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Lancashire Fusilier

Shot at dawn - British WW1 Military Executions.

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Gunner Bailey

Thanks for that. Good to get the whole picture. However the rest of the survivors didn't desert after one day's contact. So Cowardice / Desertion seems to apply in Latham's , especially as he was an NCO.

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Steven Broomfield

Off-topic, so apologies, but the excerpt posted in Post 225 might be used to show the pig-headedness of the old BEF: using numbers not used for over 30 years to identify units. How regimental loyalty can be engendered by referring to the 2nd Essex or the 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers by their pre-Cardwell numbers is baffling, and I wonder how many of the men (or officers) in the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers knew who the 108th were.

 

As I say, off-topic, but still intriguing. I might start a separate thread later.

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voltaire60
4 hours ago, QGE said:

 I suspect the Army made special efforts to prosecute these men. 

 

    Thank you for your efforts Martin- Most informative.  As the stock of "History" is fixed, the main debates are over the  merits/demerits of the matter through the various "glass darkly" sets of moralities of later times. Thus, the debate will continue, the nuances and interpretations may change but the facts will remain fixed. The SOD will still be dead.  And "Bad Luck" is still the greatest hazard in any war.

 

     As regards renegades, I have not come across anything about them for the Great War-only the Second (British Legion, Amery, etc). Though if a man deserted across the lines, then keeping his mouth shut as a POW  might have been a way forward for survival.  It does suggest that the hazard of crossing No Man's Land may have been greater as perceived by the potential deserter than heading back from the line. After all, the purpose of the death penalty was certainty against the mere chance(however high) of being killed if going forward

 

      Perhaps more work would be done in the future on those  whose death sentences were not confirmed-and the reasons why. I have not checked but guess that being single increased one's chances of being executed?  No wife and kids for a lot of them.

     I still think- just plain suspicion or no-that the military authorities had a better network of what was going on intelligence-wise than has been given out. Whether materials were generated and destroyed, or are still tucked away, may be a matter for inquiry but holding the army together and staving off trouble must have taken a fair amount of intelligence and security  police work during the war.

 

    And thank you for the work on the Irish background-it fits my own family history. My father's father,whom I never knew, was from Ulster -  Donegal, thus not "Northern Ireland"-but also a Protestant (Wee Free actually). Petty Officer, RN come  1914. But,Wee Free or no, fond of the demon drink. Knocked an officer unconscious in a bar in Singapore in the Spring of 1914, rather than drink up and leave,which was the naval rule. But his service record has the magic 5 words  rubber-stamped on it  "DESERTER-SURRENDERED UNDER THE AMNESTY"   (I am told he reckoned himself lucky- the ship he was on was subsequently sunk, so he reasoned that slugging an officer saved his life)  He was also discharged from the Grey Funnel Line for getting tanked up again in 1944, after being recalled as a CPO at the time of Munich-loss of all Good Conduct badges and out-though at 58 he was probably just exhausted and the war was won- (and escort duties in the North Atlantic could be draining). Thus, he hits all the right notes for the debate on Irishness v military crime.

   

 

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voltaire60
49 minutes ago, Steven Broomfield said:

Off-topic, so apologies, but the excerpt posted in Post 225 might be used to show the pig-headedness of the old BEF: using numbers not used for over 30 years to identify units. How regimental loyalty can be engendered by referring to the 2nd Essex or the 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers by their pre-Cardwell numbers is baffling, and I wonder how many of the men (or officers) in the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers knew who the 108th were.

 

As I say, off-topic, but still intriguing. I might start a separate thread later.

 

   Please do- Look forward to it.

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Ron Clifton

Desertion was commoner as a charge, and easier to prove, than cowardice, because it was almost what is today called an "absolute offence" - if you were not where you should have been, when you should have been, and didn't have a very good reason, you were guilty of desertion. Even so, a man charged with desertion could instead be found guilty of absence without leave.

 

The point which always worries me is that the punishment for desertion was death "or such less punishment as is in this Act mentioned", the latter phrase being annexed to every offence except murder (which carried a mandatory death sentence under ordinary criminal law) and "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman" where cashiering was mandatory. This being so, the sentence of death "with a recommendation for mercy", which you sometimes see, was strictly unnecessary, since if the FGCM thought a man should not be executed they did not have to sentence him to death. This can be seen in the case of two men of 18/West Yorks, who absented themselves in the last few days of June 1916 and returned in September. They were convicted of desertion and shot, despite a recommendation to mercy.

 

I wonder if secret instructions had been given to courts-martial to come down heavily on deserters, either within particular Divisions or more generally. It was certainly the case that, as the verdict and sentence passed up the chain of command for confirmation, senior officers were expected to comment on the prevalence of any offence within the troops under their command.

 

Ron

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Gunner Bailey
56 minutes ago, Ron Clifton said:

I wonder if secret instructions had been given to courts-martial to come down heavily on deserters, either within particular Divisions or more generally. It was certainly the case that, as the verdict and sentence passed up the chain of command for confirmation, senior officers were expected to comment on the prevalence of any offence within the troops under their command.

 

Ron

 

It's a great way to fill in the gaps of history Ron. Secrets, the unwritten instructions and who really shot Kennedy!

 

I always thought that British Military law was far more clear cut than civil, especially with regard to desertion ( a technical variation of presence). What does surprise me is the number of times sentences were commuted to imprisonment or less for desertion, with a number of serial offenders being shot after the 5th or 6th offence.

 

 

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QGE
13 hours ago, Ron Clifton said:

Desertion was commoner as a charge, and easier to prove, than cowardice, because it was almost what is today called an "absolute offence" - if you were not where you should have been, when you should have been, and didn't have a very good reason, you were guilty of desertion. Even so, a man charged with desertion could instead be found guilty of absence without leave.

 

The point which always worries me is that the punishment for desertion was death "or such less punishment as is in this Act mentioned", the latter phrase being annexed to every offence except murder (which carried a mandatory death sentence under ordinary criminal law) and "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman" where cashiering was mandatory. This being so, the sentence of death "with a recommendation for mercy", which you sometimes see, was strictly unnecessary, since if the FGCM thought a man should not be executed they did not have to sentence him to death. This can be seen in the case of two men of 18/West Yorks, who absented themselves in the last few days of June 1916 and returned in September. They were convicted of desertion and shot, despite a recommendation to mercy.

 

I wonder if secret instructions had been given to courts-martial to come down heavily on deserters, either within particular Divisions or more generally. It was certainly the case that, as the verdict and sentence passed up the chain of command for confirmation, senior officers were expected to comment on the prevalence of any offence within the troops under their command.

 

Ron

 

 

SMEBE 1914-1919; FGCM Charges of desertion exceed charges of cowardice by 5 times. Therewere huge variations in the relative use over the years. 1917 saw the peak on charges of cowardice relative to desertion suggesting some change in guidance.of appropriate charges.

 

On an 18% sampling of Bowman's data, 69.7% of charges of desertion resulted in sentences that were subsequently greatly reduced, or quashed. This alone suggests a fairly widespread and common process of review. Bowman argues that the Review process effectively acted as an appeal mechanism. For the death penalty I believe there were two levels of review meaning the charges were considered at least three times. 

 

Chen's data includes some fascinating charts showing offences v convictions by Division. The Regular Divisions were the huge outliers. When the Irish Divisions are seen in the broader context of all Divisions it is extremely difficult to spot them. If anyone was asking questions of any Division, the 3rd Div is the elephant in the room.  Men serving in this Division were significantly more likely to be charged and convicted.

 

The other interesting outlier nestled among the regular divisions plots is the 15th (Scottish) Division. If anyone had an ethnic axe to grind it would be the Scots in this formation. 

Edited by QGE

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ss002d6252
30 minutes ago, Gunner Bailey said:

 

It's a great way to fill in the gaps of history Ron. Secrets, the unwritten instructions and who really shot Kennedy!

 

I always thought that British Military law was far more clear cut than civil, especially with regard to desertion ( a technical variation of presence). What does surprise me is the number of times sentences were commuted to imprisonment or less for desertion, with a number of serial offenders being shot after the 5th or 6th offence.

 

 

The Manual of Military Law makes it clear that intention is the distinguishing factor between AWOL and desertion. The court was instructed to only find for desertion if the intent was also proven. The intention had to be towards not returning to the forces or in avoiding some important service.

In some ways this equates nicely to the civil criminal law's concept of actus and mens rea - act and intention were both of key importance in most crimes and the military instruction for desertion involved the same concept.

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Gunner Bailey
11 hours ago, ss002d6252 said:

The Manual of Military Law makes it clear that intention is the distinguishing factor between AWOL and desertion. The court was instructed to only find for desertion if the intent was also proven. The intention had to be towards not returning to the forces or in avoiding some important service.

In some ways this equates nicely to the civil criminal law's concept of actus and mens rea - act and intention were both of key importance in most crimes and the military instruction for desertion involved the same concept.

Thanks for the comments. Yes, I'm aware of the 'guilty mind' but actually thought it was less important in military courts. For desertion you were either on duty and with your unit or absent without a good reason.

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QGE

If the sentences handed out are any indication, the courts martial demonstrably did not see desertion as binary. Sentences for desertion other than the death sentence ranged from 14 days FP1 to six years penal servitude between these two extremes there were at least 22 different levels of punishment. 

 

FP1 went in increments of 7 days. 84 being the highest in the data.

Detention was 3, 6, or 9 months

Imprisonment was 6, 12, 18 or 24 months

Imprisonment with Hard Labour 6, 12, 18 or 24 months

Penal Servitude was 3, 6, 9, 12, 15 years or Life

there were at least seven other minor categories of punishment.

 

Bowman's data sample shows at least 20 different types of sentence to the same charge or desertion.  To my mind this 'scale' would indicate that desertion was not 'binary' and there were a myriad of mitigating factors to be considered. MG

Edited by QGE

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voltaire60
2 hours ago, QGE said:

If the sentences handed out are any indication, the courts martial demonstrably did not see desertion as binary. Sentences for desertion other than the death sentence ranged from 14 days FP1 to six years penal servitude between these two extremes there were at least 22 different levels of punishment. 

 

FP1 went in increments of 7 days. 84 being the highest in the data.

Detention was 3, 6, or 9 months

Imprisonment was 6, 12, 18 or 24 months

Imprisonment with Hard Labour 6, 12, 18 or 24 months

Penal Servitude was 3, 6, 9, 12, 15 years or Life

there were at least seven other minor categories of punishment.

 

Bowman's data sample shows at least 20 different types of sentence to the same charge or desertion.  To my mind this 'scale' would indicate that desertion was not 'binary' and there were a myriad of mitigating factors to be considered. MG

 

       And what is very clear from the perusal of service records is that, with the wartime need for manpower, sentences were (very) often reduced or suspended.  Sentences of imprisonment  would serve only to give the deserter what he wanted-get away from the front.

    On another musing, very surprised by all the figures at just how few of the crimes are those of violence- Given the traumatising effect of war  and availability of weapons

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Ron Clifton
2 hours ago, QGE said:

Bowman's data sample shows at least 20 different types of sentence to the same charge or desertion.  To my mind this 'scale' would indicate that desertion was not 'binary' and there were a myriad of mitigating factors to be considered. MG

Desertion was largely a binary question as regards conviction. Thereafter, various mitigating factors were indeed taken into account, resulting in the variety of sentences imposed, which were in turn subject to further variation during the review process. I think it is well known, certainly on the Forum, that almost 90% of death sentences were commuted.

 

As Voltaire has commented above, the suspension of sentences, enabling the men's services to be retained at the front, had a significant effect, not least in that it enabled them to redeem themselves in later actions.

 

Ron

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ss002d6252

I wonder what official guidance they were given on sentencing, apart from the MoML and the Army Act - it would appear that they had something along the lines of the current sentencing guidelines based on the severity etc of the offence.

The suspension of sentences act was certainly a useful tool and was one of those pieces of legislation which often worked well for both sides (although, admittedly, not so well for those who were trying to get imprisonment to escape service).

 

There is an interesting story here of a man who is claimed to have been under sentence of death, escaped the night before, ended up in combat with the enemy where he was wounded, taken to hospital and then worked his way back through the recovery chain and back to active service with the sentence being carried out. More than likely a tale but it would have been an interesting escape..

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QGE
58 minutes ago, Ron Clifton said:

Desertion was largely a binary question as regards conviction. Thereafter, various mitigating factors were indeed taken into account, resulting in the variety of sentences imposed, which were in turn subject to further variation during the review process. I think it is well known, certainly on the Forum, that almost 90% of death sentences were commuted.

 

As Voltaire has commented above, the suspension of sentences, enabling the men's services to be retained at the front, had a significant effect, not least in that it enabled them to redeem themselves in later actions.

 

Ron

 

Ron - all crimes are of course 'binary' in the sense one is guilty or not guilty. My point is that the consequences of being found guilty of a capital offence such as desertion were not binary.

 

Being found guilty of desertion did not automatically lead to the death sentence. Sentences were wide and varied. 44,816 men were convicted of capital offences however roughly three quarters were not sentenced to death and of those who were, 90% were not carried out. The stats are simple; there was less than a 1% chance* of being executed if one was found guilty of committing a capital offence. It would be interesting to see how this compared with the civilian courts before, during and after the war.  It might provide context that is missing from most of the SAD literature. Bowman makes the point that Putkowski, Oram et al don't make this comparison. 

 

I am surprised just how little the death sentence was used given the numbers charged with a capital offence. "99% of men found guilty of a capital offence were not executed" is a line one does not see in the SAD literature.. 

 

MG

 

*335/44,816 =0.75%

Source: GARBA 1914-19 pages 88-89: Summary Table Courts Martial (General, District and Field General) on Soldiers at Home and Abroad held during the period 4th August to 30th September 1919. Includes all mobilized British Army and Overseas Dominion troops

 

 

Edited by QGE

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Ron Clifton
14 minutes ago, QGE said:

Ron - all crimes are of course 'binary' in the sense one is guilty or not guilty. My point is that the consequences of being found guilty of a capital offence such as desertion were not binary.

I think that we are using "binary" in different senses. I used it to indicate that desertion was a "black or white" offence and, while there might be mitigating circumstances affecting sentence, actual guilt could be very simply proved, provided that there was sufficient evidence to establish intention.

 

Ron

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QGE

Can anyone guess which news agency published this in an article on SAD:

 

Most of the three million British troops soon knew they faced almost certain death on the battlefield. Day after day they would witness the annihilation of their friends, never knowing if or when they would be next. On some occasions whole battalions were wiped out, leaving just a handful of confused, terrified men. But those who shirked their responsibility soon learned there was no way out of the horror - if they ran from German guns, they would be shot by British ones.

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stevem49

Why let the truth interfere with a good story (or not a good story)

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ss002d6252
1 hour ago, QGE said:

 

Ron - all crimes are of course 'binary' in the sense one is guilty or not guilty. My point is that the consequences of being found guilty of a capital offence such as desertion were not binary.

 

Being found guilty of desertion did not automatically lead to the death sentence. Sentences were wide and varied. 44,816 men were convicted of capital offences however roughly three quarters were not sentenced to death and of those who were, 90% were not carried out. The stats are simple; there was less than a 1% chance* of being executed if one was found guilty of committing a capital offence. It would be interesting to see how this compared with the civilian courts before, during and after the war.  It might provide context that is missing from most of the SAD literature. Bowman makes the point that Putkowski, Oram et al don't make this comparison. 

 

I am surprised just how little the death sentence was used given the numbers charged with a capital offence. "99% of men found guilty of a capital offence were not executed" is a line one does not see in the SAD literature.. 

 

MG

 

*335/44,816 =0.75%

Source: GARBA 1914-19 pages 88-89: Summary Table Courts Martial (General, District and Field General) on Soldiers at Home and Abroad held during the period 4th August to 30th September 1919. Includes all mobilized British Army and Overseas Dominion troops

 

 

"Over the last 10 years, rather more than half the persons sentenced to death have been reprieved. Each year during the last decade, on an average, approximately 55 persons were charged with murder, excluding those who were guilty of the special crime of infanticide, which, as hon. Members are aware, has not incurred the death penalty since 1922. Infanticides, on an average, number yearly about 15. The total number of death sentences varies each year. Twenty is a normal figure. As a rule rather fewer than 10 are actually executed "
http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1938/nov/16/death-penalty


Looks like it is safe to suggest that ,at least by the 1930's, the death sentence was carried out in approx 18% of cases. This would be 18 times higher than the rate in the British Army of 1914-18 - it has to be conceded that it is also not a like for like overall comparison.

 

The % who were executed appears to have increased over time, by 1959 it went as high as 62%  - presumably as a result in the drop in the number of the capital offences, and hopefully, an increase in the ability to correctly convict people.

 

Craig

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voltaire60

      Virtually all of the literature by veterans describing the work of a firing party is of the "poor sod"  and "there but for the grace of God go I" varieties  (Apologies to John Bunyan on the latter).  The statistics  of the remittance of death sentences  and the gradation of other sentences available, let alone the sheer inconsistency of  the British Army in doing anything administrative (ever) may have had the intentional/unintentional effect  of making the  system  de facto one of decimation or  the drawing of lots (Paths of Glory)

     The frequent comments about the harshness of the death penalty from those involved in carrying it out or forced to be spectators suggests that the main aim of the death penalty for desertion was achieved-that of deterrent. Of course, the deterrent is 100% on the individual shot -which means it's effectiveness on that  is limited, unless the shootings mushroom.  As a deterrent , it seems to have "worked"  very well indeed.  Let me posit the following proposition:  It was EXACTLY  what  the SAD  lobby campaigned against-that of unfairness and caprice- that was, in a hard-boiled cynical way, it's greatest strength during the war. The greatest deterrent effect was achieved not by any notion of "pour encourager les autres" by the use of the death penalty  but by  (to the troops on the ground) it's sheer randomness in application.  In terms of the raw statistics, all literature points to the military authorities being-statistically- softies: the number of lesser sentences, the number of death sentences remitted. Harsh indeed for those shot-  but a very, very successful  military jurisprudential system of smoke and mirrors.

 

(PS I am aware that decimation is one in 10, by it's name- I use it to mean a system of randomised choice in the application of a death penalty).

(PPS-The story of the man who escaped,performed well in battle and then was executed  afterwards  appears to be the same one described by Max Hastings in "Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes" as happening in the Peninsula-  and just as likely to be absolute tosh)

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Gunner Bailey
4 hours ago, QGE said:

Can anyone guess which news agency published this in an article on SAD:

 

Most of the three million British troops soon knew they faced almost certain death on the battlefield. Day after day they would witness the annihilation of their friends, never knowing if or when they would be next. On some occasions whole battalions were wiped out, leaving just a handful of confused, terrified men. But those who shirked their responsibility soon learned there was no way out of the horror - if they ran from German guns, they would be shot by British ones.

 

Looks like a good summary of the Russian Front. Where do they get these teenage scribblers from?

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Steven Broomfield

Media Studies at the University of Neasden, formerly a soft play area.

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Moonraker

Seems to be a cut & paste from a book. Googling the quote led  to

 

this

 

but the book is not Sherlock Holmes and the Terrible Secret, as suggested, but another one that I can't identify that follows on the Google extracts.

 

Puzzling.

 

Moonraker

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ilkley remembers

Thought that I would share a few more accessible studies about the subject of executions during WW1.

 

Gerry Oram's work has been mentioned on this threat and Chen certainly makes extensive use of his writings in his thesis completed in 2016. Oram has at least 3 books on the subject and takes a particular view about the treatment of deserters from Irish regiments. The notion of perceived Irish degeneracy is noted in   'Worthless Men: race, Eugenics and the Death Penalty in the British Army in WW1'. His books are available but somewhat expensive. However, his PHd thesis is available via the O U at :

 

http://oro.open.ac.uk/19037/1/pdf22.pdf.

 

This was completed in 2001 so is contemporary with Bowman's work and makes an interesting comparative exercise. Of the two I have to say that I prefer Oram's analysis.

 

A more recent work, which might be of interest is 'Stories of Australian deserters in WW1' a Phd thesis submitted by Dianne Kay de Bellis of the University of South Australia. 

 

http://search.ror.unisa.edu.au/media/researcharchive/open/9915885212001831/53111889390001831

 

It is a challenge to the notion of the Australian 'Digger' as a super hero, although, some understanding of postmodern French philosophers would be of assistance. Interestingly, this was a theme taken up by a Uni New South Wales collection under the bizarre title 'Zombie Myths of  Australian Military History'. If you have teenage children you will be more likely to understand the title. Again it is difficult to get hold of in the Uk but is partly accessible on Google Books https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=szaxQCya72AC&pg=PA50&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false and is worth a read.

 

A book which has come back into print is Ernest Thurtles Shootings at Dawn; The Army Death Penalty at Work. Thurtle had been an officer in the war and was badly wounded at Cambrai. In the 20s he became a Labour MP and campaigned very actively for the removal of the death sentence for military offences of cowardice and desertion. His objective was of course achieved under the Labour Government in 1930. He made extensive use of eye witness accounts of executions  from men whose recollections were very fresh.

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ilkley remembers
5 hours ago, QGE said:

all crimes are of course 'binary' in the sense one is guilty or not guilty

 

Except under Scottish Law

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QGE
6 hours ago, ilkley remembers said:

A book which has come back into print is Ernest Thurtles Shootings at Dawn; The Army Death Penalty at Work. Thurtle had been an officer in the war and was badly wounded at Cambrai. In the 20s he became a Labour MP and campaigned very actively for the removal of the death sentence for military offences of cowardice and desertion. His objective was of course achieved under the Labour Government in 1930. He made extensive use of eye witness accounts of executions  from men whose recollections were very fresh.

 

Thurtles work (1924) is wholly unreliable. It is undermined with more than a few factual inaccuracies and relied heavily on anecdotal 'evidence'. In Oram's view it achieved the aim of raising the issue of wartime executions. 

 

The problem with many of the early works is that the relevant information remained under lock and key. Oram's work give a fairly thorough review of the historiography.  The challenge with Oram's and Putkowski's work (in my view) is that they have preconceived agendas. Their analysis is largely built around providing evidence to fit the view that SAD was a terrible thing etc. Hughes-Wilson and Corns work is far more balanced. Much of Oram and Putkowskis works are focused on the judicial process and  little on the context of the military backdrop. Judgments on commanders' decisions (for example) without that context are weak in my view.

 

The example of the Lancashire Fusiliers is a case in point. The History of the Lancashire Fusiliers 1914-19 gives an even more detail account of the excruciating time the 2nd Bn had at Le Cateau which adds important texture to the events; something slightly better than the simple fact that he deserted 3 days after arriving. Looking further afield the fact that tens of thousands of troops were scattered across Belgium and France in the aftermath of Le Cateau yet somehow most managed to regroup is also important in helping the reader understand the decisions to execute deserters. Very little in the historiography of SAD provide this level of detail. One has to wonder if this is because the context might not fit the agenda. Consequently I think the layperson can be easily led astray in what is a rather complex subject. As we have seen on this small thread preconceptions and established facts are sometimes quite far apart. 

 

Incidentally Oram believes the Irish were not disproportionately treated. 

 

MG

Edited by QGE

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