Great War campaigner dies at the age of 101
A WOMAN who successfully campaigned to have her father and 305 other men shot for cowardice and desertion in the First World War pardoned, has died, aged 101.
Gertrude Harris was the daughter of Private Harry Farr, who was executed after a 20-minute trial by court martial in 1916, despite suffering from shell shock.
Mother-of-three Ms Harris worked with pressure group Shot At Dawn and her legal action, brought in the High Court, led to defence secretary Des Browne in 2006 announcing posthumous conditional pardons for the handful of officers and hundreds of men shot in such circumstances.
Ms Harris lived in Harrow and died at Northwick Park Hospital, after a short illness, on Monday, February 2.
Her daughter Janet Booth, who campaigned with her, said: “Mum was a wonderful woman who was loved by her family. She was an inspiration to us all and will leave a big gap in our lives.
“We were so proud of her involvement in the Shot at Dawn campaign.
“With the help of her family, through numerous visits to the High Court, a conditional pardon was granted for her father and all those unfortunate soldiers executed in World War One.”
Private Farr, who lived in Kensington and Wealdstone, was a volunteer soldier who fought in battles including Neuve Chappelle and the Somme.
He spent two periods in hospital suffering from shell shock and, after refusing to return to the Front, he was tried without representation and was shot at dawn in October 1916. His death warrant was signed by British commander-in-chief Field Marshall Haig.
Ms Harris was just fourmonths-old when her father last saw her, and she spent 40 years believing he had died in battle, until the 1950s, when she learned the ‘shameful’ family secret.
It was only in the 1980s, when her daughter was researching her family tree, that the truth was learned.
In 1992, mother and daughter contacted Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay and, alongside Shot At Dawn, they spent the next 14 years striving for an official recognition for the wrong done to the soldiers, many of whom were teenagers and clearly unwell.
Labour defence secretary Mr Browne announced in 2006 that 306 soldiers executed for desertion or cowardice during the 19141918 conflict would be pardoned.
Ms Harris said at the time: “I am so relieved that this ordeal is now over and I can be content knowing that my father’s memory is intact.
“I’ve always argued that my father’s refusal to rejoin the front line, described in the court martial as resulting from cowardice, was in fact the result of shell shock, and I believe that many other soldiers suffered from this, not just my father.”
Following his pardon, Private Farr’s name was added to the war memorial in Wealdstone.
n TIRELESS CAMPAIGN: Gertrude Harris, pictured on Remembrance Sunday in 2000
Photo by John Shenton