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Alaska.
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Alfred Allen, one of the men in charge of a firing party. Just click on the Executioners page above, to read more.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 4, 2011 at 2:56 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Now many people my age, will remember that great exponant of the " slow, slow, quick quick slow," and his dance Band, Victor Malborough Silvester.  A man it seems of many admirable qualities, modesty not being one of them. He claimed, in his Autobiography, that he had taken part in no fewer than 5 seperate executions, during the first world war. This revelation came as agreat shock to his many fans, but not maybe to the books publishers. There was of course no internet when he wrote the words, and he could not have foreseen the explosion of interest in record searching that was to come, ( He died in 1978 )


Victor Malborough Silvester, the son of a Vicar, was born in Wembly, London, in 1900. He was undergoing a good education, when in 1914, war broke out. Always something of a rebel, he enlisted in the 2/14th ( Territorial ) Battalion, of the London Regiment, ( which was part of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The records show he signed forms on 6th November,1914, and was given the number Private 3771. He declared his age as 18, his parents of course knowing  nothing about this, as the Battalion was only used for service at home. He got into trouble on 3rd October 1915, when he was reported as absent without leave. He was docked 12 days pay. On the 20th November, he was in trouble again, this time of a far more serious offence, disobeying a lawful order, and it was this, that finally alerted his father to what he had done. Dispite his protests, young Victor, after his Birth Certificate was examined, was temporary discharged. He was demobilsed on 26th February,1916. He didn't put that in the book, obviously suffering a memory loss. There is no disputing his will to serve though, for he then proceeded to join the British Red Cross, and after training, finally got to see France. ( not the part where all the action was though ) Finally, in 1918, he enlisted, properly this time, back into the Argylls, and with the number 30342. He was posted back to France, for the closing stages of the War, and gained his two medals, plus one for the Red Cross work. The British Army had, by now, put a stop to all the controversial executions, so Victor could not have been present at any. His discription of one though is of interest, and must have come from someone who had taken part in one. In his book, he states that the victim ( only an old sweat would have said that ) was bought out of a shed, and struggling, was tied to a waiting chair. The shots rang out, and to horrified eyes, he was not only still alive, but was attempting to run away, still tied to the chair. British soldiers were not that poor at target practise, and this would be one of those times, when they had great sympathy for the doomed man, and deliberately fired wide. His agony was soon ended by an Officer with a revolver, calmly walking after the man, and then shooting him in the head. The poor soldier, who Victor stated was about his age, only shouted out the one word, " Mother ".  During Victor's short time in the front line, he managed to get ' Trench Foot ',  and inflamation of his left big toe. His records noted, that he had flat feet, but was a good marcher. No wonder he stuck to conducting his Orchestra, instead of foxtrotting around the dance floor, and no doubt avoiding the Military Two-step. 

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 29, 2012 at 12:31 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404



In recent years, the above subject has come up, and the British Parliament, in it's supposed wisdom, granted a general pardon to the 306 men who were executed for Cowardice and Desertion. There's very little difference between the two to be honest, and most of the deserters, always did so, just before the unit they were in, were due to go to the front line.  It's still running away, no matter how it's viewed. Last week, I was asked to search for a soldier from the first Wolrd War, as he wasn't listed on their local Memorial. As I have said before, it pays sometimes to be careful what you ask for. The man in question, is listed amongst the dead, but not where you would normally find him, for he was shot for Desertion, in 1915. This news has not gone down well, for the facts were hidden from the family at the time. The War will be very much highlighted next year, and the problem is now, how do you celebrate a mans life, when you know, at least in the eyes of his comrades, he was a coward. You can't change History, no matter how wrong you think it was then, that doesn't make it acceptable today. They should have left the matter alone, what's done, is done. It has though, raised a little puzzle, just how many of the 306 came from this area, and this would involve three Regiments. Staffordshire, North and South, and Worcestershire. Early on in the War, Volunteers joined the one nearest to their homes, Conscripts however, could be allocated to any Regiment that needed replacements. So by Regiment, I have assembled a little list.


North Staffordshire Regiment.

D.J.Blakemore, aged 28, Shot for Desertion on 9th July,1917. Served with the 8th Battalion, Reg No.40435, Rank, Pte.

George Everill, aged 30, Shot for Desertion on 14th September,1917. Served with the 1st Battalion, Reg No.8833. Rank, Pte.


South Staffordshire Regiment.

F. Hawthorne, aged 22, Shot for Cowardice on 11th August,1916. Served with the 1/5 Battalion. Reg No. 9541. Rank, Lance Corporal.

Albert Botfield, age 28. Shot for Cowardice on the 18th October,1916. Served with the 9th Battalion. Reg No. 12772. Rank, Pte.

J. Taylor, aged 24, Shot for Desertion on 6th of November, 1917. Served with the 2nd Battalion. Reg No. 8793. Rank, Pte.

Joseph Bateman,aged 31? From Wordsley, Staffordshire, was shot for Desertion on the 3rd December.1917. Served with the 2nd Battalion, Reg No.200945. Rank, Pte.


The Worcestershire Regiment.

Oliver William  Hodgetts, aged 19. Shot for Cowardice on 4th June,1915. Served with the 1st Battalion. Reg No. 8662. Rank, Pte. Recorded on his Medal Roll Index card as C. Hodgetts.


Now comes a quite unique record, at least in the annuals of the Regiment, and never repeated throughout the long War. Five men, all deserters, and all from the same Battalion, were, presumably, lined up, and executed. If it was supposed to be a lesson to others, it must surely have worked.


Alfred  D. Thomason, aged 35. Shot for Desertion on 26th July,1917. Served with the 3rd Battalion. Reg No. 7625. Rank, Pte.

Alfred Ernest Ives, aged 30. Shot for Desertion on the same day. Reg No.12295. Rank, Corporal.

Ernest  Fellows, aged 29. Shot for Desertion, on the same day. Reg No.9722. Rank,Pte.

Herbert Henry (Bert) Hartells,aged 31.Shot for Desertion on the same day. Reg No. 8164. Rank, Pte.

J. Robinson, aged 31. Shot for desertion on the same day. Reg No. 7377. Rank, Pte.

J.T. Wall, aged 22. Shot for Desertion on 6th September, 1917. Served with the 3rd Battalion. Reg No. 13216. Rank, Sergeant.

R.Young, aged 21. Shot for Desertion on 18th September, 1918. Served with the 11th Battalion. Reg No.204232. Rank, Pte.


All the men with low numbers, were mostly regular army soldiers, and had been under fire before. It's difficult, without going through the 306 mens history, to tell if this is the total list, but I suspect we may have at least two more from the Black Country. I may have upset a few with this post, but in War, things happen, and not many of those shot, were actually suffering from " Shell Shock " as they had only heard it, not been in it. Not many of the stories make for very pleasent reading, but as I said before, History can't, and shouldn't, be re-written. There is a full military history, of one of the men listed, in my Military Genealogy section.






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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

August 27, 2013 at 4:00 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Now I don't know what went through the mind of a soldier, when under fire, but today, some of the men who are listed above, wouldn't have ever made it into a front line Regiment. Albert Botfield, born in West Bromwich, in 1889, a general Labourer at the start of the war, is one of them. A Private, with the 9th Battalion, South Staffs, he had at least two bad marks against his name before his fate was finally decided in October, 1916. He had gone missing from duty, and been sentenced to punishment, accused of Deserting and again had been punished, but the third time he did it, it proved fatal. His platoon, on the way to work in a Cable trench, was subject to a bit of shell fire, which landed some twenty five yards away, and he ran away. He later claimed he had lost contact with his unit, ( they were working just 500 yards from where he hid ) and after a while, had gone back to his tent, and went to sleep. He was found the next morning and arrested, and then charged with Cowardice. He was inevitably found guilty, and as morale in the Battalion was good, the president at the Field Courts Marshal, recommended that the sentence of death should not be carried out. The Divisional Commander had other ideas and ruled that it should, a decision that was confirmed by the Commander in Chief, Field Marshal Haig. There are many arguments about the rights and wrongs of the War, and the seemgly rather harsh punishment of inexperienced soldiers is just one. What his widowed mother, and brother, back in Coopers Street, West Bromwich, thought about the verdict, hasn't been recorded, and there are no Army records to consult either.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

August 31, 2013 at 3:56 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

In the book, Blindfold and Alone, a look at the executions during World War I, there is a piece about the Worcestershire Regiment. This deals with the execution I have already mentioned, but only records four, and not five. Other records say five, and there are five names to match. No matter that the figures may differ, it doesn't make for very pleasent reading. In the early hours of 25th July,1915, ( 4.00am to be exact ), all five men were marched, hands bound, to five chairs which had been placed on the defence ramparts at Ypres. Each man was tied to a chair, a white square of paper pinned to their chests as a target, and shot by firing squad. ( It would have been barely light at that hour, and an aiming point was required ) It's certain, that three of the soldiers were married, and had children back home.


Herbert Henry Hartells was born in Alvechurch, near Redditch, in may 1883, and had been in the Worcestershire Regiment since enlisting for 7 years, on 27th December,1904. He had periods of being absent without leave, promoted to Lance Corporal, and seen that disappear after once again going AWOL. He served in Ceylon, 1906 to 1909, and India from 1909 to 1911. He did of course have leave in these periods, for back home he fathered two children, but forgot to get married, which would later cause his partner some trouble, and was finally sent home to join the Regiments reserve force in 1911, at the end of his term. ( He had in fact served for over 8 years ) With the War imminent, he was called up, signed the papers to serve for the duration of the war, and found himself in France on 12th August,1914. It should be bourne in mind, that public opinion believed the whole thing would be over by the coming Christmas, and it would be an absolute doddle. Three months later,on 23rd November, faced with the stark reality of being shot at, Bert made himself scarce for the next 71 days, the first of two charges of desertion he would face. He was sent into detention for 12 months, but released after 3 months. For the next few months the 3rd Battalion was rested, trained, and bought back up to strength. When the time came for the Battalions next action on 15th June, bert deserted again, and this time he would pay the ultimate price.

Ernest John Fellows, a Birmingham born man, who had also spent some time in the Regiment prior to the War, and was also called up at the same time. He and Hartells were about the same age, but unlike the former, Fellows was married with three children, living in a pokey little house in Dymoke Street, Birmingham. He appears to have failed to answer roll call when the Battalion was called forward, and as it wasn't his first offence, he received the same sentence.

Alfred Ernest Ives, born in Brockmoor, Brierley Hill, in 1888, he served a short time with a territorial unit before enlisting with the 3rd Battalion on the declaration of War. He was one of the reserve soldiers sent out following the mauling the Regiment had taken in the first battles of the War. The conditions were obviously not to his liking, and he determind to avoid as much of the flying shrapnel and bullets as possibly. His solution was to walk away towards the rear, every time the Battalion was ordered forward.

Oliver William Hodgetts was also a Birmingham man, born in Deritend, Aston, in 1895, and the youngest of the five men to die that day. There are no service records, but his name does appear in the Medal Rolls, and again with the dreaded words indicating he was shot for desertion. Some of these Medals were never issued, deemed to have been forfeited by the mans cowardly actions.

Of the last man, listed as Alfred D Thomason, or in reality, Alfred Thompson, I have so far found no records, apart of course from his name in the list of executions, and his Medal Index Card which shows he was entitled to a 1914 Star.  What I can say is, that later on they were all dis-interred from where they were hurriedly buried, and placed in a proper War Grave Cemetery, where some are listed in the CWGC. A few went unrecorded, and an organisation that searches for lost graves has found a few and put them online. If you have an interest, in this rather bleak side of the War, do read the book, it's authors, John Hughes-Wilson, and Cathryn Corns, have done a great deal of research on the subject.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 1, 2013 at 4:26 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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