone (gore & all) was well understood in WW1, it was just not tolerated. Hence the white feathers.


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Megan L
Date: 20 Jun 01 - 05:23 PM

Glad to see they are finally getting fair treatment we had a friend who came back "shell shocked" from wwii his wife used to be terrified when his mind went.

Does anyone know if there is any memorial for the bevan boys, or thier German equivelant, young men conscripted to work in the mines, thier lives were cheap, all they got was an extra bar of soap.


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: GUEST,petr
Date: 21 Jun 01 - 12:02 PM

of course the tactics employed by the military still harked back to the Napoleonic days when the slow march on the enemy positions had a psychological effect on them.

The problem is that the weapons were much better and deadlier. Soldiers were supposed to advance by walking slowly (not running, or dodging as would be the natural reaction) or crawling. Its not even a question of cowardice (that was for the generals, how many of those were in the waves of attack)

Its hard to imagine but some people (to avoid being drafted) would inject kerosene into their arms or legs so that gangrene would set in and it would have to amputated. I recommend reading the Good Soldier Schweik by Hasek who lived through that time.


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: gnu
Date: 21 Jun 01 - 12:38 PM

Let us not forget that MANY young men were shot for desertion upon returning from leave even minutes after the appointed hour. Even though they returned of their own volition, to be late was considered high treason and they were summarily shot as examples of the discipline required by the officers. This was not standard practice in the Canadian military and many Canadian families have sought to have their sons records changed to reflect the fact that they were unjustly executed by British officers. (I can only offer that I have read such in the local newspaper.)


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Peter K (Fionn)
Date: 21 Jun 01 - 02:22 PM

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.)


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 21 Jun 01 - 02:43 PM

I remember a man who attended my church when I was a kid. He appeared to be severely retarded. My father referred to him as a "boy" although he was probably in his fifties.

I later heard that he had been "shell shocked" in WWI (That was the term they used then for PTSD.) and was consequently lobotomized. I suppose he's dead by now. People like him deserve a memorial, too.


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Penny S.
Date: 21 Jun 01 - 07:16 PM

Interestingly, I seem to recall that our present government seemed to change their minds about this after getting in. Was it this issue, or something else? But I remember wondering how, if no government can bind its successors, they had to support something so wrong as arguing that it would be wrong to pardon them as they couldn't sort out the guilty from the innocent. This is of course a vital issue at this time. Or that it is wrong to apply modern standards to the past. That makes it wrong to criticise the lawful decisions of any past government of anywhere, presumably, like Caligula, or Tamburlaine, or Hitler.

Since we are a nominal democracy, if enough of the people decide that men were executed wrongly, and and should be exonerated, then they are, aren't they? It doesn't need the PM. It doesn't need the Queen.

Penny


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: The Walrus at work
Date: 22 Jun 01 - 08:31 AM

gnu,

"...Let us not forget that MANY young men were shot for desertion upon returning from leave even minutes after the appointed hour. Even though they returned of their own volition, to be late was considered high treason and they were summarily shot as examples of the discipline required by the officers...."

I'd like to see your sources on this, can you please let me have the references (on thread or PM to this address as my home machine is playing up), I don't remember seeing it mentioned in either Sykes & Pukowski (Shot at Dawn) or in Babbington (For The Sake of Example).

Regards

Walrus


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 22 Jun 01 - 10:17 AM

There's a new item here, though the link may only be good today (Friday).

Walrus, follow up the links in my first post, or do a search-there are plenty of sources.

Steve


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: GeorgeH
Date: 22 Jun 01 - 12:21 PM

Fionn, thank you for elaborating on my point far more eloquently than I could.

EJ, as I said first time round, I accept the accuracy of what you wrote, but it was far from the whole truth. I've not STUDIED this; what I know of it is from "chance encounters" rather than having any system. The cases I am aware of are NOT of a wilful refusal to fight, but of soldiers who were clearly shell-shocked being executed fir cowardice. And of Courts Martial ignoring recommendations from their front-line commandeers that they should not be sentenced to death. And, as noted, of lack of "due process". But my apologies for misjudging where you were coming from on this!

Cheers!

George


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: Penny S.
Date: 23 Jun 01 - 11:17 AM

I was reminded on Friday, by a curious juxtaposition of reports in the Guardian, of another case where the present government changed tack. This one I am more confident of. The Parthenon Marbles were on the To Do list, but returning them was rejected after the 97 election. It may have been this I was thinking of above.

Penny


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Subject: WWII executions after V-E Day
From: Suffet
Date: 24 Jun 01 - 08:26 AM

Re: World War II German executions of deserters. I have read that the Allied commanders allowed German DEFs (disarmed enemy forces) carry out several executions in 1945 after V-E Day. These were of German soldiers who were awaiting execution at the time of Germany's surrender.

Yes, I know DEFs are nominally disramed. But they were allowed enough rifles to form the firing squads. If I recall correctly, the commanders in charge were either British or Canadian. Can anyone supply details?

--- Steve


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Subject: RE: Memorial to WWI 'cowards'
From: gnu
Date: 24 Jun 01 - 09:22 AM

Walrus... read the last sentence of my post above. Thanks Steve Parkes.


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