One of the things I wanted to do when I went to the NMA last week was to re-visit the Shot at Dawn memorial to leavmy poppy posy. I find this one of the most poignant of the memorials. Commemorating over 300 boys and men who were shot for desertion or cowardice. One personal story recounted at the special Antiques Roadshow, aired on Sunday from the arboretum, describes how a young relative had been reported for allegedly sleeping on duty[a second straight shift because he was standing in for a friend who was too ill to stand guard] and had been sentenced to death because of that. Like so many others he was allowed no defence or support at his court martial, and was saved only by virtue of the sentence being due to be carried out some 2 weeks after the trial. He was sent back to the front to carry on fighting whilst awaiting his fate, and during that time, his sentence was commuted to 5 years hard labour, which he could work off during his service. Despite conspicuous bravery for which he was awarded medals after the court martial, at the end of the war he was demobbed at the rank of private, as when he had enlisted.
Looking at the names of these young men, from all corners of the Commonwealth, who were only officially pardoned on 2006, it is so sad to contemplate how they met their end. The statue is modelled on Herbert Burden, aged 17 who served in the Northumberland fusiliers. Though he is the only soldier to be officially recognised as under age, it is accepted that many of those marked ‘age unknown’ are likely to have been too young to join the services, or fight abroad[ in WW1 it wasn’t officially allowed for a youngster to fight overseas untill he was 19]
Mac Macdonald writes some interesting detail on the Forces Poetry page.
At the Poperinge memorial is a quotation from rudyard Kipling, entitled The Coward:
I could not look on Death,
which being known,
Men led me to him,
blindfold and alone.