Saturday, August 19, 2006

Shot at Dawn

(Press Association)
It is times like these that you realise how much we have changed as a nation in the past ninety years.
This war has affected most of us. My paternal Gran's five elder brothers all fought in the First World War and all five came back (although Uncle Frank was shot in the jaw and later developed cancer there. He died at the age of 46, whilst Grandma's seven other surviving siblings (another died in infancy) lived till old age). On my Mum's side of the family, her maternal Grandad, Great Grandad Beckingham, was killed in the first hours of the Battle of Cambrai, the first battle where they used tanks.
But many families felt they could not discuss their relatives who fought, because they were shot for cowardice, and yet some had their own bravery. One such soldier, Private Harry Farr (the chap in the photo opposite), refused a blindfold when he was shot and showed a dignity and courage of his own. Their real crime was, in their own actions, daring to question the ill-thinking and inhumane tactics of generals like Haig, who seemed to have no idea about the conditions of the battle ground, or it's reality, and therefore the importance of looking after your own men.
Many "cowards" were treated with contempt by other soldiers, and I am sure my Great Grandad (a regular soldier) would have disagreed with my views, but fighting battles is one thing, treating your soldiers as cannon fodder is something else.
Inidentally WongaBlog has written a thought provoking post in this, and it can be found here.

7 comments:

rosegenie said...

I do agree with you on this - I am sure that many of the soldiers shot for "cowardice" were literally frozen with fear - I am also sure that if I'd had to fight in the war, but for the grace of God there would go I!

Paul Burgin said...

Well I am not sure what any of us would do, and I don't like to think what I would do! You are right about soldier frozen in fear, something the generals never got an oppurtunity to experience under the same conditions

the dĂșnadan said...

I am in two minds on this issue. If we start issuing pardons to soldiers executed for cowardice etc, why don't we issue pardons to other convicted criminals of 90 years ago? Some people commit criminals out of malice, but not everyone. They commit crimes because of character failings (e.g. mental illness) or bad circumstances (e.g. poverty). What makes the soldier different to them, other than the fact that they died in very notable circumstances?

Paul Burgin said...

Well I don't think we should hand out pardons here and there, but look carefully at each individual case which is what I think is being done

PeterJackson said...

I think a lot of attitudes to WW1 have been shaped by the 'war poets' and Blackadder rather than by historical fact. For example, many senior officers up to General rank died in the front lines. The Army tried as hard as it could to pardon those accused, particularly over momentary 'frozen with fear' lapses. And some soldiers did abandon their colleagues to danger. Don't let individual cases colour the whole picture.

Paul Burgin said...

As I said, it's look carefully at each individual case which is what I think is being done

Michael Oakeshott said...

On a pedantic point. Tanks were actually employed at the Somme almost a year before Cambrai. Granted most of them failed. You could say that Cambrai was the first time tanks were used EFFECTIVELY. But you didn't. Just thought I would mention it.