Shot at dawn
The execution of 346 men during the First World War has long caused controversy and it’s this that has preserved details of many of the Field General Courts Martial. As many as 272 records survive and can be traced using TNA’s Discovery search engine using the keywords “offence” and “pardon” in series WO 71, as the men received an official pardon in 2007. Though the fact men were shot is common knowledge, what’s less well-known is that 3,080 men received the death sentence and nearly 90 per cent were reprieved during the review process. It’s also frequently forgotten that 37 of the men shot had been found guilty of murder and that 91 were already under a suspended sentence.
Questions were asked about military executions even while the war was going on and it’s clear that the need for the War Office to justify the policy resulted in the papers being kept. Corporal George Povey of 1st Cheshire Regiment ( WO 71/ 400), was found guilty of leaving his post following a false alarm. Four men who left with him were sentenced to imprisonment, with a recommendation for clemency, but NCO Povey wasw sentenced to death and executed on 11 February 19 915 – only 15 days after the incident. Three officers pass sed judgment and it’s unclear whether Povey had an offic cer assisting his defence. He certainly offered none. The surviving paperwork, keptk inside the standard “Form forf Assembly and Proceedings of Field General Court Martial ” consists of hand-written pencil summaries of eviden ce given by the men which aree difficult to read. It seems fairly typical of the surviving g paperwork for other Field GeneralG Courts Martial. Though ma ny question the need for a pardon, it’s hard to determine that justice was done in such cases.
The Shot at Dawn Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum