Great War cam­paigner dies at the age of 101

Harefield Gazette - - NEWS -

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

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