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UK: Executed soldiers recognized a century later

The Shot at Dawn Memorial in Alrewas, Staffordshire, UK
A SERVICE has been held to remember soldiers who were executed for mutiny during the First World War.

The names of three soldiers were added to the National Memorial Arboretum’s Shot at Dawn memorial, which commemorates 306 soldiers killed for desertion or cowardice during the conflict.

One of the three to be remembered was Jesse Robert Short, from Newcastle, a corporal in the 24th Battalion (Tyneside Irish) Northumberland Fusiliers, who is thought to have been the inspiration behind the TV drama Monocled Mutineer.

Cpl Short apparently incited his men to throw an officer in the river at Etaples in September 1917.

New Zealander Private Jack Braithwaite and Gunner William Lewis, from Scotland, were also remembered at the service on Saturday, October 29.

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, France.

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

There, 306 wooden posts remember the British Army and Commonwealth soldiers executed for desertion and other offences during World War 1.

Posts for Mr Braithwaite and two other "mutineers" — Scottish Gunner William Lewis and Welsh Corporal Jesse Short — were added to the Shot at Dawn monument at the October 2016 ceremony.

Neil Graham, a descendant of Cpl Short, attended.

Relatives for all three men were present at the ceremony (click here to watch TVNZ's news report).

The names of three soldiers were added to the National Memorial
arboretum's Shot at Dawn memorial, which commemorates 306 soldiers
executed by the British Army during WWI. (Photo: The Northern Echo)

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Sources: The Northern Echo, TVNZ (news), The Chase Project, October 31, 2016

Shot At Dawn: Pardoned Soldiers Remembered


A century ago they were shot for mutiny - one of the most serious crimes in the British Army - but now their honour has been restored.

The Shot at Dawn Memorial in Alrewas, Staffordshire, had contained the names of 306 men who were executed for 'cowardice' or 'desertion'.

With many now recognised as having been suffering from mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder, these men were subsequently pardoned.

As a result, the Staffordshire memorial was created to honour their sacrifices, along with all those who died in combat fighting for the British Empire in World War One.

But these 306 names are the tip of a much larger iceberg. 200,000 serving soldiers were officially court-martialled by the British High Command in the First World War.

Of these, 20,000 were found guilty of offences that carried the death penalty, while 3,000 are said to have officially received it, though many of these sentences were subsequently commuted.

In the end, of these 3,000, 346 executions were carried out by firing squad.

The Shot at Dawn Memorial in Alrewas, Staffordshire, UK
The Shot at Dawn Memorial in Alrewas, Staffordshire, UK
Now, of the 40 names left off the Shot at Dawn Memorial, 3 have been added, thanks to the persistence of memorial creator Andy DeComyn.

They are New Zealander Jack Braithwaite, of the New Zealand Otago Regiment, Gunner William Lewis from Scotland, and Jesse Robert Short, from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

Braithwaite's 'mutiny', according to the Birmingham Mail, consisted of nothing more than a misdemeanour.

The 'bohemian' former journalist, who'd confessed at his trial to not being a natural soldier, had tried to calm down a belligerent prisoner at Blargies prison in Rouen, northern France, by taking the man to his tent to feed him.

The soldier, Private Little, had been a ringleader in a small uprising against the prison guards. But Little was an Australian and couldn't be executed because Australia's government wouldn't allow Britain to execute its soldiers.

But 'Bohemian Jack' Braithwaite was a New Zealander, and could be executed. His attempt to defuse the potential riot (sparked by appalling conditions at the prison) involved him leading Little away from the custody of a staff sergeant, which officially amounted to mutiny.

He was subsequently shot by firing squad on August 28, 1916.

His execution occurred within 5 minutes of Gunner William Lewis, who'd also been involved in the uprising at the prison.

Meanwhile, Corporal Jesse Short was condemned to death for uttering "put a rope around that bugger's neck, tie a stone to it and throw him into the river".

He was said to be inciting guards barring his exit from the infamous 'Bull Ring' training camp to rebel against their officer.

This was the September 1917 Etaples Mutiny, an uprising by around 80 servicemen rebelling against what are now acknowledged to have been harsh and unreasonable conditions at the camp.

The uprising was depicted in the 1978 book (and 1986 BBC series) 'The Monocled Mutineer', the lead character in which is said to have been based at least partially on Corporal Short.

1917 was the year that pushed Russia into revolution and the French 'Poilu' into wide-scale mutiny.

So in this kind of atmosphere, it isn't surprising that it was Field Marshal Douglas Haig himself that confirmed Short's sentence (as he did Lewis a year earlier).

But now these 3 men, Short, Lewis, and Braithwaite, have received their pardons and been honoured along with comrades who fell in battle.

The remaining 37 men who were shot, according to Richard Pursehouse of the Staffordshire military history research group the Chase Project, were not executed for mutiny, but murder.

As this also would have resulted in a death sentence even under civil law codes of the time, it's been decided that their names should not be added to the memorial.

Source: forces.tv, October 31, 2016

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