“Shot at Dawn” – Alex Hall – 9 April 2019
Amateur historian, Alex Hall delivered an entertaining but poignant presentation on the terrible fate of many, young soldiers who were judged to have contravened military regulations during World War 1. He began with a reminder of the Major recruitment drive initiated in 1914 by Lord (Herbert) Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, and went on to impress his audience with amazing wealth of anecdotes relating to the lives (and deaths) of those ordinary soldiers.
The enforcement of rigorous discipline was considered essential to ensuring that the soldiers of the First World War were made to endure the terrible conditions and high casualty rates. Field punishment through Court Martial was the process by which offenders were disciplined and this took many forms, considered barbaric by today’s standards. The more severe of these, commonly known as FP1, was generally meted out for failure to obey orders and consisted of the convicted man being placed in fetters and handcuffs and attached to a fixed object, such as a gun wheel or a fence post, for up to two hours per day.
The greater crimes of cowardice and desertion were liable to more severe, general field punishment including being “shot at dawn”. Around 300 British and Commonwealth soldiers were executed in this way throughout the years of war and this remains a source of great controversy since many of those poor men were suffering from what is now known as shell shock or PTSD. Controversy also exists over the role played by Field Marshall Douglas Haig in the prosecution of the war and the demands placed on the brave soldiers of the allied army.
Alex related numerous, interesting, personal accounts of the many unfortunates caught up in these terrible actions and in his vote of thanks, Muir Austin, complimented Alex on the level of detail and the manner in which he had delivered his excellent presentation.