"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

WW1 New Zealand soldier shot for mutiny remembered in UK

NZ Private Jack Braithwaite
Source: New Zealand War Graves Project
An Otago soldier executed for mutiny is to be remembered this year at the Shot at Dawn Memorial in England.

Jack Braithwaite, of Dunedin, volunteered for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in May 1915.

He served in Egypt and was later sent to France in April 1916.

While serving in France, he fell foul of the military authorities on a number of occasions, losing his rank as lance corporal in May 1916.

He went absent without leave, served at the front for a short time, and was later imprisoned after again leaving his unit, receiving further terms in military prison after seeking to escape.

His attempt to defuse an incident involving a group of Australian and New Zealand prisoners and a military policeman at a military prison resulted in his being charged with mutiny.

British military leader General Sir Douglas Haig confirmed the court-martial sentence, and he was executed on October 29, 1916 at Rouen.

He was one of at least 16 children of bookseller Joseph Braithwaite, who was mayor of Dunedin in 1905, and he was one of six sons from the family to die in World War 1.

The Shot at Dawn Memorial, created in 2000, is a monument at the National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas, in Staffordshire, England.


Posts for Mr Braithwaite and two other "mutineers" — Scottish Gunner William Lewis and Welsh Corporal Jesse Short — will be added to the Shot at Dawn monument at a ceremony on October 29.

The trio were among the 309 soldiers granted formal pardons by the British Ministry of Defence in 2006, after a campaign for those executed by their own side, often after hurried and unsatisfactory courts martial.

The campaign battled for them to be declared victims of World War 1, because many of those shot were suffering from shell shock.

Because of the efforts of many concerned people, including historians and politicians, particularly former Invercargill MP Mark Peck, Mr Braithwaite and four other New Zealand servicemen who were executed during World War 1 were pardoned by the New Zealand Parliament in September 2000.

Brigadier Evan Williams, of New Zealand, will attend the ceremony on October 29, along with relatives of Mr Braithwaite, including his nephew David Braithwaite.

Source: Otago Daily Times, John Lewis, October 16, 2016

World War 1 soldier executed for mutiny to be honoured at National Memorial Arboretum


Shot at Dawn Memorial, England
The Shot at Dawn Memorial, created in 2000, is a monument at the
National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas, in Staffordshire, England.
In the mist of an anaemic French dawn, the weak sunlight burning through leaden skies, they placed the blindfold over Jack Braithwaite’s eyes.

He stiffened against the whitewashed wall, the wisps of breath from his open mouth quickening.

These were Jack Braithwaite’s horrifying last moments.

At 6.05am on October 29, 1916, Jack was executed by firing squad, joining the ranks of those slaughtered by his own side.

His death on that barren patch of land in Rouen came minutes after one Gunner Lewis was shot.

Jack, aged 31, heard the rifles’ crackle and the sound turned his legs to jelly.

His crime: mutiny. But that incendiary word paints a picture that does not fit the act that cost Jack his life.

Jack, who openly admitted at his court martial, “I am not a born soldier, just a Bohemian journalist”, was guilty of a misdemeanour, not mutiny.

On August 28, 1916, the New Zealander, who had proved truly troublesome to Army top brass, found himself at Number 1 Prison, Blargies, a military lock-up noted for its toughness.

The simmering ill-feeling among inmates turned into open rebellion on that day.

A tough Aussie named Private Little complained bitterly and loudly about the lack of hot water in the showers.

The matter escalated, with Little banging on tables and demanding his meal. Others joined the insurrection, seizing the moment to air their own grievances.

It was then Jack, known as “Bohemian Jack” because of his artistic bent, made his fatal mistake.

In a bid to defuse a potential riot, Jack, who was on mess duty, led furious Little to his tent and fed him.

He had, however, taken Little from the custody of a staff sergeant. And that, in the army’s book, constituted mutiny.

Now, following a lobby by New Zealand historian Geoff McMillan, together with Richard Pursehouse and Lee Dent of Cannock-based Great War group The Chase Project, the trooper is to be honoured at a Staffordshire war memorial.

Jack’s name will be included in the ‘Shot at Dawn’ tribute at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas.

Created in 2000 by Birmingham artist Andy DeComyn, the area is
a circle of 306 stakes, bearing the name of men posthumously
pardoned after being executed by their own side, surrounding
a statue of a blindfolded soldier.
Created in 2000 by Birmingham artist Andy DeComyn, the area is a circle of 306 stakes, bearing the name of men posthumously pardoned after being executed by their own side, surrounding a statue of a blindfolded soldier.

It is hoped Jack’s stake will be installed before the centenary of his death.

At the court martial, Jack, who spent every day of active service wondering what he was doing amid the mud, blood and brutality of the trenches, pleaded for his life.

He was attempting to stem trouble, he insisted, and pointed out that in Egypt, where he had served, such actions had been punished with 14 days imprisonment.

“I cannot understand that a simple act of peace-making could be brought to look like deliberate mutiny,” he protested.

Jack, a member of 2nd battalion Otago Regiment, also pointed out the sacrifices his family had made for the war effort. Two brothers had been killed in action, two wounded and invalided back home. Two more were training to join the fray. The Braithwaites had paid a heavy price.

In an attempt to win sympathy, Jack added to the mix the fact he was due to marry “the best girl in the entire world”.

He partially won over the trial’s convening officer, Lieutenant-General Clayton, who recommended that the sentence be commuted to 10 years penal servitude, concluding the evidence bore out the defendant’s version of events.

But his recommendations were not accepted by the court. Jack and three Australians involved in the prison clash were sentenced to death by firing squad.

There is credence in claims made by Jack’s family that he was a “sacrificial lamb”.

Despite being sentenced to death, the Army knew there was little chance that the Australians would face a firing squad. The execution of any trooper from Down Under needed the approval of the Australian Governor General.

And he did not share Allied chief Sir Douglas Haig’s appetite for killing our own men.

The three Aussies, who all played a greater role in the near jail riot than Jack, had their sentence commuted to two years hard labour.

But Haig and his cronies had to make a point, had to show that flagrant disobedience would result in death.

That factor, plus the powder keg atmosphere at the prison and Jack’s poor disciplinary record meant clemency was not an option.

He had, after all, proved more than problematic during his stint on The Front.

In May, 1916, Jack lost his stripes for going AWOL and didn’t seem to give a fig about it. He allegedly retorted: “Let duty and soldiering go to hell.” His only time in the trenches, from May 14 to 22, ended ignominiously. He again went missing from his unit, armed with a forged “leave pass”. That earned him 60 days field punishment, but by this time Jack had decided war was not for him.

He again escaped on July 7, was caught and sentenced to two years hard labour. Even then, he tried to do a runner while being transferred to the British Army’s Blargies prison.

Click here to read the full article

Source: Birmingham Mail, October 17, 2016

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