Shot at dawn

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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

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