An end to shame

Guardian interview with Harry Farr’s daughter:which highlights a number of interesting points about families and the memory of war. Fascinating to note that Farr was effectively disowned by his father – a point very seldom pointed out in other coverage.

Later – something which I’ve only just thought about – and further to Heather’s comments about Irish soldiers on the post below – is whether there’s been any reaction from the other countries from which executed soldiers came. I’m presuming that there’s already been extensive coverage in New Zealand and Canada. But what about Ghana and Nigeria. Excluding those executed for murder, Corns and Hughes-Wilson have the following in their list:

Pte Samuel Sabongidda, 3/Nigerian, 27/7/1917 – Violence

Pte Herbert Morris, 6/British West Indies, 20/9/1917 – Desertion

Pte Fatoma, West African Regt, 19/9/1915 – Cowardice

L-Cpl Allassan Mamprusi, Gold Coast Regt, 28/4/1917 – Cowardice

Pte Aziberi Frafra, Gold Coast Regt, 28/9/1916 – Casting away arms.

I also think I probably need to check how the 306 being pardoned are actually defined. Is it just those who were executed for cowardice and desertion? Is anybody campaigning for those executed for mutiny, casting away arms, disobedience, sleeping at post, quitting post or striking a senior office?

Private P Davis, for example, was executed for quitting his post on the Gallipoli peninsula on 2 July 1915. Davis’ excuse was that he’d a major attack of diarrheoa – a prevalent enough problem on the peninsula –  but since he’d been convicted of absence on two previous occasions, the court did not commute his sentence. Davis was a member of 1 Munster Fusiliers, which suffered very heavy casualties in the original Gallipoli landings. Is he going to be pardoned?

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6 Responses to An end to shame

  1. Chris Williams says:

    Hi Dan – check out Gerry Oram’s _Worthless Men_. One of the points he makes is that in black units, the execution rate was 90%, compared to the 10% in ‘white’ units (and the 0% in Oz units). Also, it was sometimes dangerous to be short. Gerry’s _Military Executions During World War I_ (Palgrave 2003) ought to be the point of departure for all these discussions.

  2. Dan says:

    Now I’ve checked out the MoD’s website again, it seems to suggest all ‘battlefield’ crimes which might have been affected by stress of combat. So that widens the scope a bit I guess – except of course that some of those executed for desertion were caught well behind the lines. I always think it’s slightly unreasonable to suggest that repeal should be based on the fact that people at the time exercised their very considerable racial/eugenic/psychiatric prejudices – because that seems to open the door to an awful lots of civil criminal repeals, and avoids the idea of justice as a social construct.
    Also worth noting, as Chris Pugsley has done, that Australian units had very severe problems with discipline in 1918, which greatly affected their military effectiveness. Contrary to modern myth, Australian officers were in many cases as much if not more socially divided from their men than their British equivalents. They would very happily have shot a few if they could. I’ve also heard – although this probably has the status of a professional myth – that Aussies also had the worse rates of VD, but how many times do you see that discussed on ANZAC day?

  3. Alan Allport says:

    There has been a proposal to extend the pardon to men convicted in the 1943 ‘Salerno Mutiny’. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/north_east/4800955.stm

  4. Dan says:

    Ah, is that the noise of floodgates opening? Perhaps. But I think that the MoD will get out on the ‘moral not historical’ issue here. These men too were guilty as charged, and I suspect probably got a fair trial by the standards of the time (or at least not a demonstrably unfair trial – Alan, you might know better). Some may have lost decorations – which I suppose could be reinstated – but I’m not sure their families could claim to have suffered the sort of abuse which was a factor in the WWI pardons.

  5. Alan Allport says:

    The case was apparently raised in the Commons by Ms. Begg in 2000, and thanks to the online Hansard the transcript is available and of great interest: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/cmhansrd/vo000322/halltext/00322h04.htm

  6. Jessica says:

    Richard Smith has a fairly extensive discussion of Morris’s execution in _Jamaican Volunteers in the First World War_, arguing that he suffered from shell shock at the time. Smith’s position follows that of Oram, that black soldiers were treated more harshly, although he doesn’t actually cite Oram’s work.

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