The Bantam Division is the stuff of legend. Its correct military designation was 35th Division but it was associated with the eponymous fighting cock because its twelve infantry battalions were composed of short but robust, tough soldiers. They were raised in a blaze of publicity in 1914, embodied as a division in 1915, joined the British Expeditionary Force in 1916. Wartime propaganda extolled the true grit Brit fighting qualities of the bantams and it is an incontestable fact that the enemy never destroyed the 35th Bantam Division. But when stripped of rhetoric and official historians’ bluff obfuscation, a different story emerges. It is a sordid war story that questions the easy patriotic yarns, and suggests that from the time they set foot in France, the division was doomed to fail. It also maintains that by way of a corrective and also to relieve themselves of any taint of responsibility for failure, some officers humiliated and harassed the men under their command. Their policy not only contributed to the destruction of the bantams but also gave rise to a sense of injustice that still endures.

1) Battalions, Brigades and the Bantam Division

Unlike other European countries, before the First World War Britain relied on a comparatively small full time, professional army for land operations.[1] The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) which was despatched in August 1914 to aid the French and Belgian Armies was composed of regulars, including reservists recalled to the colours and a couple of divisions of the Army of India. As their casualties escalated, territorial troops and overseas volunteers from the white dominions were mobilised to reinforce the BEF. However, they were all were swiftly outnumbered by the legendary response of thousands of the British volunteers, responding to Lord Kitchener’s celebrated summons, “Your King and Your Country need You. A Call to Arms!” and patriotic propaganda featured in the press. [2]  By 30 August 180,000 Kitchener men had joined the first of what were to become four “New Armies”, prepared to serve at home or abroad, “For three years or until the war is concluded”, and a further 462,000 enlisted during September.[3]

Although the vast majority of Kitchener men were patriotic volunteers, economic pressures had also prompted many to enlist. The latter included poverty and unemployment, for economic dislocation during the opening weeks of the war cost almost 500,000 breadwinners their jobs. Factory closures affected industrial workers and an associated slump in demand for energy slashed coal miners’ pay. Consumer demand collapsed, so clerks, household servants and other service sector employees were sacked. For those still in work, hours were cut and family incomes were adversely affected when women’s unemployment during September topped 44%. Many bosses bribed employees to enlist to fight in a war that all expected would be "over by Christmas"; others simply sacked some of their work force.[4] In mid-August, the pressure to enlist intensified after food prices suddenly rose by 15% and the government responded by ordering poverty relief committees to defer aid to physically fit men of military age.[5] More positively, the government ordered increases in the allowances for soldiers’ families and dependants in order to encourage the recruitment of married men.[6]

The enlistment process itself was reasonably straightforward. Recruits of “pure European descent” were accepted for service at home or abroad as long as they met the minimum physical requirements stipulated by the Army, which included being aged between 19 and 30 and over 5 feet 3 inches (160 centimetres) high.[7] These criteria were interpreted quite generously at official recruitment centres, where recruiters were paid a small bounty for each volunteer who enlisted.[8] The Army always managed to avoid demands that aspiring soldiers be required to produce their birth certificates, and with the informal connivance of recruiting officials, many young teenagers falsified their ages on attestation documents. Minor physical disabilities were also overlooked or ignored by obliging doctors, who were paid a fee by the authorities only for those volunteers they certified as physically fit.[9] It is impossible to verify the extent to which these recruitment malpractices were responsible for inflating the number of enlistments but it soon became clear that the Army simply could not cope with the massive influx of Kitchener men. There were simply not enough uniforms, accommodation or facilities for the newcomers.[10]

On 11 September, in order to regulate the flood of recruits, the Army increased the height requirement for enlistment to 5 feet 6 inches  (167.6 centimetres). This caused 10,000 newly enlisted recruits to be discharged from training depots and had rather more than the desired result on the general rate of recruitment. The numbers of men coming forward to join the army slackened. Alarmed by the decline in enlistments, the War Office reinstated the original 5 feet 3 inches height requirement during November but in the meantime, men who failed to match the original, let alone the revised height requirement, flocked to join their local “pals” battalions.[11]

The pals’ battalions were all-volunteer infantry formations that have often been regarded as testimony to a combination of working class patriotism, civic pride and a community consciousness that informed Edwardian society. They were made up of men employed by municipal bodies or commercial enterprises, and social, sporting or community associations who had been encouraged to enlist en masse to serve with their friends, neighbours, workmates or social acquaintances – their pals. Individual motivations varied but enthusiasm for a just war, contemporary notions of masculinity, peer group and social pressure all played a part in prompting half a million men to join pals’ battalions. Though encouraged by the Minister for War, Lord Derby, the pals’ battalions were customarily raised and promoted by local aristocrats, municipal dignitaries, business magnates and individual Members of Parliament. They all used their influence and in some cases their personal fortunes to partner town councils, patriotic associations, employers’ and trade organisations, to shape and sustain these formations until the War Office could take over control of the pals’ battalions. To a great extent the social composition of the “pals” battalions reflected the outlook, character and class prejudices of the individuals and organisations responsible for their creation. For example, in some units the rank and file were exclusively composed of office workers (e.g. the Hull 'Commercials'), others only admitted men who had attended university or elite schools (e.g. 1st. Public Schools Battalion/18th Bn. Royal Fusiliers). More generally, elitism in pals’ battalions was reflected contemporary social divisions: the rank and file were predominantly working class; the officers were mostly selected from the local bourgeoisie.

It was in these circumstances that Alfred Bigland, the energetic, Conservative Member of Parliament for Birkenhead came to capitalise on the cause of men who were shorter than the Army’s minimum height for recruitment. Bigland claimed that he was inspired to press the War Office to recruit under-sized men after a fellow member of Birkenhead’s recruiting committee had told the MP about a particular incident, involving an undersized Durham miner who had walked to Birkenhead in order to enlist. The miner, Bigland, was told, had only been an inch (2.54 centimetres) shorter than regulations demanded and had reacted belligerently after being told that he could not enlist.[12]  Bigland lobbied the War Office and was granted permission to recruit men whose height was between 5 feet and 5 feet 3 inches.[13] Publicity about this development caused about 3000 short but otherwise physically robust men to flock to Birkenhead in order to enlist. In swift succession, there were enough to form two battalions of Bigland’s Birkenhead “Bantams” (15th and 16th Bns. Cheshire Regiment), as they became popularly known.[14] The War Office regarded this initiative as a novel way of revitalising the recruiting campaign, and encouraged the embodiment of bantam battalions in England, Scotland and Wales.[15]  This was accomplished by local committees, who were increasingly supported and centrally coordinated by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee at Westminster.[16] In the space of a few weeks, there were more than dozen bantam battalions, mostly drawn from cities and industrial regions of Northern England and Scotland, with a battalion apiece from Bristol (14th Bn. Gloucestershire Regiment) and Nottingham (15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters). The strategy was successful because it served to ease the more general decline in recruitment and must also have been welcome relief for War Office officials who had been vulnerable to criticism for their ill-conceived attempt to regulate recruitment. Nevertheless, in Durham and some other counties there was no sudden rush to join the bantams.

On 13 January 1915, the county’s Parliamentary Recruiting Committee had raised the 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry in the ancient cathedral city and had good reasons to be reasonably optimistic about the local response to their summons.[17] This was not only because local coalfields’ labour force included an abundance of short, sturdy men but also because recent attacks by German warships on the nearby coastal towns of Hartlepool and Scarborough ought to have stirred a patriotic response, if not a desire for revenge. The shelling had caused four hundred casualties, and the killed and wounded included soldiers from two companies of 18th Bn. Durham Light Infantry, who had formed part of the coastal defence force.[18]

Universal revulsion over the German fleet’s shelling of the North Sea ports created a temporarily rise in the army’s recruitment figures but increase that was less evident in Durham and many other parts of the Northeastern England.[19] Negative innuendo expressed by parliamentary colleagues about tardy recruitment in his constituency outraged Dr John Wilson, Durham’s (Liberal) MP. He angrily refuted any notion that his constituents were declining to volunteer and declared that the majority of Durham men had responded in much the same fashion as elsewhere, and attributed the slow rate at which men were enlisting with the 19th Bn. to the fact that local men had opted to enlist in regiments other than the Durham Light Infantry. [20] Not only did local enlistment fail to pick up in February and March 1915 but recent research suggests that many men joined the bantams did so because of poverty rather than patriotism. This was possibly because of a decline in the industrial demand for coal that had led to cuts in production, short-time working and lay-offs.[21]

With less public fuss than had occurred at Birkenhead, the Durham bantams were eventually despatched to Cocken Hall, where they were issued with uniforms and given the rudiments of military training but it was some while before the battalions was up to strength.[22] As for officers, the battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Fitzgerald, an elderly Indian Army Staff Officer, who was assisted by a trio of temporary captains and sixteen temporary lieutenants, collectively less than half the full complement of commissioned ranks.[23] The battalion did not finally come up to full strength until shortly before it was sent to a collection of camps around Masham Hall, where they were gathered with eleven other bantam battalions to form the three infantry brigades that comprised the 35th Bantam Division      under the command of Major-General Reginald Pinney.[24] 

Pinney had seen active service as a Staff Officer in India and Egypt before the war, he had taken part in military operations during the Boer War and more recently as commander of 23rd Brigade during the battle of Neuve Chapelle.[25] The three brigade commanders of 35th Division consisted of a Reservist, Brigadier General Gerald Mackenzie (104th Brigade) and an Indian Army officer, Brigadier General John Hunter (105th Brigade). The third officer, Brigadier General Henry O’Donnell, chosen to command 106th Brigade, was a 54-year old Staff Officer, who might have been termed an imperial “dugout”, for his earlier military career had been distinguished by involvement with imperial counter-insurgency operations in Burma.[26]  However, he was also an acknowledged authority on military training, having written the “Catechism on Field Infantry Training” and published a series of a dozen lectures for army officers.[27] Under his command were four battalions: 19th Durham Light Infantry, 17th Royal Scots; 17th West Yorkshire Regiment and 18th Highland Light Infantry.

The three brigades then embarked on a larger scale, more ambitious training programme for a few weeks until the time came for the division to entrain for Salisbury Plain, where they were to complete the final stage of their preparation for service overseas.[28] On arrival, they were encamped at Perham Down in tents and remained under canvas during the soggy summer and autumn of 1915. They spent most of their time on Salisbury Plain, route marching, signalling, digging trenches, and practising various military manoeuvres. The experience tested the patience of the rank and file but in December it looked as though the 35th Division was to be sent to serve in Mesopotamia:

“The Division received orders to prepare for Egypt and all ranks were issued with tropical uniforms and pith helmets. On the Plain wearing their helmets, the ‘Bantams’ were said to look like overgrown mushrooms.”[29]

However, after a few weeks, their destination was shifted to the Western Front, the bantams swapped their pith helmets for soft hats and gasmasks and on 28 January 1916 the 35th Division began embarking for service in France.[30]

2) In the Trenches

Initially, the division was located to the east of St. Omer and joined 38th (Welsh) Division and the Guards Brigade, all of whom were allocated to XI Corps, commanded by General Sir Richard Haking.[31] At Lambres, after Lord Kitchener had inspected the entire division on 11 February, the bantam battalions were attached to 19th and 38th  (Welsh) Division for a fortnight’s training and familiarisation with trench warfare.[32]

Thus far, the inception, recruitment, training and despatch of the 35th Division had been pretty similar to that experienced by most other New Army divisions. Although both the official histories and journalists’ sympathetic accounts concur about the general sequence of events, they tend to gloss over the extent to which General Headquarters was unsettled about the risks involved in assigning 35th Division responsibility for holding a sector of the front line.[33] The reasons were embodied in a candid report that was forwarded to General Headquarters when the division first arrived in France:

 “[35th Division] is composed of 12 Bantam Bns. Their spirit and keenness is equal to, if not greater than that of ordinary sized men. They tire after about 12 miles march… for trench work firing steps will be necessary. Reinforcements are apparently not on a satisfactory footing. The Special Divisional Bantam Board has rejected some 2500 men or more of poor physique. 2 battalions have been reported by General Pinney as being backward and the Artillery is rather below standard.” [34]

What could be done? The two anonymous battalions might be encouraged to be less “backward” and the standards of artillery could be elevated but to some extent the Army had little option other than to send the division into the front line. Given the enormous publicity that had been attached to the bantams’ recruitment it would have been politically embarrassing if the 35th Division had been held back. On the other hand, after eighteen months’ fighting, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig and his staff knew very well the impact that heavy casualties would have on a division for which reinforcements were inadequate.

The policy that appears to have initially adopted by the army was to exercise caution. Units of 35th Division, including the two 'backward' battalions, were therefore attached to other divisions, with whom they could gather experience about front line service before being allocated to serve in a notionally quiet sector of the front.  Thereafter, on 7 March, 35th Division was given responsibility for 2.5 kilometres of the British front line between the village of La Quinque Rue and Plum Street (a communication trench situated immediately North-West of Richebourg l’Avoue).[35] The Quinque Rue – Plum Street sector was situated at the southern extremity of a line of trenches that extending from Laventie in the North to Festubert in the South. The reason why there was little immediate prospect of the bantams being subjected to a major enemy assault was because virtually the entire sector was a soggy, shell-cratered quagmire, making it physically difficult to move along the mud-filled trenches, let alone across no-man’s land. During the winter, the British defences near Festubert consisted of a series of twenty metre long breastworks, islands separated from one another by three hundred or more metres of waterlogged clay. [36] Elsewhere, bantams vainly struggled to find ways of keeping themselves dry in trenches that were ankle or sometimes knee-deep in freezing cold sludge.

Of course, the mud, freezing rain and flurries of sleet and snow did not prevent enemy sniping and shellfire, or the discharge of underground mines.[37] The 18th Highland Light Infantry discovered this to be the case on 13 March, after one company reported 4 killed and 30 wounded and 21 missing after the Germans exploded a charge under a trench they were occupying.[38] The enemy launched a raid after the explosion but the 19th Bn. Durhams occupying trenches adjacent to the newly created crater managed to repulse the attack.[39] Seventeen Durhams were wounded, and on 24 March a retaliatory raid on the enemy’s trenches ended with eleven more bantams being wounded, one mortally.[40] Thereafter, the bantam battalions conducted repeated spells of cleaning and repairing front line positions, punctuated by a succession of patrols and minor tit-for-tat raids on the enemy.[41]

The rationale for raiding trenches, whether by day or night, was not always to simply kill the enemy and capture a trench or to secure a recently exploded mine crater, sometimes it was to gather intelligence or to bring back a prisoner for interrogation. On other occasions a raid was initiated in order to attract an enemy counterforce, which could then be shelled by artillery or simply to probe the enemy’s defences. As the war progressed, raids were rehearsed and could involve as many as a couple of hundred soldiers in an operation. For the British, raiding was universally intended to reaffirm the cherished offensive spirit that was expected to imbue the infantry, even when it was anticipated that the attack party would inevitably sustain casualties. When raids were unsuccessful, heavy losses could always be rationalised by maintaining that enemy morale had (unquantifiably) been undermined.[42] It was wholly consistent with Field Marshal Haig’s military outlook and the General Staff’s commitment to maintaining an esprit de corps informed by the doctrine of offensive a outrance (all-out offensive).

The most successful raids combined stealth, speed, split-second timing and co-ordination. Deadly confrontations frequently erupted in the narrow confines of a trench, in which a bayonet-tipped Lee-Enfield rifle could not easily be manoeuvred nor  (unlike a well-tossed grenade) could it deal with an ambush organised in an adjacent traverse or strongpoint. When conducting night-time sorties involving very immediate personal contact with the enemy, raiders were typically armed with grenades, bayonets, daggers, improvised clubs and handguns. In spite of careful preparation and specialist training some bantam battalions’ raids appear to have cost them as many losses as they probably managed to inflict on the enemy. For example, on 8 May, 23rd Bn. Manchesters’ raiding party suffered 23 casualties when it was raked by enemy fire.[43]

Esprit de corps is difficult to define and hard to quantify solely on the basis of casualty returns but it would have been difficult for 35th Division’s officers to avoid noticing the nervous attrition generated by the daily bloody grind of even a four-day spell of duty in the front line. After a few weeks they would certainly have recognised that soldiers’ sense of invulnerability could be undermined not only be the possibility of their own sudden demise or the melancholy impact of losing friends and comrades. This did not have to be as dramatic as a traumatised man having to wipe from off his own face a best friend’s sniper-pureed brains, it could just as easily have been be a sense of bereavement stirred by reflecting about former school chums killed in the war. For many officers and soldiers, it was also difficult to maintain a sense of self-respect in a physically degraded environment, contaminated with poisonous filth and the stench and sight of human offal. And for many individuals, war-unrelated, slight physical ailments or unwelcome news from home, ranging from reports of financial hardship and relatives’ illness or death to marital infidelity or the unexpected end of a love affair could provoke depression. Environmental factors, including the weather also played a part, undermining men’s mental health over time, insomnia-associated exhaustion also contributed to irrational behaviour.

Of course, the cumulative effects could have been partially remedied by a resounding victory on the field of battle or the replenishment of weary, worn out and wounded men by eager, well-trained and highly motivated reinforcements. Unfortunately, as General Headquarters had been warned in January, the supply of reinforcements for the division was “not satisfactory”. The quality of drafts of reinforcements was poor, many were under-aged youngsters, who had lied about their years when they enlisted and others proved physically unable to cope with the demands of trench warfare.[44] They were the final eddies of the tide of volunteers who had sustained Britain’s military effort since the beginning of the war and because of the strictures relating to the size and physique of recruits, until conscripts had been trained, there was little prospect of any improvement.[45]

Because the 35th Division had neither suffered comparatively heavy casualties nor taken part in any major offensive, it would have been difficult to persuade the General Staff, even had they been sympathetic, to make further special provision for the bantams. Instead, Pinney swapped two of his brigadiers for a brace of staff officers. On 14 April, Brigadier General James Sandilands replaced Mackenzie as commander of 104th Brigade and on 6 May, Brigadier General Arthur Marindin took charge of 105th Brigade.[46] 

On 11 May during a parade at Hinges the Commander of XI Corps, General Richard Haking, made his dissatisfaction with the bantams abundantly apparent..  While inspecting 15th Bn. Cheshire Regiment, 105th Brigade, Haking became so upset at what he regarded as their slovenly appearance that he summarily curtailed his inspection.[47]   Thereafter, tougher penalties were inflicted on men who were found guilty of military offences by Field General Courts Martial. This was immediately signified by two courts martial awarding unprecedentedly stiff jail sentences. Hitherto, the overwhelming majority of the circa 55 trials by Field General Court Martial that had been convened between February and mid May, usually involving insubordination, drunkenness and sleeping on duty, had awarded two or three months’ Field Punishment No.1.[48] However, on 12 May, a court martial sentenced Private Robert  Martindale to 2 years’ Imprisonment with Hard Labour for sleeping on duty and on the following day, Private Thomas Watts was found guilty of “an act, conduct, disorder, or neglect, to the prejudice of good order and military discipline” and punished with 3 years’ Penal Servitude.[49]  Their cases were followed with the infliction of the first death sentence to be awarded, let alone carried out, by 35th Division. The unfortunate man was Private James Archibald, who was charged with having deserted from 17th Bn. Royal Scots. [50] 

3) A Typical Slum Product

Archibald’s trial took place on 24 May at Ferme du Bois, a sector of the front line immediately south of Richebourg l’Avoue. As was customary, three officers sat in judgement, of whom two, Major George  Foulkes, the president and a member, Captain William Simpson, were serving in Archibald’s battalion.[51] Archibald was undefended, like all except two of the other ninety or so soldiers who had thus far been executed while serving on the Western Front.[52] The written proceedings do not indicate whether Archibald expressed any objection to being tried by two officers from his own battalion, neither did the composition of the court breach requirements of the Manual of Military Law. Archibald’s sergeant, testifying for the prosecution, explained that during the evening of 14 May the defendant had disappeared from a file of men en route from billets at La Couture to take up sentry duties in the front line trenches at Ferme du Bois.[53]

The court was never informed by witnesses of the exact time at which Archibald disappeared nor the point at which he left the small party that was en route to Tube Street communication trench. However, written evidence from another prosecution witness stated that it was a dark when he noticed that Archibald was missing and further witness alleged the defendant had gone absent at 10.00 p.m.[54]

A couple of soldiers from 17 Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers told the court how Archibald came to be arrested at about 3.00 p.m. on 15 May. They had been walking along the La Couture road, when an elderly French woman had come up to them and taken the duo to her roadside barn near Vieille Chapelle.[55] One, a Lance Corporal, told the court:

"On going into a hay-loft I found Pte. Archibald. I then wakened him, and asked him… how long he had been there. He said ‘I have been here since 10 o’clock the night before.’ I asked him what Regiment he belonged to. He told me the 17th R. Scots. He said he had no Pay Book but he gave me his Identity Disc. I asked him where his Regiment was and he said it was in the Trenches… Pte. Archibald had no equipment. He had his overcoat over him.” [56]

The court was then told that Archibald’s rifle and equipment had not been found, though a supplementary rifle (modified to fire a rifle grenade) that he had been carrying was later been discovered in a ditch near the Rue du Bois.[57] Archibald’s entire defence consisted of a the following brief statement:

"When I was marching along in single file I felt queer and I do not remember anything until I found myself near the Barn. This was at night and I thought I had better go into the Barn and lay down till morning. And I remember nothing till I was woken up next day." [58]

Since this evidence was unsworn, regulations prevented the court cross-examining Archibald. However, they believed that what they heard was enough by way of providing proof of the soldier’s motives at the time he had gone absent so they found him guilty as charged and agreed that he should be executed. They were then informed about Archibald’s disciplinary record. The battalion’s Adjutant, Captain Alec Scougal, who had acted as prosecuting officer, revealed that Archibald’s character was generally classed as “Good” but disclosed the convicted man had been punished on 25 April 1916 with 28 days’ Field Punishment No.1 by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Cheales. Two days previously the soldier had behaved in a manner that was regarded by Cheales as, “Neglect of duty in the trenches.” Scougal had been one of the two witnesses responsible on that occasion for drawing Cheales’ attention to Archibald’s misbehaviour and in the absence of any indication of a remission, the soldier must have still been undergoing field punishment at the time he went absent without leave.[59]  Scougal had also been responsible for gathering the written depositions from witnesses who appeared for the prosecution at Archibald’s court martial.

Again, as the military-judicial process demanded, the opinions of a succession of ever more senior officers was solicited and their comments were added to the trial dossier. Cheales was requested to respond to the following questions, embodied in a note from the Staff Officer, 106th Brigade:,

“(I) The character (from a fighting point of view as well as from that of behaviour) of Private Archibald, his previous conduct in action, and the period of his service with the Expeditionary Force.

(II) Your opinion (based on your personal knowledge, or that of your officers of the soldier's characteristics), as to whether the crime was deliberately committed with the sole object of avoiding the particular service involved."[60]

Cheales’ answers were damning:

“1) As regards behaviour, this man was not a man who gave much trouble, neither was he in any sense a man whom one would pick out as a good man. He is considered by his Platoon Commander to be of poor intellect, and I consider that he is a typical slum product of a low level of intelligence. From a fighting point of view, Pte. Archibald was of not much consideration. He was noted in his company roll book as an unreliable man. He came out with the Battalion to France on 31st Jan 1916

2) His Company Commander is of opinion that the crime was deliberately committed, as the whole Company knew they were proceeding to do their turn in the trenches, and Pte. Archibald had been warned as one of the sentry groups to be posted on arrival in the line. In this opinion I am reluctantly compelled to concur, though I am doubtful if he realised the gravity of the offence he was committing; if this was so however it was not from want of warning, as previous similar cases in which the extreme penalty has been inflicted have been brought to the notice of the men of the Battalion."[61]

To this, Brigadier General O’Donnell added his own endorsement:

“The 17th Bn. R. Scots is very well conducted. It contains a proportion of rough characters, & lately there has been a certain amount of insubordination especially when orders are issued for heavy work in the trenches. I am reluctantly compelled to state that I think an example is necessary in the interests of the discipline of the Brigade & I am of the opinion that Private J. Archibald deliberately committed his crime.”[62]

Pinney, without giving any reasons, simply recommended Archibald be executed.[63]  Haking, IX Corps commander, remarked, “I see no reason against carrying out the death sentence, except the youth of this man." [64] The Commander of 1st Army, General Charles Monro, expressed no reservations whatsoever, declaring, "This appears to me to be a bad case. The man in question not only evaded duty but threw away his arms and equipment. I recommend that the sentence be carried out."[65] Major (James) Gilbert Mellor, the Deputy Judge Advocate General (D.J.A.G.) then added Archibald’s case to those of the condemned whose deaths that he considered Field Marshal Haig could choose to sanction. On 30 May, the Adjutant General presented the selection to Haig, who duly indicated his approval and then at 4.35 a.m. on 4 June at Loisne, a firing party shot Archibald.[66]

Archibald’s reasons for having gone absent were never established but Pinney’s motives for having the condemned man executed were very evident from the composition of audience summoned to watch the execution. In addition to those directly involved in the activity, Pinney had stipulated that some men from each company of 17th Bn. Royal Scots be paraded to witness Archibald’s execution. [67]

The extent to which the 19-year old soldier’s death improved the morale and battle worthiness of the 17th Bn. Royal Scots remains open to conjecture. However, Archibald’s execution made it clear that it was the bantams’ rank and file that were regarded as being weak and having failed, and not the officers of 35th Division.  Somewhat ironically, Corps Routine Orders on 9 June conveyed to the 35th Division in general, and 104th and 105th brigades in particular, congratulations for having successfully withstood the enemy bombardment on 30/31 May and for having subsequently driven off the German raiders.[68]

However, such congratulations were only purchased at a heavy price in terms of casualties and the enemy’s retaliatory raids also hit the bantams hard. The incident that attracted Haking’s praise had begun with involved positions held by 105th Brigade being very heavily shelled and infiltrated by enemy raiders. The latter penetrated a couple of hundred metres of the trenches occupied by 15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters and a sharp firefight ensued. Although they managed to evict the intruders, it was costly:  18 soldiers were killed, 7 Officers and 87 Other Ranks were wounded and the enemy snatched a passable haul of captives, comprising two officers and 37 Other Ranks.[69] A retaliatory raid on the night of 8/9 June, involving a 60-strong raiding party from 14th Bn. Gloucestershire Regiment managed to penetrate the enemy lines, kill between twenty and thirty Germans and return in triumph with one of the enemy’s machine guns. However, the Gloucestershires’ casualties included Lieutenant Colonel Roberts, the battalion commander and three soldiers killed; another officer and 14 other ranks wounded and one soldier missing.[70]  More commonly, the raiders returned bearing little more than their dead and wounded comrades. For example, on 11 June at Ferme du Bois, shortly after midnight a on the enemy trenches by 18th Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers was a dismal failure. Even though the sortie was supported a protective “box barrage” created by the artillery and trench mortars, and the enemy parapets were scourged by British machine guns, the Lancashires were almost immediately pinned down in no man’s land by retaliatory shelling and small arms fire. The divisional war diary reported:

FERME DU BOIS  Section At 0.45 a.m. a raid by 18th Lan. Fus. was attempted from S.10.2 (COPSE STREET) on the enemy’s fire trench 200 yds. N.N.E. of BOAR’S HEAD. Raid was accompanied by a box barrage of artillery & T.Ms., while M.Gs. swept enemy’s parapets outwards from point of attack. The raiders succeeded in crossing part of the enemy’s fire trench when they were struck by hostile shell and musketry fire, & were forced to return, losing 1 officer killed, 1 man missing, 1 officer & 2 O.R. wounded. Our artillery fired… in retaliation. Enemy’s artillery fire opened… our parapet & 3 dug-outs were damaged but were soon repaired.

NEUVE CHAPELLE Section … At 11 p.m. a party of some 15 men attempted a bombing raid north of the NEB but were driven back by the bombs of one of our covering parties to their trench N. of BREWERY ROAD.”[71]

Inconclusive though this pattern of warfare may appear, it had two outcomes. Viewed positively, the bantams gained valuable experience of trench warfare without suffering the sudden catastrophic losses that were customarily arose from involvement in a major offensive. During June the division incurred 202 casualties, of whom 40 (including 7 officers) had been killed but in military terms the division had done little more than hold the line in a quiet sector.[72]

More generally, reviewing the losses sustained by the division between its arrival in France and the end of June, the cumulative total of battle-related casualties was just over 1200 (all ranks), roughly 10% of the infantry. Of these 10 officers and been killed and 51 wounded; 204 other ranks hand been killed and 869 wounded; one officer and circa 52 other ranks were reported missing. [73] Because the 35th Division’s Assistant Director of Medical Services conflated the returns of sick and wounded it is difficult to identify the extent to which the losses were inflated by non-combat-related sickness. However, statistical returns suggest that the cumulative total of sick totalled around 2000, of whom more than half would have been given medicine and returned to duty.[74] The wastage was not serious enough to cause General Headquarters to consider the division’s deployment out of the line In any case preparations were underway for the forthcoming July offensive on the Somme battlefront, and the General Staff had little time to indulge under-sized soldiers. Yet Major General Pinney and his brigadiers were well aware of the corrosive effect of trench warfare and the effect of a succession of minor reverses on what they regarded as esprit de corps of the rank and file, which included the latter’s confidence in officers’ leadership.

Whether by way of affirming enhanced confidence in the bantams or simply providing reinforcements for the forthcoming Somme offensive, General Headquarters then ordered the 35th Division to be transferred from the vicinity of Neuve Chapelle to a more active sector of the front.

4)  The Somme Offensive

At the end of June, 35th Division travelled from the vicinity of Neuve Chapelle to the Somme, where it was deployed at the southernmost extremity of the British line, close to Maltz Horn Farm, around a kilometre south-east of Trones Wood.[75] On the right flank of 35th Division was the French Army, with whom the bantams were ordered to liaise in mounting offensive operations against Guillemont and Ginchy. The ground over which the bantams were expected to fight had been reduced to a deadly morass, pock-marked with shell holes and strewn with the stinking corpses of men and animals.

With virtually no advance notice or any opportunity in which to engage in preliminary reconnaissance, the 16th Bn. Cheshires were attached to 54th Brigade and ordered to take their place in the front line. Movement through the sticky mud proved exhausting for the heavily laden bantams but after struggling along communication trenches for over eight hours, the unit managed to establish itself at Waterlot Farm.[76] They held on to the position and got pulverised by the enemy but managed successfully to drive off a three successive German attacks. However, the battalion sustained 259 casualties in four days.[77] On 19 July, Pinney ordered the remainder of 105th Brigade to engage in a preliminary attack with the French to seize a kilometre of the German line between Arrow Head Copse and Malz Horn Farm.[78] The 15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters was assigned to lead the assault but from the outset it was clearly an over-ambitious assignment. Not only had the Sherwood Foresters been exposed to a couple of days of more of less continuous enemy artillery fire but the front over which they were expected to attack was too wide.[79] Worse still, artillery observation was unavailable, so they would have to attack with at best “blind” support from the gunners. The entire plan was improvised and only a couple of hours notice had been given to troops that were expected to launch the opening assault.[80] Unfortunately, two companies that had been subjected by the enemy to a four-hour long poison gas attack were in no state to advance.[81]

An additional couple of companies from 23rd Bn. Manchester Regiment were despatched from 104th Brigade to reinforce the two combat-ready companies of Sherwoods and at 5.00 a.m., in broad daylight and in full view of the enemy they advanced into no man’s land - and were duly slaughtered by the German machine guns. The Manchesters briefly managed to reach the enemy trenches “with gallantry” but they were swiftly evicted.[82] Then, just before 11.35 a.m., as Pinney decreed, a further attack went ahead. The Manchesters and the Sherwood Foresters again went into action and managed to reach the enemy front line only to be savaged by an enemy artillery bombardment and compelled to flee.[83] As attacks during July 1916 went, the casualty rates were pretty representative. The 23rd Bn. Manchester Regiment lost 159 (all ranks), and of the 15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters, 67 (all ranks) were killed and 243 (all ranks) were wounded.[84] The 14 Bn. Gloucestershire Regiment reported 111 (all ranks) killed and wounded and 15th Bn. Cheshire Regiment suffered 17 killed (including one officer) and 121 wounded, including their commanding officer.[85]

A couple of days later, another ill conceived and very hurried operation thinned the ranks of 18th Bn. Lancashires. On 22 July, at six hours notice the battalion furnished two raiding parties to conduct a night attack on enemy trenches near Guillemont. One of these groups was detailed to open up a five hundred yard gap in the enemy’s barbed wire defences for a third group of raiders from an adjacent brigade. Unfortunately, detailed movement orders from Brigadier General Sandilands did not reach the Lancashire Fusiliers until a few minutes before their two parties were due to go into no-mans land but the operation went ahead as scheduled.[86] As they moved out, German artillery illuminated the landscape with star shells and unleashed a barrage on the wire cutting party. The Bangalore torpedo, with which they had hoped to blast a way through the enemy’s barbed wire then exploded prematurely, and after a short while half the wire-cutters were compelled to withdraw. The second raiding party was more successful, and managed to salvage the operation after penetrating the enemy line, where they held off German counter attacks for several hours before retiring.[87] The unhappy initiative ended with 4 soldiers and one lieutenant being killed but 66 (all ranks) were wounded and five men were reported missing.[88] The 104th Brigade’s three battalions of Lancashire Fusiliers were not involved in any further raids during the month but continued to sustain casualties while engaged in repairing trenches, carrying supplies, acting as stretcher bearers and generally providing support for other formations.

The battalions of 106th Brigade that got parcelled out between the front line and Montauban were also badly mauled. They had mostly been carrying out a variety of tasks in and around Bernafay Wood, Waterlot Farm and Trones Wood, digging and revetting trenches as well as escorting enemy prisoners of war.[89] These would have been pretty humdrum tasks, were in not for the fact that the labour had to be carried out under fire, and the vicious consequences were very evident. The 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry casualties on 20 July were reported to be 168 (all ranks) but the return for the final fortnight of the month totalled 262 (all ranks).[90] The 17th Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment, which had been engaged in burying the dead, salvage work and carrying parties for 9th Division, punctuated by a couple of brief spells in the front line, lost 314 (all ranks).[91] The brigade’s Scottish battalions were similarly employed but the 17th Bn. Royal Scots managed to survive the month in a better state than the 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry. 

The latter had briefly seen action on 19 July at Delville Wood, which had been captured by 9th Division on 14 July, and was being held mainly by the South African Brigade, or what was left of them. The Highlanders’  “Z” Company had been lodged in the front line on 17 July but by the time the remainder of the battalion was in position and ready for action, the South Africans were mostly dead. [92] The tangled mass of timber fragments that had been Delville Wood was littered with the detritus of the British assault, and bodies and fragments of bodies lay everywhere. A pall of smoke restricted visibility and fumes, ground mist and drizzle from low clouds, hindering accurate registration by the British heavy guns. Unremitting enemy artillery and machine gun fire had already annihilated several thousand British reinforcements by the time 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry took over the front line. After sustaining 169 casualties (all ranks) in three days the battalion was withdrawn.[93] However, six days later, after a spell in the reserve, the battalion was again ordered to occupy forward positions in the devastated area north of Maricourt.[94]

On 26 July, as the Scots soldiers of D Company trudged along Dublin Trench towards the front line one their veterans, Private Hugh Flynn, disappeared.  His absence was not even noticed until much later, when the missing man’s platoon sergeant realised that there was one surplus allocation of rations.[95] Three days later, at Carnoy, the 106th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery reported that Pte. John McQuade, another soldier from 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry, was also missing.[96] Their absences were duly noted. McQuade was picked up in Corbie and rejoined the trench mortar battery on 15 August, after the end od its tour of duty in the line. However, more than a month elapsed before Flynn was returned to his battalion.

The bantams’ battlefield debut may have appeared less than dazzling but 35th Division sustained 3,387 casualties during the month, of whom 533 (including 23 officers) had been killed – 20% of its fighting strength. A further 351 were classified as sick and evacuated.[97] In these respects, the experience of 35th Division was pretty representative of what had happened to most other British Army divisions that  were pitched into action on the Somme front. The reasons why the 35th Division’s formations failed to advance were fairly evident from officers’ post operational reports. Brigadier O’Donnell drew his superiors’ attention to the poor visibility and mud that hampered communications on the battlefield and the need for more assembly trenches in order to avoid congestion at the front.[98] Marindin’s report on the Sherwood Foresters’ debacle referred to the manner in which the battalion had been given barely two hours notice of the attack on Malz Horn Farm and remarked, “ It was no good patching up and reinforcing the Sherwoods and Manchesters… they should be relieved altogether by new blood.”[99] These criticisms were echoed in other reports that drew Pinney’s attention the bloody consequences of undue hastiness, lack of adequate advance preparation and failure to make due allowance for the physically exhausted condition of the assault troops.[100] More generally, it was also clear that the failure to silence enemy machine-guns and artillery prevented any major advance and also generated massive casualties amongst troops engaged in support work.

The extent to which Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig and his fellow commanders failed to take these factors into account remains a controversial matter for military historians. However, by way of immediate consolation, Pinney informed his division that General Georges-Émile Magnan, commanding the French Army’s 153rd Division, had communicated his admiration for the fortitude and courage with which these attacks had pressed ahead. Pinney also permitted the battalions of Lancashire Fusiliers to gather on 1 August at Happy Valley, where they celebrated the anniversary of Minden Day, an historic victory the regiment had won in 1759, when fighting the French Army. 

This military flummery ought to have prefaced a fortnight’s rest, in which the entire division could recuperate, reflect on their recent battle experiences and engage in training. Their number restored by substantial drafts of reinforcements, the 35th Division ought to have been fully prepared to take its place in the front line. Unfortunately, the drafts included many recruits that were physically less robust than the original bantams and the training schedule left little time to dwell about what had occurred during July. However, after the ceremony of Minden Day was over, the remedial element, “pour encourager les autres” was summarily addressed via a Field General Court Martial and an execution

5) Being too familiar with his subordinates

The Field General Court Martial was convened by General Marindin assembled on 2 August to try a couple of the 15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters for having quit their posts on 19 July. The two men, Private James Moffit and Corporal Jesse Wilton, were survivors of the butchery that ensued after Pinney’s disastrous order to attack the enemy line between Arrow Head Copse at Malz Horn Farm. [101]

The court was presided over by Major Ralph Worthington, 16th Bn. Cheshire Regiment and the members comprised Captain Hubert Le Mesurier, 15th Bn. Cheshire Regiment and Lieutenant Ralph Smith, 14th Bn. Gloucestershire Regiment and Lieutenant Angus McKenzie Forsyth, Acting Adjutant of 15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters conducted the prosecution; [102]

The court was told by the prosecution that on 19 July at 3.00 a.m. the N.C.O. and ten soldiers had been detailed by Lieutenant J.W.F. Mackintosh to garrison an outpost in no-man’s land. Sergeant J. Casserley testified that he had been present when the officer had told Wilton that the post at Arrow Head Copse, which they were told they had to occupy for the following forty-eight hours, was a “die hard” position that had to be held at all costs.[103] Wilton and his party marched off without further ado but at daybreak on 20 July, Arrow Head Copse had been heavily shelled and machine-gunned by the enemy.  The outpost was in an exposed position and the occupants had little cover behind which to shelter from a continuous bombardment that went on until the evening.

Around 9.00 a.m., while under heavy machine gun fire Wilton became worried about their situation and had asked the men what they thought they should do.  Their response remains unknown, except for that of Pte A.W. Daniels, who replied “I leave it to you.” Daniels also reported that a short while later Wilton declared, “I think we had better go now. I think the Germans are coming.”[104] They had all then vacated the post and returned to the front line via a communication trench just as the 18th Bn. Lancashire Regiment was relieving the Sherwood Foresters. On arriving in the front line trench, Pte. A Hughes recalled, Wilton had warned, “Look out the Germans are coming.” Thereafter, Hughes later recalled, Wilton accompanied his party, “Down the trench.”[105]

Wilton, aged 40, was unassisted by a defending officer but made a brief attempt to cross-examine a prosecution witness. Of Casserley, Wilton demanded to know, “Did Lieut. MacIntosh warn me that the post was to be held at all costs?” to which the sergeant replied, “Yes”.  Wilton declined to cross examine Daniels and Hughes and opted to make a sworn statement in his own defence and what he said to the court was recorded in the written proceedings:

“At 3 a.m. on 19.7.16 I was detailed together with ten men by Lieut. McIntosh to garrison a post at Arrow Head Copse which we proceeded to do. We were subjected to heavy shelling and MG fire during the whole of the succeeding hours until we vacated the post. I brought my garrison into the front line trenches and reported to my commander who ordered me to assist in holding the front line. I joined my company who were relieved by 18 Batt. Lancashire Fusiliers and marched out with them. My nerves and the nerves of all my men were very much shaken.”[106]

The prosecutor then asked , “Were your orders quite clear when detailed to garrison the post?” and Wilton replied, “I was told to remain there until relieved.”[107]

The court found Wilton guilty and sentenced him to death but added that they, “Strongly recommend the accused to mercy on the ground that he was in a very nervous state having been subjected to very heavy shelling in an isolated post for some forty hours without relief.”[108]

The trial dossier was then circulated for comments from the confirming officers. Even though the court had been told and it was formally recorded that Wilton had and unblemished record of service and his character was classed as good, his battalion commander’s observations about the N.C.O. were damning. Lieutenant Colonel R.N.S. Gordon wrote:

“CHARACTER: Behaviour Indifferent as an NCO. He is a failure being too familiar with his subordinates and surly and morose to his superiors, resenting any assistance offered him.

In action has hitherto been good having volunteered on several occasions to go on reconnaissance patrols and on wiring parties.

Service with the B.E.F. 6 months.

DISCIPLINE: Crime taken all round very small, the principal cases being non compliance with orders – violence to NCOs & minor offences. The chief cause of complaints is that NCO’s will not assert themselves, as they come from the same class of men as those in the ranks and think too much of their positions after the War, when they will all be in the workshops again.

OPINION: I consider the case of this man to be serious. He apparently discussed the matter with his men before deserting his post. There was nothing to prevent him sending a message to his company commander asking for orders, a comparatively easy matter for him to do as a new trench had been dug by the Pioneers by which he could safely communicate with his Coy. HQ. After evacuating his post he did not apparently report to anyone that he had done so.”

[J.J.P. At this point an unsigned note in the margin states “He says he did”.]

“The post was an important one & the mere fact of withdrawal on account of a fancied attack by the enemy, might have led to considerable alarm & danger. I regret I can see no favouring cause as regards his action which in my opinion was deliberate.”[109]

 Marindin expressed his regret but added, “ I can see no extenuation for this crime. The post was an important one in this part of the line and the accused was in charge of the post.”[110]

Pinney; General Cavan, the Corps Commander and General Rawlinson, commanding 4th Army all bluntly agreed Wilton should be executed but advanced no personal justification for their endorsement. Other than Pinney remarking,  “Lt. McIntosh is evacuated wounded and could not be called to give evidence”. Though Private James Moffit’s condemnation was commuted to 5 years Penal Servitude, on 14 August Field Marshal Haig confirmed the death sentence passed on Wilton, who was executed three days later at 5.10 a.m. [111]

Wilton’s death certificate stated that he died instantaneously but the 105th Brigade Supply Officer, Lieutenant Hugh Dalton, Royal Army Service Corps, recorded otherwise in his personal war diary.[112] Dalton wrote:

“The Corporal was shot in Happy Valley. For discipline’s sake his whole Bn. was paraded to witness the proceeding. Other Bns. of the Bde. were close by. The Bn. was called to attention, & the firing party were ordered to fire. They all deliberately fired wide, but one, not firing quite wide enough wounded the malefactor in the shoulder. It then became the duty of the officer in charge of the firing party to finish off the malefactor with his revolver. This duty was faultlessly performed except that the officer wept. Most of the officers & many of the men that were on parade were guilty of the same weakness. It is said that this man had been a good corporal, & that he faced death at the hands of his friends quite heroically. I suppose his wife was officially informed of the manner of his death. Such an incident, to my mind, contains more of the horrors of war than most incidents that befall in the real fighting.”[113]

6) They have failed badly

On 19 August, the 35th Division returned to occupy the XIV Corps front line trenches between Maltz Horn Farm and Arrow Head Copse, relieving 3rd Division and taking over part of the front occupied by 24th Division.[114]  The following day, the bantams were scheduled to go into action, as was summarised in the War Diary of 105th Brigade:

“10 a.m. Arrangements were made for attack by 105 Bde. on two lines of hostile trenches… 16 Cheshire Regt. was to carry out attack. There would be a preliminary bombardment by heavies [[115]] from 12 noon to 4.0 p.m. with an intense bombardment from 4.0 to 5.0 p.m.. It was necessary for firing line and support trenches to be cleared whilst this was being carried out. 35 Divn. in conjunction with 24 Divn. would be prepared to continue attack on Guillemont on 23rd. Zero hour would be 9.0 p.m..”[116]

At 2.15 p.m. orders for attack were issued. After twenty minutes had elapsed, 105th Brigade received verbal message from Division that stated the artillery barrage would be extended until 6.00 p.m., and followed by an hour’s intensive bombardment.[117]

All seemed to proceed as planned until five minutes before the infantry were intended to begin their advance. The 105th Brigade War Diary noted:

“8.55 p.m. message was received from O.C. 16th Cheshire Regt. that on account of our heavies firing short, and firing into our trenches, the battalion was very much disordered. It had not been possible to bring up Stokes guns [[118]], bomb stores etc. and he did not think it possible to attack that night.”[119]

 Subsequent investigation suggested that German counter-battery fire had possibly been more responsible for the damage than the British “heavies” firing short but the outcome was no less disastrous for the Cheshires.[120] The attack was postponed for an hour in order to give time for the Cheshires’ officers and NCOs to restore their men’s “offensive spirit” but it was no good. Though the battalion suffered 40 casualties, a comparatively small figure, the battalion was too demoralised to be of any further use.[121] A party of the Cheshires’ officers reconnoitred the enemy front and at 4.30 a.m. a patrol of 14th Bn. Gloucestershires advanced on the enemy strong point that had originally been the intended target of the Cheshires’ attack. Unfortunately, the British artillery barrage had not managed to cut the enemy’s barbed wire defences, which hampered further progress by the Gloucesters and their foray ended with the patrol being chivvied back to the British lines by a hail of German machine gun fire, contributing to a casualty return that totalled 51(all ranks) killed and wounded.[122] The attack was called off and though it was conceded British artillery was partially responsible for the fiasco, Brigadier General Marindin insisted the failure was due to the poor quality of the latest reinforcements, whom he termed morally and physically “degenerate” and unfit to be soldiers in the British Army.[123]

The 104th Brigade had a slightly more successful time and managed to capture an enemy machine-gun and “like ants struggling with a stick of straw”, hauled it back to the British trenches.[124] The tally of casualties for the two battalions involved in the feat was nine dead and 69 wounded or missing.[125] However, they were less fortunate after being committed to a joint assault with troops from the French Army’s 1st Division on the German positions at Oakhanger Wood. It was pointed out that the plan of attack would leave the British troops vulnerable to enfilade fire from the German machine guns ensconced in nearby Falfemont Farm but Pinney insisted that the attack must go ahead. Just as the British prepared to advance a sustained, heavy bombardment by enemy artillery pulverised the entire front line, creating confusion, forcing Pinney to modify his original plan. After an overnight pause, the Lancashires advanced about three hundred metres and dug in, an achievement that contrasted rather modestly with the French troops’ successful seizure of their objectives at Oakhanger Wood.[126]

The 17th Bn West Yorkshire Regiment, who were simultaneously engaged in supporting trench-digging activities by the division’s pioneers, were also thrashed by enemy artillery, causing 69 casualties. Davson recalled:

“In the evening a counter attack of the enemy was reported, but if any counter attack was intended it did not materialise. During the next night the 35th Division was relieved.”[127]

The casualty returns for July and August reveal 35th Division lost 4,632 officers and men killed, wounded or were missing in action – over a third of the division’s fighting strength.[128] Of course, there were many New Army divisions that sustained far more casualties as a consequence of hurried, botched attacks launched over a shell shattered battlefield against well sited and well-prepared enemy artillery and machine guns. However, the bantam casualty figures conceal an even higher percentage of men whose nerves had been broken and an evaporation of bantam officers’ confidence in the prowess of the men under their command. Roughly 50% of the bantam officers had been killed or wounded during July and August of those who survived many wanted their units purged of soldiers who were “physical and moral degenerates.”

In some cases these sentiments may have been informed by a measure of sympathy for the soldiers for it was very clear to some that the men’s “failure” was not entirely attributable to physical or moral “degeneracy.” On 26 August, Hugh Dalton acknowledged as much in his diary:

“Bantams came out last night. It is clear they have failed badly. Probably they will now be for England. Too much was asked of them, but they have done nothing of what was hoped. One story is that they  carried two lines of German trenches on further report turns out to be really that the French having carried some trenches obliquely handed them over as a gift! Three nights ago it seems some of our Heavies were firing short, & shelled 16th Chesh[ires]. These got rapidly demoralised then they got the order to go over. More than half the men were crying like children (which indeed is all that the latest Bantam drafts are!). All the Co[mpan]y. Commanders went to Browne Clayton and told him that they were ready to go over themselves but they knew the men would not and could not be made to follow them. B[rowne].- C[layton] therefore told them to stand fast. Next day the Bn. was recalled in disgrace. A Bn. in the 104th B[rigad]e ran that night, when put under heavy fire.”. ”[129]

There were a number of reasons why the 35th Division could not be sent back to England. Aside from the opportunities such a move would have offered enemy propagandists, the War Office would have had to face awkward questions from the British public. Moreover, spiralling casualty rates and Haig’s dim view of any division that suffered less than a thousand casualties in an attack meant that the 35th Division had to remain with the British Expeditionary Force [ It was agreed that the division needed to be purged of physical weaklings but not while it remained under the command of 4th Army. The division was therefore withdrawn from the battlefield and at the end of the month found the infantry quartered near Doullens, from whence the brigades were ordered to march and travel by bus to Arras, where the 35th Division joined 6th Corps, 3rd Army. [130] 

On 31 August, it was the turn of 106th Brigade to rendezvous with busses at Sus St. Leger to be transported to Arras. Reaching the rendezvous entailed a route march by its four battalions. While the 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry were en route to rendezvous with the buses, Private John McQuade dropped out of the marching column, saying that he was exhausted. Whether he subsequently made his way to the rendezvous remains unknown but it is certain that he missed the bus and instead, at some point in the following days, caught a train to the Pas de Calais.[131]

7)  Arras 

The commanders of 3rd Army and 6th Corps, under whose control the 35th Division found themselves were thorough-going British imperialists who distained weakness in men under their command. In the case of Sir Edmund Allenby, nicknamed “The Bull” because of his legendary ill-temper, his exercise of command was matched by deviousness in his dealings with fellow senior officers. For example, on 1 July 1916, 3rd Army had been involved in a diversionary attack that failed to capture the village of Gommecourt and the two divisions under Allenby’s command had sustained nearly 7000 casualties. A Court of Enquiry was subsequently established to examine the debacle but Allenby pre-empted its findings by summarily sacking one of his divisional commanders, Major General Stuart-Wortley, and had him shipped back to Britain.[132] In early August, Allenby also persuaded Field Marshal Haig to endorse the summary removal of 60-year old Lieutenant General Sir John Keir, commanding 6th Corps, by alleging Keir had failed to ensure appropriate “defensive arrangements” around Arras and had “no real plans for offensive action.” [133]

The 3rd Army commander’s choice as a replacement for Keir was Lieutenant General Aylmer Haldane, who had been an ambitious and ruthless divisional commander. During the famous 1914 Christmas truce, when thousands of German and British soldiers lay down their arms and fraternised, Haldane had made very certain that the troops then under his command (3rd Division) carried on fighting and killing. During 1915 he also demonstrated his enthusiasm for military executions. In February his division witnessed the execution of four soldiers, followed by a further one in April, six during July (four of whom were shot on one day) and a further three before he was promoted to command 6thCorps.[134]

Given a choice in the matter, it is doubtful whether Haldane would have enthused at the prospect of 35th Division’s attachment to 6th Corps but he required military labour, and since it was reckoned the bantams were better at labouring than fighting, they were assigned to repair and renovate the Arras defences. By 4 September, each of the division’s three brigades was assigned responsibility for one of the three sectors of the defences that lay to the east of the city (see sketch map: Arras Trenches, November 1916).  As soon as a brigade had established itself in the line, the rank and file were immediately put to work, raising the fire steps to be enable bantams to peer over parapets, and cleaning, revetting and paving the muddy trenches with wooden planks (“duckboards”). After a few weeks’ toil, the sector boasted what one senior officer called “the model of what good trenches should be” but this achievement was nullified by the repeated destruction of forward positions by the Germans.[135]

Although Arras was at the time regarded as a quiet area of the front and the Germans were actually planning to withdraw their forces back to the Hindenburg Line, their sappers continued tunnelling across no man’s land to explode mines beneath the British defences. The British were equally as adept at tunnelling and exploding mines, but above ground the Germans made good use of the minenwerfer or large calibre trench mortar, to demolish stretches of the British front. The enemy minenwerfen were more numerous, more powerful, well protected and better sited than their British counterparts.[136] Consequently, the 35th Division field batteries were unable to eliminate this menace though occasionally, with the assistance of a massive howitzer, they were able to wipe out a minenwerfer or so. [137]

The front around Arras was also the location from which the British discharged clouds of poison gas during the latter half of 1916. During late August and early September 960 cylinders of poison gas were carefully transported into K Sector and prepared for use. [138] Of course, the Germans and the British also persistently raided one another’s front line positions. Pending the onset of winter, bantam veterans could have been excused for anticipating that the following months would have been akin to what they had experienced at the beginning of 1916 in the trenches at Richebourg l’Avoue.

A satisfactory inspection of the front line on 14 September by Lieutenant General Haldane prompted the Corps Commander to express approval of the brigades’ improvements to the front line.[139] When reviewing defence arrangements, Allenby and Haldane also turned their attention to deciding what was to be done with 35th Division. They began at the top. On 17 September, Pinney, went “on leave” and Brigadier O’Donnell assumed command of 35th Division. The latter appointment was temporary but Pinney never returned. Instead, he replaced Major General Herman Landon, as commander of 33rd Division and Landon took over command of 35th Division. Landon was an Indian Army officer who had seen active service before the war in a series of colonial campaigns and had latterly been Inspector of Gymnasia in India, he had also temporarily commanded 1st Division for a couple of weeks during the retreat from Mons and spent most of 1915 commanding 9th Division. In spite of the fact that both the latter divisions were almost exclusively composed of Kitchener volunteers, whom Landon viewed with distaste, no soldiers under his command had been executed.[140] 

At best, the three raids conducted by the bantams raids during September may have been regarded as inconclusive but it was not difficult to identify the reasons for their failure. For example, at 8.00 p.m. on 14 September, a foray by three raiding parties from the 15th Bn. Cheshire Regiment began well enough. Unfortunately, when one of the three groups reached the enemy trenches, they were cut down by shellfire and rifle fire from Germans that survived the British bombardment by hiding in shelters. Private James Williamson, a New Zealand Tunneller attached to the raiding party, later wrote:

“We hadn’t gone 20 yds (i.e.18 metres) when I knew the worst. I think the Germans knew more about it than we did He put on a great barrage of shrapnel and stopped us… all I could see was bantams lying dead and wounded… we decided to get in the killed and wounded. They were small and not heavy. One little chap I carried in, he was red headed, kept on saying ‘Tell dear Mother I did my best’ poor chap he died before he got to the stretcher bearers.”[141]

Although the other two raiding parties managed to get into the enemy trenches, it proved impossible to place explosive charges with which it had been intended to destroy enemy positions. After they had all withdrawn, it became apparent that enemy artillery or minenwerfen had hardly opened fire at all, instead many of the 33 casualties had been caused by British field guns firing short.[142] It would have been surprising if the 70 or so uninjured had not been disillusioned by the experience but the enemy had with t subsequently transpired that the casualties had partly been due to British artillery firing short. Two nights later a subsequent raid by 23rd Bn. Manchester Regiment, had to be terminated after it became apparent a preliminary bombardment by the division’s artillery had failed to cut a path through the enemy barbed wire.[143]  Then, on 27 September, a lightning raid on an enemy sap opposite 104th Brigade proved entirely successful; the enemy hiding in the sap were all reported to have been killed and the raiders returned with no recorded casualties.[144]

By the end of the month, a total of 36 officers and 260 men featured in the division’s casualty returns, though the numbers of sick and wounded who were evacuated elsewhere for medical treatment numbered 481 (all ranks).[145] Moreover, Landon made an effort to find out why his division’s artillery had unintentionally shelled British troops, instead of the enemy. Brigadier General Staveley, the division’s senior artillery officer ordered batteries to re-calibrate their weapons, in order to take account of damage to caused the field guns by repeated barrages, and the British trench mortar batteries were ordered to work more closely with the artillery.[146] The month opened with an unsuccessful attempt by 106th Brigade to raid the German trenches at the northern end of Pope’s Nose, to which the Germans retaliated by attacking a bombing post in K2 sub-sector (see sketch map) and but were driven off. It was a minor tit for tat affair but it was followed on 6 and 8 October by two night time gas discharges. The first of these, from I Sector was intended to drift into the German lines opposite Blangy. Unfortunately the wind veered and blew the gas back to the British lines, where it asphyxiated eight soldiers.[147] The second gas attack was more successful, for it was reported to have gassed 25 enemy soldiers. Unfortunately, as some soldiers accompanying a subsequent British reconnaissance patrols discovered, the poisonous fumes lingered for some while, for they were also gassed after crossing no-man’s land to check what damage the gas had inflicted on the Germans.[148]

It was also clear that the enemy’s vigilance was unimpeded by the British gas attacks. A periscope was erected opposite King Crater, through which the enemy observed the British lines and enemy aircraft flew over the front from time to time.[149] The Germans also taunted the bantams by making noises like cockerels but did more damage to the trenches and the nerves of the men in the forward positions with their minenwerfen barrages. The 35th divisional artillery did its best to suppress the latter but without conspicuous success. In fact the only lull in the daily shelling of either sides trenches occurred on 18 October, when President Poincare visited Arras. Following his departure a couple more unsuccessful raids were mounted by the bantams, adding 10 more wounded to the monthly casualty returns.[150]

Then came the rain, which complemented the already considerable damage done to the British trenches by the minenwerfen. The temperature also dropped and the daily misery endured by the men in the trenches began to resemble what had been experienced during February and March. This deadly, daily monotony was relieved on 25 September by what was a very carefully rehearsed and successful raid by 15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters on the enemy trenches opposite Claude, Clarence and Cuthbert. The artillery managed to cut through 12-13 metres of enemy barbed wire and the raiders penetrated the enemy’s lines, killing some Germans and blowing up a couple of dugouts. However, it was at a heavy price because the raid contributed 47 additions to the 35th Division’s 389 casualties for October.[151]

The unit war diaries that chronicle these developments make little reference to the welfare of the rank and file. Nor was the neglect confined to record keeping, as Private Williamson was later moved to recall. He knew the bantams well because the New Zealand Tunnelling Company with whom he was serving, employed working parties of bantams to assist with mining. He complained:

“By the time the Officers had their cut, Sergt. & Hd.qrs had theirs there wasn’t too much for the fighting soldier at the front… the ration at the Divisional dump was put at ½ loaf per man when it got to the front the ration had been reduced to at least 5 men 2 loaves, but mostly 7 or 8 men to 2 loaves & everything else was the same… and the O[fficer] C[ommanding] was to blame for it all… I saw Tommys in the front line lousy, dirty, no change of shirts or socks for months on end, no shelter if wet & yet expected to be always shaved, equipment clean and crimed [i.e. punished] if they wer’ent.”[152]

This may have been a somewhat unfair criticism by a disgruntled Antipodean, for in his own memoirs Haldane later stated that he did not overlook the comfort of the men and remarked that “Much had been achieved in that respect for the ranks and file.” It would also be inaccurate to depict Haldane as a foppish “chateau commander” but the general’s passing reference to comforts provided for the rank and file are meagre compared with his evident pride at having personally established the officers-only Sixth Corps Club, next to the corps cinema at Avesnes-le-Comte. The establishment had a few bedrooms, bathrooms and “feeding arrangements” for officers to socialise or spend a night when returning to their units on leave.[153] Moreover, he wrote nothing about his personal endorsement of a death sentence that had been passed on yet another of the bantams - Private John McQuade, 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry.

On 11 September, McQuade had been arrested near Calais by the Military Police and escorted back to Arras where he was detained in the guardroom for a month before being court martialled.[154] The court was presided over by Lieutenant Colonel Bertie Dent, 19th Bn. Durham Light and the members, Captain William Simpson and Lieutenant George Russell, both serving with 17th Bn. Royal Scots. McQuade, wholly unassisted in presenting his defence, pleaded not guilty to the two charges.[155] For the prosecution, Corporal Andrew Noble and Sergeant John Harvey, two infantrymen attached to 106th Trench Mortar Battery confirmed that on 29th July, the unit had been warned to remain on standby, ready for service in the trenches but when they were summoned to go and the time came to depart, McQuade had vanished.[156] A soldier from the defendant’s own battalion then testified that “about 15th August 1916” he and a junior N.C.O. (now deceased) had escorted McQuade from the town major’s office in Corbie back to their battalion.[157] The written proceedings record that defendant did not cross-examine any of these witnesses neither did he say anything in his own defence.[158] The court then addressed the second charge, the brevity of which may be appreciated from the verbatim transcript of the written proceedings:

“1st Evidence: No. 4707 Sergt. Thomas Watson 18th (S) H.L.I.: On 31st August I was orderly sergeant to my company. Whilst the battalion was on the march from AUTHEUX to SUS St. LEGER I saw the accused fall out. He told me he was unable to go any further. I reported the matter to the second in command of the company.

(accused declines to cross examine)

2nd Evidence: No. 4619 Sergt. A. McNaught 18th (S) H.L.I.: I am platoon sergeant of No.5 platoon 18/HLI. I left AUTHEUX with the battalion on 31st Aug. 1916. When we arrived at SUS ST. LEGER I called the roll at 9 p.m.. The accused was absent. I reported the matter to Sergt Watson the company orderly sergeant. I called the roll of the platoon twice daily from 31st August till 13th Sept. and did not see the accused between those dates until I saw him in the guard room at ARRAS on the 13th Sept.

(accused declines to cross examine)

3rd Evidence: No.1291 Corpl. W.J. James M[ilitary] F[oot] Police: On the 10th Sept. 1916 about 10 p.m. the accused Pte McQuade in company with another soldier entered FONTINETTES Station and stated to me that he belonged to the machine gun section at CAMIERS and wished to return there. He had no movement order or other papers so I took him to FORT RISBON and handed him over to the military police there. The accused was in walking out dress.

(accused declines to cross examine)

4th Evidence: No.10713 Sgt/Piper Lachlan Mackinnon 18th (S) H.L.I. - On the 11th Sept. I was instructed by the adjutant of my battalion to proceed to CALAIS with an escort. I arrived at CALAIS on the morning of 13th Sept. and reported to the sergeant in charge of the guard at Fort RISBON. I took over the accused from him and brought him back to the battalion.

(accused declines to cross examine)

Defence: The accused in his defence before the Finding says: the reason I fell out was because I had sore feet.

The accused calls no witnesses.”[159]

The court decided that McQuade was guilty of both charges but did not award any punishment at all for the first offence. For his second offence, however, they sentenced him to death and were then formally acquainted by the prosecuting officer with McQuade’s disciplinary record. The latter was recorded on Army Form AFB 122, a slip of paper that accompanied the written proceedings as part of the dossier that was circulated to confirming officers for their comments. Although merely a list of past offences, such documents are of historical importance for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the paucity of other information about McQuade’s life and military career. Nonetheless, entries influenced confirming officers’ opinions about notionally “worthless men” or “useless” soldiers.[160]

McQuade’s Army Form AFB. 122 disclosed that he had enlisted as a volunteer on 10 May 1915, had an unblemished record until his battalion began preparing for service overseas, and celebrated the end of his confinement to barracks and Christmas 1915 well but unwisely:

  • PERHAM DOWN: 11.12.15 Absent from Tattoo till found in bed in W Coy's lines about 10.30 p.m. 14th inst.: witness = Sgt McKenzie & Pte. J. Graham: Forfeits 14 days pay and 7 days CB 16.12.15 by Lt. McCallum.
  • PERHAM DOWN: 24.12.15 i) Absent from Tattoo till arrested by the Military Police about 5.45 p.m. on 25.12.15: witness = Sgt. Kenny & Sgt. Fraser: 14 Days F.P. No.2.
  • PERHAM DOWN: 25.12.15 ii) Drunk in Ludgershall Village about 5.45 p.m.: witness = Documentary: Forfeits 5 days pay & 120 hours Detention 17.2.16 by Lt. McCallum.
  • PERHAM DOWN: 15.2.16 i) Late falling [in] on parade 9 a.m. ii) Leaving fatigue without permission: witness = C.S.M. Wood.
  • BOULOGNE: 5.3.16 i) When on Active Service absent from the draft proceeding to ETAPLES till apprehended by the M[ilitary] F[oot] P[olice] about 12 midday: witness = Documentary: 14 days F.P. No.1 & forfeits 1 days pay 7.3.16 by Major Blake
  • ETAPLES: 24.3.16 When on Active Service, not complying with an order: witness = Documentary: 21 days F.P. No.1, 27.3.16 by Major Shaw
  • IN THE FIELD: 21.6.16 Whilst on Active Service: i) Absent from afternoon parade ii) Absent from Tattoo roll call: witness = Sgt. Watson & Sgt. McNaught[on?]: 21 days F.P. No.1, 23.6.16 by Lt.Col. R.R. Lawrenson.
  • IN THE FIELD: Whilst on Active Service disobeying a lawful command given by his superior officer: witnesses = C.S.M. Irvine & Captain Jackson: One Year I[mprisonment with] H[ard] L[abour] 5.7.16 by F[ield] G[eneral] C[ourt] M[artial]”[161]

The first four of these offences were relatively trivial and it is most unusual to have included offence 4), which apparently went unpunished. Partly because he was not despatched to France when his battalion got shipped out at the end of January, and also because of his detention at the Field Punishment centres in Boulogne and Etaples, McQuade did not actually join his battalion in the field until 6 June. He could therefore have served for little more than a few days at the front at a time when his battalion was mostly cleaning and repairing trenches near Neuve Chapelle. This is because on 17 July, all of 35th Division was withdrawn from the line and transferred to Southern Corps Reserve, and sent to the Somme battlefront. Not until 16-17 July did  18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry resume duty in the front line trenches. The final entry on the McQuade’s Form AFB. 122 does not indicate exactly when he committed the offence for which he was court martialled at Iverguy on 5 July, but circumstantially it was while he was undergoing Field Punishment No.1. Thereafter, because he would have been in custody, awaiting confirmation of his prison sentence, McQuade did not rejoin 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry until at least 21 July, the date when 4th Army suspended his prison sentence.[162] During the eight days that he served before going absent on 29 July, his battalion was in the reserve and, as was stated by the first prosecution witness at his court martial, when it was again mobilised to resume service in the line, MacQuade was a bomb carrier for the trench mortar battery. On being returned to his battalion, his subsequent service with the battalion would have consisted of about a fortnight (15-31 August), digging communication trenches south of Trones Wood, followed by two days in the line before the entire division was withdrawn from the Somme.[163] Altogether, McQuade had served about 50 or so days with the 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry but had never taken part in any attack on the enemy and therefore his battle prowess could never have been tested. It is debatable whether he even fired his rifle at the enemy.

Some clues about the reasons for McQuade’s unusual pattern of war service may be deduced about the convicted soldier from the forthright opinions expressed by his battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Reginald Lawrenson:

“i) This man has been while in this Battn., absolutely useless as a soldier, his fighting qualities are nil. So little is he to be depended on, the O[fficer] C[ommanding] Coy. has always requested me to leave him behind when going into action. I therefore sent him to the Trench Mortar Battery for carrying purposes, & it was there he committed his first offence of desertion. He has been a perpetual nuisance to his O.C. Coy & also while at the Base Depot. He is continually deficient of his kit etc. I left him behind when we came to France & he was sent up to join the Battn. on the 6th June 1916.

ii) I am of the opinion that both cases of desertion were deliberately committed to avoid service.”[164]

Brigadier O’Donnell agreed, and recommended that McQuade be executed because, “He is a man of bad character & useless as a soldier”, adding “There has been a certain amount of ill-discipline & desertion in this battalion & in the Brigade generally & an example of stern measures & punishment is necessary.”[165] With reference to the 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry, O’Donnell’s assertion was somewhat exaggerated because prior to McQuade’s trial, there do not appear to have been any soldiers from the battalion court martialled for desertion, much less sentenced to death for the offence. That said, Private Flynn and another Highlander had been charged with desertion and were in custody awaiting trial.[166] As far as the brigade was concerned, it is rather more difficult to estimate the numbers of cases of desertion but since the Division arrived in Arras, there had been only two soldiers found guilty of desertion and one of absence without leave.[167] Nevertheless, Brigadier General Marindin, temporarily commanding 35th Division, declared that in view of the battalion and brigade commanders’ opinions, he felt that the sentence should be enacted.[168]

Major General Sir Victor Couper, temporarily commanding 6th Corps in place of Haldane, also agreed that McQuade ought to be executed.[169] However, the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General, 3rd Army, who pointed out that not enough evidence had been advanced to justify more than a conviction of Absence, then halted the confirmatory process. Specifically, there had been “No evidence to show when and under what circumstances the absence of the accused terminated.” He added:

“The court should therefore be re-assembled and ordered to convict, on the first charge, for absence only. The sentence of Death remains a legal one on the second conviction for desertion, but the Court should consider whether or not they wish to reduce the sentence in view of the revised finding on the first charge.”[170]

The court duly re-assembled on 25 October, and formally declared that McQuade’s first conviction amounted to Absence rather than Desertion. O’Donnell endorsed the revised sentence and it was again circulated to Haldane and Allenby, both of whom had meanwhile resumed their respective commands.[171] They recommended that McQuade be killed and Field Marshal Haig agreed.[172] At 6.30 a.m. on 6 November, McQuade was executed in at the village of Habarcq by a firing party under the command of the Assistant Provost Marshal, 35th Division. The executed man’s death certificate recorded that he was killed instantly.[173]

When the McQuade’s physique is taken into account it is to be wondered why he was permitted to enlist in 1905, let alone in 1915.[174] He was described by the Military Police to have been aged 30, height: 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 metres), dark complexion, slender build, thin faced, knock kneed, with a slight scar on the third finger of his left hand.[175] Aside from his puny stature, his knock knees suggest that he may have been somewhat inelegant at marching, and his slight build indicates McQuade would also have had difficulty in carrying the 32 kilos of weaponry, ammunition (120 rounds), uniform and other items of equipment borne by British infantrymen.[176] The dates on which he committed offences while serving with 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry all occurred either at a time when the unit was engaged in marching or when McQuade would be expected to carry heavy loads (e.g. mortar bombs) and may well have caused him to suffer from sore feet. In McQuade’s case, as with the vast majority of other capital courts martial, medical opinion about the defendant’s health or physical condition was not solicited.[177]

Aside from the state of his feet, the brevity of McQuade’s defence as recorded in the written proceedings invites speculation about his intellectual strength and his state of mind. In civilian life he would certainly have been impoverished, for unemployment and hunger were the key reasons why working class men enlisted in the British Army.[178] Poverty did not create what contemporary opinion termed “feeble mindedness”, on the other hand it is quite plausible that in McQuade’s case an Edwardian working class education encouraged a deference to authority that was further reinforced by military training. That said, a sense of helplessness or fear would no less plausibly account for his disinclination to advance a more sustained explanation for his conduct. There remains a final, intriguing possibility -  that the brief entry in the written proceedings was only a précis of McQuade’s defence statement because the author (and possibly other members of the court) found the defendant’s Glaswegian accent made it difficult for them to understand what he was saying.

Many and sometimes all of these factors figure in dozens of other cases of “useless” men who were executed by the British Army during the First World War. In many respects, close reading of observations made by confirming officers also serves to present something more than the commonplace explanation that the condemned were shot pour encourager les autres. In McQuade’s case, Lawrenson categorically endorsed his fellow officers’ power and the court’s selection of a candidate for killing by adding new information, referring to MacQuade’s propensity for losing kit and inferring that the court’s verdict reflected the will of the battalion – or at least the X company commander.[179] The company commander may have had support from NCO’s who felt burdened by having McQuade in their platoon or section but soldiers’ opinions’, negative or otherwise, counted for nothing because the courts-martial system was monopolised by officers – and so it was the latter who determined who was (or was not) a “useless” soldier.

O’Donnell’s contribution not only supported Lawrenson, it drew attention to the need for drastic remedial action to address a more general problem affecting the brigade. Collectively, these confirming officers’ remarks may also be interpreted as a message to General Headquarters, yet again drawing attention to the need to supply physically more robust reinforcements to the brigade and by extension, 35th Division. Their comments barely required further amplification by Haldane or Allenby and although in life they all viewed McQuade as “useless”, in death he was far from valueless.

8)  Another useless soldier

In mid-September, news of the whereabouts of Private Hugh Flynn reached the 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry and on 18 September a couple of escorts were sent to bring him back from St. Pol. The following day he was back with his battalion at Roclincourt, where he was charged with desertion and on 27 October he tried by Field General Court Martial at Arras.

The officers of the court were all drawn from 105th Brigade though not from the defendant’s battalion and unlike Wilton, the written proceedings reveal Flynn was defended by a 'prisoner’s friend', Second Lieutenant James Barrie. Barrie was a war-service 'temporary gentleman' who had been commissioned in April 1915 and from the manner in which he quizzed witnesses, it is clear that he was a conscientious defending officer.[180]

The first prosecution witness gave evidence about the time and date on which Flynn had disappeared, and was subsequently cross-examined by Barrie. The lieutenant’s questioning of the first witness, Sergeant Thomas Minto, the defendant’s platoon sergeant, drew court’s attention to Flynn’s mental state at the time he had gone absent. The written proceedings recorded the exchange:

Q:  On or about 26th July 1916 did he ask you to take him to see the M.[edical] O.[fficer]?

A: I didn't remember him doing so.

Q: When you saw him about an hour [sic] previously to his disappearance did it appear to you to be in his proper senses?

A: Yes.

Q: Have you always been his Platoon Sergeant?

A: For at any rate a twelve month.

Q:  What has been your impression of Flynn? Is he a level-headed man and always responsible for his actions?

A: Yes, except at Delville Wood when he was very shaky under  the bombardment.

(question by the Court)

Q: Where did the Battalion go to on the following day?

A: Up to the sunken road behind Guillemont.

Q: Did you know that the Battalion was going there?

A: Yes.

Q: Did you inform the men to this effect?

A:  I did not but the men had got the information and were all talking of it.[181]

Minto was followed by another N.C.O., Sergeant J. Daly, who confirmed the date on which Flynn had disappeared. The transcript does not indicate who initially conducted the initial cross-examination of this N.C.O. but both the questions and responses were written down:

Q: When last you saw the accused in July was he looking quite fit?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you know the accused well?

A: Yes.

Q: Is he generally a level-headed man?

A: Yes.

A:  Did the men know where they were going when they were up in Dublin Trench after leaving [Maricourt?].

A: No.[182]

The third witness was the Provost Sergeant who had travelled to St. Pol, identified Flynn on 18 August and escorted him back to the battalion. Cross-examined by Barrie, the N.C.O. confirmed that Flynn had been in uniform and was wearing the appropriate service cap.[183]

The fourth witness, Private A. Robson, Army Service Corps, recalled his first encounter with Flynn. Verbatim, the written proceedings recorded Robson stating:

“I belong to No.1 G.H.Q. Ammunition Park. On the 5th August 1916 about 12 noon I was working up the RUE d'AMIENS at  AUXI-le-CHATEAU  where I was quartered. I saw the accused coming towards me.  He stopped and spoke to me. He asked me did I know where he could join the army. I told him I did not know where he could join, but I would take him to the Adjutant of 3rd Army School of Instruction and see what he could do for him. He told me that he had been a stowaway on a boat from Folkestone. He told me that he had walked from Frevent that morning. He was dressed in uniform & I asked him if he wasn't a soldier. He said no, and that he got his uniform at St. OMER, and that if he couldn't join at this place (AUXI LE CHATEAU) he was going on to BOULOGNE to join there and that if he could not join there he was going to try and  get back  to  ENGLAND. I took him to the Adjutant of the 3rd Army School. I saw him afterwards in the guard room.”[184]

Under cross-examination, Robson confirmed the defendant had been in uniform. He revealed that Flynn had been accommodated and fed by the Army Service Corps and explained how the absentee had managed to secure food and accommodation for roughly seven weeks of his absence from the battalion:

Q: How often did you see him after the day you took him to the Adjutant?

A: Three or four times.

Q: What was he doing on these occasions?

A: Cooking or washing or working.

Q: While he was there did he give any trouble to anyone?

A: Not to my knowledge.

Q: Was he treated like a prisoner?

A: No, just like an ordinary soldier.

Q: Was he searched?

A: I do not know.[185]

Robson was then cross-examined by the court:

Q: Was he wearing any badges of any kind when you first saw him?

A: No, none of any description.

Q: Had he any equipment?

A: No.

Q: Was he kept in the guardroom?

A: Yes.

Q:  Are you absolutely certain that the accused is the man who spoke to you in the RUE d'AMIENS?

A: Yes.[186]

Flynn’s defence consisted of a statement:

“I remember going up to a trench which I believe was Dublin Trench when there was very heavy shelling. After that I don't remember anything until I found myself in Corbie. I thought it the best thing to do to join up with some other regiment and start  afresh and meant to do so. I went back along the route the Bn. had taken when marching to the SOMME. I was on the road for several days, living on what I got from soldiers. I was never stopped or ques­tioned by any military police. At a place which I afterwards learnt was AUXI le CHATEAU, following my intention of joining again I spoke to Private Robson and asked if I could  join  the army and I went with him to see the Adjutant with this intention. I told the Adjutant that I was a stowaway and wanted to join the army. When in the trenches I asked Sergeant Minto to take me to the M.O (i.e. Medical Officer). He walked away when I asked him and I did not see him again. I picked up the soft cap I was wearing at Corbie.”[187]

Then, because he had given evidence under oath, it was permissible to cross-examine Flynn. Again, it is unclear from the written proceedings whether the questions were posed by Barrie or the prosecuting officer. However, from the nature of the interrogation, it seems most likely to have been the latter:

Q: Could you not have gone on sick parade if you wanted to see the M.O.?

A: No, the time had gone by.

Q: Were you unwell?

A: Yes

Q: Did Sergeant Minto take no notice of your request?

A: No.

Q: Why did you not return to your Battalion when you came to Corbie?

A: I thought it best to go some place where I could report myself and join up again.

Q: Why did you not report yourself at Corbie?

A: I never thought of that.[188]

Flynn concluded his contribution by contradicting some of Robson’s testimony. Flynn declared:

“I did not say to Private Robson that I had come from Frevent. He asked me if I was a civilian and I said yes. I didn't say that I should go on to Boulogne if I could not join at AUXI le CHATEAU, nor anything about going to England.”[189]

The court decided that Flynn was guilty and sentenced him to death. The prosecuting officer, Lieutenant E.B. Maule, the Acting Adjutant of 18th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, was invited to disclose to the court details of the convicted soldier’s previous disciplinary offences. Maule revealed that while Flynn had been stationed comparatively near to his home in Glasgow, the soldier had committed eight relatively minor offences since 19 April 1915, the day on which he enlisted.[190] These included: inattention on parade; missing a parade; five minor absences (one of which was the day after Hogmanay) and swearing at two N.C.O.’s, one of whom was Sergeant Minto. His only offence while on active service had been ”Inattention to his duties as a sentry” on 3 June 1916, for which he had been punished three days later with a fortnight’s Field Punishment No.1 by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Lawrenson.[191]

After the court asked Flynn whether he had anything to say in mitigation, the latter summoned Lieutenant Barrie as a character witness. Barrie told the courts that he had known Flynn for eighteen months and that he was an “average soldier.”[192] Thereafter, Flynn chipped in with a valedictory plea, that on enlisting he had been his mother’s only support.[193]

The trial dossier was initially forwarded to Lieutenant Colonel Lawrenson to add his observations about the Flynn’s character and fighting qualities.[194] Lawrenson wrote:

“ (1) From a fighting point of view I consider Pte. Flynn as a useless soldier. His nerves can't stand shelling. I have seen him myself at LONGUEVAL, when we were being heavily shelled, hiding in an old gunpit & trembling with fear. His general behaviour while with the Battn. since 18th April 1915 has been fair, & his ordinary [unclear] work as a soldier has been well carried out. He has been with the Battalion in France since we arrived on 1st February 1916.

From my own knowledge of the man and also in his Platoon Comman­der's opinion, I consider that Pte. Flynn did not deliberately run away so as to avoid duty. The shelling was severe at times, and his nerves could not stand it, so he left the trench during the night, & was then too frightened, as to what would happen to him, to rejoin the Battalion when we came back to rest again.”[195]

Brigadier-General O’Donnell agreed Flynn was a congenital coward, commenting:

“I do not recommend that the extreme penalty should be inflicted in this case. Though this man does not appear to be a useful soldier on account of his extreme nervousness, he is not of bad character. I agree with his Commanding Officer in believing that this crime was not committed deliberately in order to avoid a particular duty, but was the outcome of a cowardly disposition.[196]

The recently appointed commander of 35th Division, Major General Herman Landon disagreed and insisted that, “ The case appears to be one without any extenuating circumstances, and to deserve that sentence be put into execution.”[197] Landon’s was a view with which Lieutenant General Aylmer Haldane, commanding 6 Corps, concurred. Haldane also criticised Lawrenson:

“The proceedings were returned to the Division as the statement of the Officer Commanding 18th Battalion Highland Light Infantry was considered to be most unsatisfactory.  From his own statement it would appear that this officer has been aware, for some time, of the man's constitutional weakness as regards shell fire, and should have taken steps, when he first noticed it, either for him to be withdrawn from the line, or such discipli­nary action as was necessary.  If this had been done, the man would not now have been placed in the grave position he is now at the present moment. Further enquiries have also been made as regards the length of time which elapsed between the man being handed over and the date of his trial, and it has been ascertained that it was owing to the great difficulty in getting witnesses together. I recommend that the sentence be carried out.  I must draw attention to the fact that Pte. Flynn's constitutional weakness was well known and that as no steps were taken to uti­lize his services on some duty where this weakness would not have led to serious results, he was certain; sooner or later to find­ing himself in the position in which he now is. Whether this fact constitutes extenuating circumstances it is difficult to say.[198]

 General Allenby, the 3rd Army Commander, briefly agreed to have Flynn killed but attached no justification for his decision.[199] On 11 November, Haig added his endorsement and four days later, at 6.35 a.m. in the village of Habarcq Flynn was shot by a firing squad supervised by Captain C. Hamilton, Assistant Provost Marshal, 35th Division.[200]

9) Incident at King Crater

All three sectors held by 35th Division were attacked simultaneously by German raiders at 2.30 a.m. on 26 November. The southernmost attack, on the portion of I Sector that was defended by 17th Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers, was prefaced by a 15-minute barrage discharged by the enemy’s heavy trench mortars. Then, taking advantage of a gap that had earlier been blasted through the barbed wire entanglements between Iceland Street and Hulluch Street, German raiders entered the British front line. They killed a couple of the defenders, wounded seven others, prevented any warning being given by the sentries and were able to grab two dozen bantams that had been sheltering in dugouts. Before the British could react, the captives had been whisked away across no man’s land and to the German front lines.[201]

The Germans’ success was partly achieved by using trench mortars to pin down movement in I Sector and the installation by the British of defensive barbed wire barriers or blocks in the sector’s communication trenches. The combination of the blocks, enemy mortar fire and darkness, junior officers later claimed, made it difficult for them make their way to the front line. So, at 2.20 a.m. when I Sector was swept by enemy mortar and rifle grenade fire for about fifty minutes, instead of going forward to find out about the situation in the front line positions, the Lancashires’ junior officers felt compelled to return to their mess.[202]

Four Lewis gunners and a Stokes mortar man challenged the raiders that infiltrated the trenches but the remaining Lancashires fled without offering any resistance. A report about the enemy incursion also noted that the first news of the raid did not reach their reserve platoon in the support line until 2.30 a.m., when “One of the men who had bolted” met a sergeant and declared, “The Germans are in”. The sergeant could not credit the news but he gathered together a small bombing party and headed forward, only to find that it was too late - the raiders had already slipped back to their own lines.[203]

The second raid by about thirty Germans was launched against the trenches in J Sector, occupied by 15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters. The attack was prefaced by a 48-hour long mortar barrage that wrecked sections of the front line and at 2.22 a.m. a mine or camouflet exploded between Cuthbert and Claude Craters and an enemy trench mortar fire severed communications with the supports. The Germans entered the British forward positions via a breach in front of July Avenue and began to fight their way along the trenches. The sentries were outnumbered and out-bombed by the intruders and compelled to retire. However, after the discharge of S.O.S. rockets, swift retaliation by 35th Division's artillery disrupted the raiders’ progress. Reinforcements, including, "Cooks, storemen, and Headquarters servants and spare Signallers" speedily and successfully re-occupied the front line trenches.[204] A report about the affair concluded contingency arrangements to deal with the incursion had been adequate and that even though under heavy bombardment, the Sherwood Foresters had acquitted themselves well.[205]

The third group of enemy raiders struck K2, the southern sub-sector of K Sector (see map), where Z Company of 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry had been battered with enemy trench mortar fire for the preceding three days. As with the other sectors, the forward trenches had been damaged and the line was particularly vulnerable to infiltration at King Crater. The crater had been formed by an underground mine explosion that breached the British front at a point unusually close to German forward positions located less than 50 metres to the east of the crater’s outer rim. Thus, in addition to the customary screen of barbed wire, in adjacent trenches barbed-wire blocks were prepared, ready for use as barriers to impede the movement of any German raiders who might to get into the crater.

King Crater was usually guarded by half a dozen sentries apiece being posted at the exposed northern and southern points of access to the crater.[206] Routine orders stipulated that if enemy intruders were detected, in addition to doing their utmost to hamper the enemy's movements, sentries in the forward positions were required to alert headquarters and seek summon support from a succession of strongpoints, located in bunkers or (earth) "works", situated about 200 metres behind the front line. It was from these works that substantial squads of reinforcements, using hand grenades from adjacent stores, were expected to advance along communication trenches and repel the enemy raiders. Company headquarters, usually via regular inspections conducted by a junior officer and an NCO, carefully monitored the vigilance of sentry groups at King Crater. [207]

On the night of 25/26 November the forward defences of K2 were unusually thinly manned. In order to reduce possible casualties from enemy mortar fire the sector, sentry groups, which included the men guarding King Crater, were told to take shelter in dugouts and post only a couple of look-outs on the fire step. At King Crater, two or three sentries were stationed at each of the three posts (A, B and C), located at the points of access to the crater, while the remainder of the sentry group were on stand-by in a dugout close to Post C, the southernmost point of access (see sketch). These measures were taken because it was anticipated enemy shellfire on forward positions would be especially heavy due to a couple of offensive initiatives by the British that were scheduled to take place between 2.30 a.m. and 3.00 a.m.. From gas cylinders massed in I Sector a toxic cloud was to envelop the enemy line North-East of Blangy and a raid by the Durham Light Infantry was arranged to penetrate the enemy lines about 700 metres north of King Crater.[208]

The latter operation, by a force of, “not less than 30 all ranks nor more than 50 (exclusive of covering party)” was expected to inflict damage on German forward positions, seize machine guns, capture prisoners and generally gather any useful items or material.[209] In order to clear a way through the enemy’s barbed wire defences, the raiders planned to use a Bangalore torpedo (explosive charge) but just as the British raiders were in position in no-man's land and were getting ready to explode the device, a party of about fourteen enemy raiders entered the northern perimeter of King Crater. [210]

Their incursion also coincided with the routine inspection of the King Crater sentry groups by Lieutenant James Mundy and Lance Sergeant Will Stones. The duo had just visited Corporal Stevenson and another guard at Post A and were about to make their way via the crater to visit Lance Corporal Hopkinson and Privates Harding and Hunt at Post B. Stones was following Mundy into the crater, when the Germans opened fire. Smitten by three pistol shots, the lieutenant collapsed but managed to order Stones to alert company headquarters. The latter immediately jammed his rifle across the trench, rushed past Post A, yelling a warning to Stevenson and ran back to alert company headquarters.[211]

The enemy blocked the entrance adjacent to Post A, before turning their attention to Post B.[212] On seeing the raiders, two of the sentries at Post B fled but the third, Private Hunt was captured by the enemy. Privates Ritchie and Spence at Post C on the southern rim of the crater had been taking cover from enemy trench mortar fire when they heard a warning shouted (possibly by Hopkinson and Harding) that the enemy had entered the British trenches. Spence (who had been blasted off the fire step by an exploding mortar shell) hurried to alert soldiers of the 17th Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment that were occupying a firing bay south of King Crater. Ritchie ran back to warn the remainder of the sentry group sheltering in a dugout, and they all ran along Cecil Avenue until they reached G Work. [213]

The intruders got into Cecil Avenue, where they shot and wounded another two Durhams, Second Lieutenant Harding and Sergeant Napier and bombed one of the dugouts before escaping back across no-man’s land. By the time Lieutenant Charles Howes and a counter-attack platoon from company headquarters had reached King Crater, the Germans had disappeared.[214]

The gas discharge from J Sector had gone ahead as planned but on hearing of the incident at King Crater, the progress of the Durhams’ own raid was temporarily suspended by Lieutenant Colonel William Greenwell, the battalion commander until after it was confirmed the enemy had vacated King Crater.[215] The raid went ahead at 3.02 a.m., when the Bangalore torpedo blew a satisfactory gap through the enemy’s barbed wire and a couple of lieutenants and about a dozen other ranks got into the enemy’s trenches.[216] It was subsequently reported, “The remainder were prevented. Or at any rate discouraged from reaching the German trench by our own shells which were dropping thickly in ‘No Man’s Land’ and round about the point of entry.”[217] Thus, the Durhams that managed to enter the German trenches could not rely on enough support to further exploit their success, which amounted to shooting two Germans while bombing a couple of dugouts and noting the enemy trenches were, “In very good condition, wired and revetted on both sides with boarding.”[218]

On balance, this coincidence of raids proved more satisfactory for the Germans than it had been for the British. From detritus left behind by the enemy, including 25 lb explosive charges, it appears that the German effort had been intended to gather intelligence and blow up British dugouts or mineshafts. They failed to achieve the latter objective, at least five Germans were killed, a fourth was fatally wounded, and an unknown number others were either gassed or injured by British artillery. [219] British casualties were more substantial. The Lancashire Fusiliers reported two killed, 8 wounded and 24 missing (i.e. taken prisoner by the Germans) and of the Durhams’ raiding party, two soldiers were killed, and one officer and eight other ranks had been wounded.[220] The losses sustained in the vicinity of King Crater were one officer killed (Mundy died of his wounds) and another one wounded; one NCO killed (Napier later died of his wounds); two soldiers wounded and another captured by the enemy.[221]

The written proceedings of one or more courts of enquiry convened by the British to examine and account for these losses have not survived the passage of time.[222] However, as was customary in the British Army during the First World War, it was the rank and file who were disproportionately held to account. The Lancashires’ hapless rank and file lay out of reach but the Durham’s Z Company men at King’s Crater were handy scapegoats.[223] The general justification for punish these soldiers was later explained by a fellow 35th Division soldier, a Royal Engineer named Private Albert Rochester:

“Owing to the numerical weakness of our infantry (some battalions were 25 per cent below fighting strength) we had been subjected to severe raids by large parties of the enemy. The frequency and success of these German raiding parties had alarmed our GHQ staff - the edict went forth that upon the next occasion somebody would have to answer for the possible loss. The ‘next occasion’ took place at the most opportune moment for the Germans - we were experimenting with gas (in the earlier cylindrical emissions) and had vacated our fire step, lest the gas attack prove a failure and wiped out our own, instead of the Boche soldiers. The cute Germans, knowing our every move, circumvented our silly little cylinders and got into our line on the right and left flanks. It was a particularly successful foray for them, and our GHQ ordered an official enquiry. Several NCOs and men were placed under arrest and court-martialled!”[224]

Yet from a contemporary entry in the 106th Brigade War Diary, it was apparent that the failure of the Durhams’ raid had been attributed to a combination of factors:

“A good gap was blown by a Bangalore torpedo and the trenches entered by two parties, one of 1 Offr. and 4 men and one of 1 Offr and three men. These men proceeded outwards along the trenches and bombed some dugouts but the men were soon expended and the Officers withdrew them as the remainder of the raiding party did not follow. Some confusion had apparently occurred at the gap and wrongful use of the order ‘GET BACK’ had caused the remainder to run back to our lines. Our artillery barrage which had opened by this time, was very short and the retiring raiders suffered several casualties from it, resulting in their becoming so demoralised that it was impossible to collect the men and make them return. Those who had entered the enemy trenches were consequently withdrawn by their officers in good order and without casualties.”[225]

On behalf of the artillery, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Davson, whose gun batteries had been supporting J Sector, maintained that he knew nothing at the time about developments in I and K Sectors but in later years he freely advanced “extenuating circumstances” to exonerate 35th Division’s gunners’ of responsibility for the night’s disappointments. Davson explained, “A gas discharge was in progress… Also certain batteries were deflected from their ordinary barrage lines to deal with the gas discharge and the SOS was not fully answered with the usual promptitude.”[226] He conceded that the gas attack had made it necessary to thin the ranks of troops in the front line but he continued, “The [infantry] men had rifles and Lewis guns, the raids had been foreseen and all were prepared, and, as was the case in ‘J’ Sector, even if the Germans did force the trench they could have, and should have, been ejected.” Davson concluded, “Certain individuals whose duty it was to assist in doing so did not display any noticeable heroism.”[227]

The “certain individuals” in sub-sector K2 were unequivocally identified in a typed narrative, logged in the 106th Brigade War Diary. Since it represents not only the officers’ version of events but also the military hierarchy’s justification for blaming the men under their command, the text is of some importance. It stated:

“Lieut. Mundy was shot and fell; Sergt. Stones ran back to Post A shouting out something as he passed. He was unarmed and was finally stopped by the Battle Police at the junction of Wednesday Trench and Bogey Avenue. The Police report him in a pitiable state of terror. Corpl. Stevenson thinking something was wrong, went into the crater and brought back Lieut. Mundy. He then collected some bombers and sent them into the crater. The German raiders after shooting Lieut. Mundy, went on round the edge of the Crater to B Post. On seeing or hearing the Germans, L/Cpl . Hopkinson and Pte. Harding ran away. Pte. Hunt appears to have stood his ground and was captured. Both L/Cpl. Hopkinson and Pte. Harding appear to have run down the front line to Cecil Avenue shouting to the Post there (C Post) “Run for your lives, the Germans are on you”. L/Cpl. Hopkinson was finally stopped by the Battle Police at the junction of Wednesday and Bogey Avenues - he was without his arms. The whole of Post C, including the relief in the dugout, on hearing the Germans were coming, deserted their post and were stopped by a sentry of the Royal Scots in G. Work. It must have been after Posts B and C had left that 2/Lieut. Harding and Sergt. Napier (the Officer and NCO of the Watch) were going on their rounds, proceeding northwards along the front line towards the Crater. They encountered the raiders North of Cecil Avenue, challenged and were both shot. Sergt. Napier managed to get back to the dugout in Cecil Avenue where there were two stretcher bearers. The raiders waited to search 2/Lieut. Harding and then appear to have proceeded down the front line and a short way up Cecil Avenue, bombing the dug outs on their way, and returning to their lines South of the Crater. Lieut. C.W. Howes, the OC, the supporting platoon, in Bogey Avenue, first heard of the raid from Sergt. Stones, who in passing Company Headquarters in Bogey Avenue gave the alarm. Lieut. Howes immediately ordered out the Platoon that was standing to on the steps of the Company headquarters dugout and gave them out bombs. He ordered the platoon to follow him down Ghost Avenue and then across the open to the front line. On climbing out into the open, Lieut. Howes found that only four men had followed him. He posted these along the side of Bogey Avenue and went back and collected four more men. With the eight men he was making his way across the open, when he got news that the Line was clear. This report came from 2/Lieut. Maclachlan who had collected some bombers and taken them into the Crater. Lieut. Howes then got his men into Bogey Avenue and moved them to the front line. Here he met 2/Lieut. Maclachlan who reported all was quiet, but on hearing a noise in the wire opposite the Crater, 2/Lieut. Maclachlan and one bomber ran into the Crater and threw bombs in the direction of the noise. Lieut. Howes re-established the line.


The casualties were:-


Lieut. Mundy       )

2/Lieut. Harding  )

Sergt. Napier      )

2 men                 )  wounded

Pte. Hunt  ) missing

The number of Germans in the raiding party was from 8 to 12 men (Lieut. Harding reports that 8 passed him as he lay in the trench); the bombardment was not very heavy.” [228]

In this fashion, the scapegoats for the incident at King Crater were collectively identified and on 20 December, Lieutenant Colonel Dent sanctioned their trial by Field General Court Martial. The soldiers were variously charged. Lance Sergeant Will Stones was accused of,  “Shamefully casting away his arms in the presence of the enemy in that he in the front line trenches, K2 sub sector on the 26th November 1916, when an NCO of the watch and attacked by the enemy shamefully cast away his rifle and left the front line and ran away – Army Act, sec. 4 (2)”. The Army Act, section 4 (2), features no addendum about running away, it simply refers to a person subject to military law who, “Shamefully casts away arms, ammunition, or tools in the presence of the enemy.”[229] However, it would hardly have been difficult for an experienced officer like Lieutenant Colonel Dent, temporarily commanding 106th Brigade to adapt the near-identical wording from the appropriate specimen charge conveniently formulated in the Manual of Military Law.[230] The others’ charges were more mundane but all were capital offences and the defendants on conviction faced execution. Lance Corporal Hopkinson was charged with quitting his post, as were Lance Corporals Peter Goggins and John MacDonald, and Privates Dowsey, Davies, Ritchie and Forrest. Of the soldiers involved in the abortive raid, eighteen were charged with cowardice.[231]

On Christmas Eve, Hopkinson and Stones, were tried separately by a Field General Court Martial held at the village of Foufflin Ricametz.  The President of the Court was Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Riccard and the two members were Captains Sydney Bell and Captain George Mason, both serving with 17th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment.[232] To ensure that the proceedings were technically correct and to advise the court on legal points, Captain W.R. Briggs, Courts Martial Officer, 3rd Army was also present.[233]

Of Hopkinson’s trial no written proceedings have survived, though he was found guilty as charged and sentenced to death.[234] Stones, who pleaded not guilty to the charge against him, was defended by a Prisoner’s Friend, Captain George Warmington, serving with Y Company, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry. The latter’s involvement was unique, not simply because most prisoners conducted their own defence nor because Warmington had been a solicitor in civilian life but because he outranked the prosecuting officer, Second Lieutenant Robert Middleton, Adjutant, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.[235]

Procedurally, Stones’ trial was unexceptional. The written transcript of the proceedings reveal that he pleaded not guilty and that all the witnesses who testified for the prosecution had been serving with Z Company on 26 November. The first of these was Lieutenant Charles Howes, who recalled:

“On the night of 25th/26th November 1916 at about 2.25 a.m. I was in charge of the counter-attack platoon of the right company and was standing to with the platoon in the Coy. HQ dugout. I heard a voice calling down the far entrance to the dugout. The CSM (Company Sergeant Major) came and reported to me. I went to the Signals and told them to warn Battn. HQ. I called my men together in the CT (Communication Trench) known as Bogey Avenue, armed them with bombs and passed back word to them to follow me. I went to Ghost Avenue and started to make my way across the open to the front line, but finding I only had about three or four men with me I went back to collect the rest. When I was collecting my men in Bogey Avenue I saw the accused. He was standing there and seemed very much upset. I can’t say whether he had a rifle. The place where I saw the accused was about 150 yards, by the trench, from the front line. The accused was NCO of the watch that night. As such it was his duty to be in the front line with the officer of the watch. When I started to go across the open and found I had only three or four men with me, the accused was not among them.”[236]

Howes was invited by to study a sketch map and formally confirmed that it was K2 sub-sector.[237] Under cross-examination, Howes recollected that he had eventually collected about ten men from the company headquarters and that Lieutenant Mundy had been the officer of the watch. He concluded his testimony by repeating that it had been at the company headquarters that he had seen Stones, adding that he could not be certain that it had been Stones who had called down the entrance to the dugout.[238]

The following two witnesses were NCO’s who simply confirmed that Stones had been on duty between 1.00 a.m. and 3.00 a.m. on 26 November but had not been in the front line.[239] The fourth witness, Private John Pinkney was able to account for Stones’ movements and physical condition. The written proceedings recorded what Pinkney had to say:

“On the morning of 26th Nov. I had just come off duty as gas guard at 2 a.m. when accused came out to give me the warning that the Huns were in the Crater. I was at the Coy. Office. Lieut. [sic.] Howse gave the order for all of us to file out. The accused was present. We were ordered to take all the bombs we could and file into Ghost Lane. We all did so. The accused wanted to warn the HQ cook. He asked me if I would show him the way to the HQ in Father’s Footpath, where the cooks were. I went with him. When we got to HQ we looked into two dugouts but could not find the cook. As we were coming out accused took ill. He seemed to have lost the use of his legs. He sat down for a good while and tried several times to get up. He thought if he could see the doctor he would give him something to ease him and asked me to go to the doctor with him. I went with him and we were stopped at the outward end of Bogey Avenue by the guard. Sergt. Foster was on duty at the time and he said the accused could not go any further. We turned round and after staying there a good while accused came back with me. He tried two or three times to get back to the Coy. office but could not manage. After we got a little way past Father’s Footpath he seemed to go off all again, he could not find the use of his legs. I told him I would take him to the dugout in father’s Footpath. I did so and covered him up and sent word to the Coy. office. I couldn’t say if he had a rifle with him. I was with him a good while.”[240]

Pinkney was then quizzed by the court. Their questions were not recorded but Pinkney’s answers were as follows:

“When I first saw accused he came running. He seemed properly put about. He seemed excited. There didn’t seem anything the matter with his legs then. When we were going to where the cooks were I was four or five yards in front, accused did not seem able to keep up with me.”[241]

The final witness for the prosecution was the NCO the to whom Pinkney had earlier made reference, Sergeant Robert Foster. He stated:

“On the evening of 25th Nov. I mounted a police battle post at the junction of Bogey and Wednesday Avenues. My duty was to stop any unauthorised persons coming down the trench. At about 2.30 am on the 26th I saw someone coming down Bogey Avenue. I halted them and found it was Pte. Pinkney with the accused behind. I questioned Pinkney and asked him what he was doing there and where he was going to. He said he was bringing accused down. I called accused and asked him where he was going and what was the matter. He was in a very exhausted condition and trembling. He said he had been out on patrol with Mr Mundy and that they had met 4 or 5 Germans. The enemy shot Mr Mundy who ordered accused to run and save his life. I noticed accused had no rifle or bayonet. I questioned him as to where they were. He said the Germans were chasing him down the trench and he dropped his rifle and bayonet crossways across the trench. I ordered him to get back up the line at once. He asked for permission to smoke and have a rest. I ordered him to go up the line, he hesitated, but then he went. Pte. Pinkney went back with accused. I let accused have a few minutes rest before sending him back.”[242]

Under cross-examination, Foster remarked, “I am certain accused said he was ‘out on patrol’ with Mr Mundy. Accused seemed as if he had been running. He was afraid. He could hardly walk, he seemed thoroughly done up.”[243] Foster gave no indication that he had either been told that Stones had not come directly from the front line, nor the fact that the NCO had warned company headquarters. While the latter point would not have caused  

The case for the defence opened with Warmington handing the court a note from Captain Geoffrey Barss, RAMC, the Durham’s Medical Officer. It stated:

“This is to certify that L/Sgt Stones 19 DLI reported sick with rheumatic pains in his legs on two occasions within the last 11 months - once on Oct. 27th and once on Nov. 29.”[244]

Captain Warmington then went on to submit Stones had no case to answer. Unlike the testimony for the prosecution which was recorded verbatim, Warmington’s arguments were copied down in note form. The notes read:

“No evidence that accused shamefully cast away his arms in presence of enemy.

 One witness saw him without a rifle - not corroborated.

Leaving the front line and ran away -

Evidence is that he was out with the officer of the watch.

He left front line to extent of going to Coy. HQ and no further and went there to give warning.

That was within his duties and does not constitute leaving front line.”[245]

Running away -

Pinkney says he came running to him. That means to the Coy. HQ. No evidence of him running any further.”

Captain Middleton, the prosecuting officer said nothing but after a recess, the court declined to accede to Warmington’s submission. No reasons for their decision were recorded, though it is certain that over the issue of uncorroborated evidence, the nub of Warmington’s submission, the court would have abided by opinion of Briggs, the Court Martial Officer. He would have known that with reference to uncorroborated evidence, “The oath of one witness against the oath of the person accused”, the provisions in Manual of Military Law (1914) make no exception to existing legal practice. The relevant portion of the text draws attention only to accepted exceptional circumstances, including cases involving treason and perjury, and the testimony of an accomplice of the accused. Although the witnesses testifying in Stones’ trial were hardly his accomplices, the text states:

“The evidence of a single accomplice is in law sufficient for a conviction, but such evidence must be received with extreme caution, and unless corroborated should not be accepted as proof of a person’s guilt. In a trial by court-martial, where the court performs the functions of both judge and jury, it may be laid down that no one should be convicted on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. The corroboration required must not be merely as to the circumstances of the crime; it must be corroborative of the guilt of the accused.”[246]

Stones was then invited to present evidence in his own defence. After taking the oath, the written proceedings recorded his testimony in full:

“On 35/26 Nov. I had to go on patrol for 1 to 3 in the morning with Lieut. Mundy. While going along the trench he told me to stay in the trench till he went to a dugout to warn the Battn. bombers to put their gas helmets on their chests. When we set off to go along the trench again there was a shot went off and Mr Mundy fell to the bottom of the trench. He said, “My God, I’m shot. For God’s sake Sergeant go for help and tell Mr Howes.” I did so.

I told the men in the front line that the Huns were in the trench. I came to a dugout before I came to the Coy. HQ and I gave the alarm there also. When I got to Coy. HQ I gave the alarm there also. When I got to the Coy. HQ the men were sitting on the steps of the dugout. I told them to pass the word down to the CSM that the Huns were in the trench. When I got to the entrance of the dugout to warn Mr [sic.] House he was coming up the dugout telling the men to go into Ghost Lane with bombs. As the men were passing me I did not see the officer’s cook. I enquired where they were and someone said they were in Father’s Footpath. When the men were filing into the trench, Pte. Pinkney was the last man I could see. I asked him if he knew where the dugout was, and asked him to show it me. I looked in the dugout, there was no one there. He said there was another dugout further on, so I said I would look into that as well. We could not find him in that dugout. There was a stretcher bearer came from the right of the crater, wounded. I asked him what was the matter. He said ,“I have been wounded by the Huns.”  I asked if the enemy were in the trench where he had come from. He said, “Yes, they have bombed the dugout.” He left me and went to seek the other stretcher bearers in Bogey Avenue. I said to Pinkney that I wondered where the cooks had gone. He said he could not say. We turned to go to Coy. HQ in Father’s Footpath. When I got to the end of Father’s Footpath I lost the use of my legs and had to stay there about 15 minutes. I said to Pte. Pinkney, “I wonder if the doctor has got anything to nourish us up and take the pains away from my leg.” Pinkney said he didn’t know but he was willing to come with me to help me out. When we got to the junction of Bogey and Wednesday Avenues I heard someone shout, “Halt!”

Pinkney stopped. He was about ten yards in front of me. When I got up to him I asked what was the matter. He said we could not get out. Then Sergt. Foster asked me what was the matter with us. I told him I was ill and wanted to see a doctor. He told me I couldn’t get past. I asked him to let me sit down for a minute or two. He said I could. After I had had a rest I turned round and came back with Pte. Pinkney. I could not walk by myself and had to hold on to the side of the trench as I walked. When we got past Father’s Footpath my legs gave way again and I tried two or three times to get up but could not. Pinkney helped me on to my feet and took me to a dugout. He covered me up and said he would send word to Mr Howse where I was. He went out of the dugout and was away about 15 minutes. He came back with a cup of tea and said he had sent word to Mr Howse where I was . When I had had the tea it pulled me together a bit and I tried to get up but couldn’t. After about ten minutes I tried again and got onto my feet and got to the dugout where I was staying before the Huns came over the Crater. I stayed there till 3 p.m. Then I tried to go on duty again with Sergt. Austin. At about 4.15 at stand to, my legs gave way again and the Sergt. said I had better go into the dugout and he would tell the officer. I went to the dugout and lay there and was never on duty any more. they did not put me on the duty roster, they gave me a rest. When we were relieved by the H.L.I. ) it took me all my time to get to the billet. When I got there I lay down and reported sick next day. The M.O. got one of his orderlies to rub my leg with embrocation.”[247]

The court then adjourned until 2.15 p.m.. After it re-convened, Stones was cross-examined by the court. The questions to which Stones was expected to respond were not recorded in writing but his answers were full enough:

“No orders were issued to me when I took over as NCO of the watch. Mr Mundy told us we had to have our gas helmets on our chests in case of a gas attack.

We were patrolling the trench. The shot that hit Mr Mundy was from the enemy. I saw the enemy. When I saw them I had a rifle and bayonet. I had the bayonet but no rifle when I got to the junction of Bogey and Wednesday Avenues.

I went from the front line to Coy HQ by way of Bogey Avenue.[248] I tried to run but was unable to do so because my leg was stiff. I wanted to warn the cook because the enemy could get round from the right of the crater and I thought they might get to Coy. HQ. There was a sentry-group posted on the right of the crater. So far as I knew then it was still there.

It did not occur to me to tell Pinkney to warn the cook. It did not strike me that my services as a sergeant were more valuable in the front line than in personally warning the cook.

The occasion in Father’s Footpath was the first time that night that I lost the use of my legs.

I rested till stand to on account of my legs. I did not report sick later on the 26th because I could not get out of the dug-out.”[249]

Further details were demanded of Stones, who responded by stating:

“I was going [on?] my rounds as NCO of the watch. I am quite sure Mr Mundy said what I have already stated.

As I turned to go the Huns [i.e. Germans] were stepping over Mr Mundy. I put my rifle across the trench so as to stop them from getting across at me so that I could get ahead of them and warn the men.

When I was in the dugout on the 26th I was so bad I couldn’t lift my head up. I remained like that till 3 p.m. It was no good going sick then, so as an NCO was wanted I volunteered to go on duty from 3 to 5. I said that to Sergt. Staff. I had left word with the C.S.M.  that I was going to my dug-out.”

Stones continued:

“The reason why I didn’t go back with help to Mr Mundy was that I thought it was sufficient when I had got the men into the front line and I told them what had happened.

I saw four or five Germans. It was a narrow trench. They were one behind the other. My rifle was loaded. I didn’t fire because the safety catch was on and the [protective canvas] cover over the breech. My bayonet was not fixed.

I had been NCO of the watch before.

The reason I wanted to get the cook was that the company was weak and I wanted to get all the men I could. it didn’t occur to me to send Pinkney by himself because I was properly upset.

I didn’t go to the doctor on the 27th because I was too ill. It was only with a hard struggle that I got out on the 28th when the Battn. left the trenches.

I loaded my rifle with 4 cartridges in magazine and one in chamber. I had the breech cover on when on patrol because I never had orders to take it off. I can’t say how long it would have taken me to take it off.”[250] 

With that, Stones’ cross-examination ceased. He accounted for motives that informed his movements, his testimony was internally consistent and when taken in conjunction with the evidence of prosecution witnesses, he coincidentally exposed the damaging omission from the 106th Brigade narrative (i.e. his warning to Lieutenant Howes). The matter of a breech cover was really an irrelevancy. The 35th Division officers would certainly have known that all company commanders were responsible for ensuring, “That every man in their Company is in possession of a cover, and knows the orders as to when they are to be worn on a rifle.”[251] Moreover, given the recent wet weather, the muddy condition of the trenches and the evidence that the attack came as a complete surprise to the division’s intelligence officers, let alone Z Company’s rank and file, there was no reason why Stones’ firearm should have been unprotected by a breech cover.[252]

Company Sergeant Holdroyd, who had already testified for the prosecution, was recalled as a witness for the defence. He was questioned about Stones’ disability:

“From the time of the raid until we came out Sergt. Stones had to be excused duty because he was too ill to do it. he was the last man in the coy. I ever expected to shirk his duty.”

Cross-examined by Middleton, Holdroyd explained:

“I excused accused from duty. The other sergeants agreed to do duty for him. When a man goes sick a sick report is sent down with him. This was not done in this case because he did not go sick.”

Then, responding to questions by the court’s president, he added:

“In the ordinary case if a man was too ill to move he would be sent down on a stretcher like wounded man. We always had stretchers. Accused was not sent to the doctor on a stretcher. I didn’t think he was bad enough to be out of the line.”[253]

Captain Barss RAMC, the Medical Officer testified and was cross-examined by the court. His remarks were recorded as notes that stated:

“I attended accused on Nov. 29th. He complained of muscular rheumatism in the muscles of his legs. I examined him and gave him some embrocation and put him on no marching for one day. So far as I know he didn’t come back.

He had been once before for the same complaint, on Oct. 27th.

When I examined him on Nov. 29th I formed the opinion that his condition was not serious. Accused had no temperature. There were no visible symptoms. I did not think that muscular rheumatism unless very pronounced, would prevent a man from walking. If it did I should expect to find some visible symptoms.”[254]

Invited to cross-examine Barrs on behalf of Stones, Capt. Warmington declined and moved on to sum up the case for the defence. The proceedings noted his comments thus:

“Rifle not thrown but put across trench.

Ran - under orders to get help - did not run any further.

No hiding away. His whereabouts known to everybody. He reported sick to his Coy. S.M.

Evidence not strong enough to convict. Accused acting under orders of his superior officer.”[255]

Thereafter, the Court, including the Courts-Martial Officer retired to deliberate on the verdict. As was customary, they did not disclose their conclusions but on resuming the proceedings, Stones’ disciplinary record was read out by Lieutenant Middleton. It disclosed that Stones had never been committed any disciplinary offence and stated his character was “Exemplary”.[256] Lieutenant Howes was then recalled by the court and asked to give his opinion about Stones’ character and service. Howes declared:

“I have known accused for over a year. I have found his character as a soldier at all time excellent. His work in the trenches has always been good not only in getting men to do the work but in setting them an example.

On the Somme he behaved well. He got his first stripe before leaving England. Accused has been nearly eleven months in France.”[257]

Stones' personal qualities having been duly recorded, the court dispersed without informing Stones of their verdict.[258] However, on the pro forma Court-Martial document, next to Lieutenant Colonel Riccard’s signature, the words “Guilty - Death” had been scribbled.[259] The court recorded no reason for apparently ignoring the two fundamental rules of British (and military) law relating to the burden of proof, “First That every man is presumed to be innocent until he is proved to be guilty; and Second that he who alleges a fact must prove it.”[260] Warmington quite correctly pointed out that there was no evidence that Stones had done anything with his rifle other than what he had stated and there was no evidence that the NCO had been running after having alerted Lieutenant Howes about the raid on King Crater. Recent accounts of the trial that engage in speculation about the involvement of either the Judge Advocate General or Deputy Judge Advocate General in the case; issues like Barss’ medical knowledge of rheumatism or unspecified third parties’ feelings about the defendant do nothing to excuse the officers’ of the court for the latter’s unjust treatment of Stones.[261]

After the trial ended, the written proceedings were duly forwarded to the confining officers, each of who were invited to comment on the case. Major William Greenwell, who had only recently been appointed to command Stones’ battalion, declined to express any opinion about the NCO’s behaviour. The dossier was passed to the officer temporarily in command of106th Brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Bertie Dent, who stated that he had commanded the 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry for three months (i.e. since 16.10.16), and confessed that he knew little about Stones but commented, “I recommend that the sentence be commuted in consideration of the manner in which this N.C.O. has performed his duties previously.”[262] Dent also drew attention to the company commander’s positive opinion of Stones' service record. Of the NCO, his company commander, Lieutenant William Oliver, wrote:

“He came out with the battalion in February as a Lance Corporal. Showing ability to handle men he was promoted over the heads of senior NCOs in the company. He has done good work on patrols & when in charge of wiring parties. I have personally been out with him in no-man’s land & always found him keen and bold. In the trenches he never showed the least sign of funk. He has always been in my company. I therefore had countless opportunities of seeing him under all circumstances & can safely say that he was the last man I would have thought capable of any cowardly action. He has been in a very poor state of health lately.”[263]

The positive remarks about Stones’ character and service by fellow NCO’s and the junior officers of Z Company, let alone the appearance of a Captain, albeit with a temporary commission, prepared to appear for the defence was really unprecedented in a court martial of this nature. Similarly, Greenwell’s and Dent’s disinclination to endorse the death sentence was decidedly unusual.

On New Year’s Eve, the proceedings were forwarded to the Officer Commanding 35th Division, Major General Landon, who disagreed with Dent’s recommendation and (by implication) with the NCO’s and junior officers’ appraisal of Stones character and conduct. Landon declared, “In my opinion there is no reason on which to base a recommendation that the sentence be commuted. I consider that the sentence be put into execution.”[264] Without advancing any further opinion, Allenby also recommended that Stones be executed.[265]

10) Mental and physical degenerates

Since their arrest, the soldiers charged with quitting their posts had been imprisoned in an abandoned outhouse of a farm in the French village of Roullecourt. Private Albert Rochester, a fellow inmate sympathetically recorded their plight:

“Only one blanket per prisoner was allowed, so that for warmth, we laid our blanket on the filthy straw, and anchored together under the remaining bedding. Live rats, and mental stress kept us awake for hours, so that we began to confide in each other. In whispering tones we ventilated our sins and sorrows... they all spoke hopefully of acquittals.”[266]

The trial of Lance Corporals Goggins and MacDonald and Privates Forrest, Ritchie, Davies and Dowsey was eventually convened at Foufflin Ricametz on 28 December, where they were prosecuted and tried by the same officers who convicted Stones, all pleaded not guilty to the offence with which they were charged and were also defended by Captain Warmington.

The evidence for the prosecution for all six accused was presented by four witnesses, of whom the first was Company Sergeant Major Daniel Austin, who prefaced his testimony by explaining how the accused came to be at King’s Crater on 26 November:

“On the morning of 22nd Nov. I was detailed to take a sentry group up Cecil Avenue to relieve the Highland L.I.. The sentry group consisted of 6 men and 2 NCOs. On the 23rd one of the NCO’s reported sick, he was replaced by the accused, LCpl. MacDonald. This was a permanent sentry group for the six days that we were in those trenches. The other members of the group were Cpl. Wilson, who went sick, LCpl. Goggins, Ptes. Dowsey, Forrest, Davies, Ritchie, Spence and Todd. With the exception of Cpl. Wilson and Ptes. Spence and Todd the persons I have mentioned are the accused now before the court. Pte. Todd was wounded and Pte. Spence is on leave.” [267]

He continued, detailing his understanding of what happened on 26th. The manner in which his stilted language and rather disconnected sentences were recorded in the written proceedings infers Austin was either responding to prompting, presumably by the prosecuting officer or that he ignored the regulation that demanded written records of witness had to be verbatim. He said:

“There was to be a raid by one centre company. Orders were issued on the 26th for the men to stand-to in the dugout. There was one sergeant and two lance corporals, and one officer. The NCOs changed the sentries who were left on the fire-steps. This was on account of the coming raid and of the heavy bombardment by trench mortars which had been going on for three days. This bombardment was by the enemy. The men who were withdrawn were ordered to stand-to on the steps of the dugout. I should have expected if any bombardment was going on to find a sergeant and a lance-corporal on the fire-step and the remainder on the stairs of the dugout. I can’t say if this actually took place, I was on the left. I could not state the names of the men who would be entitled to be in the dugout. 2/Lieut. Harding was the officer detailed. He was wounded. There were supposed to be two men on the fire-step and everybody else was entitled to be in the dugout. Those orders came from an officer, I think Mr Howes. I passed it on to the men. About 2.35 a.m. on 26th there was a very heavy bombardment. I found that our artillery seemed to be dropping short. I looked along the left of the crater and found that TMs [trench mortar bombs] and aerial torpedoes were coming over together. I returned to Coy. HQ and waited for orders. I did not turn the sentry-group out of the dugout because I did not go on to the right. I was not on duty at the time. The bombardment affected both entrances to the crater. The sentry-group was about 25 yards to the right of the crater.”[268]

Cross-examined, probably by Warmington, the NCO added:

“I was not on the right of the crater when this bombardment was going on. These men had no authority to leave the front line.”[269]

As was customary, questions posed by the officers who were hearing the trial were directed at witnesses via the President. Cross-examined by Lieutenant Colonel Riccard, Austin responded:

“Pte. Spence was present on the night in question. The nearest I went to the sentry group when I was looking round at 2.35 was about 150 yards away. The TMs and aerial torpedoes were being sent over by both sides. The members of the sentry-group except those who were actually on sentry-go at the time were ordered to stand to on the steps of the dug-out. The dugout was about twenty yards from the place where I posted the sentry group. There were about 12 to 14 steps. There was accommodation for about 20 men in the dugout but the only persons occupying it at the time were the members of this sentry-group. The order was that the men were to go to the dugout on this night, it was not that they were to go there if there was a bombardment. No orders were given to the accused to go to any other part of the line that night.”[270]

The following two witnesses for the prosecution were from the President’s own unit, 17th Bn. Royal Scots.  Again, the written proceedings recorded the testimony by Second Lieutenant H. Bryce in a manner that suggests he was being prompted. He stated:

“On the morning of Nov. 26th I was in command of G Work with my platoon as a garrison and had posted a sentry at the junction of Cecil Avenue and the front face of G Work.

At about 2.15 a.m. my sentry shouted down the dugout stairs. I went upstairs and found two NCOs and four men from the Durhams in the work. The accused now before the court are the men I saw.

I questioned them all as to why they had come into the works line, and some of them answered that they thought an NCO was leading them out of the front line. The two NCOs were without rifles. I took their names and sent them back to their coy. The names were LCpl MacDonald, LCpl Goggins, Ptes Dowsey, Forrest and Davies. I cannot remember the name of the sixth man.

I am quite sure these six men now before the Court are the six men I found in the work.

LCpl Goggins had no steel helmet, the others had. All the accused were in a state of excitement.”[271]

Boyce was then cross-examined in further detail by Captain Warmington and made the following replies:

“I should expect men to be in a state of excitement after being bombarded for three days by trench mortars.

I kept the accused in the work for about 15 minutes, and put them on the fire-step. I gave them no special instructions. I did not give them any bombs. They all went on the fire step. I found LCpl Goggins in a little bomb shelter twice. All the others were under control. I have no complaint to make as to the way in which they obeyed my orders.”[272]

Asked by the court about the topography of the sector, Bryce explained:

“G Work was about 200 yards from the front line, i.e. the part of it where I found the accused. the head of Cecil Avenue is in the front line.”

Next to give evidence was Pte. J. Kidd[273]:

“One night about a month ago - I can’t remember the exact date - I was on sentry at the junction of G Work and Cecil Avenue. I was on sentry from 1 am to 3 am. At about 2.30 a.m. some man came down the trench and I halted them. I can’t say how many were there. It was dark and I could hardly recognise the men. I fetched Mr Bryce, my officer, and he took the men’s names. There were not very many of them, about six or seven. The men came down the trench at a good pace, they were not running.”[274]

He also added, in response to cross-examination by Warmington, that he had no difficulty in halting the men’s progress. In response to further questions by the court, Kidd admitted:

“I was not present when the names were given to Mr Bryce. I can’t remember whether the man who was leading the party was a private or an NCO, or whether he was carrying a rifle.”[275]

The final witness to give evidence for the prosecution was Private C. Spence, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry[276].

“About a month ago - I can’t remember the exact date - I was in sentry with the accused Pte. Ritchie, in the front line; from 12 to 2 a.m. I think. The enemy were shelling us with Trench Mortars. Ritchie got off the fire step to be out of the way of the shrapnel. Someone came along the trench and I saw none of the sentry-group after that. About half an hour after all of the group, including Ritchie, came back together. Ritchie had no orders to leave the fire-step. I saw him get off the fire-step and go along the trench.”[277]

Spence was then questioned by Warmington and the former’s answers were jotted down in the written proceedings:

“LCpl. Goggins posted me. I had no orders from Sergt. Austin.

The trenches were badly damaged at the time by enemy fire.

We had orders to get out of the way of the shrapnel and later on we had orders that we were not to leave the place. The order to get out of the way of the shrapnel was given by an NCO, I think by LCpl. Goggins. The same NCO gave the second order. The two orders were given while I was on sentry. There was an interval of about an hour between the orders. The orders were given to me while I was on the fire-step. Ritchie was there when both orders were given. I am quite certain of that. I understood the orders came from Mr Harding.

I was knocked off the fire-step by a TM. When I got up the Germans were in the trench and I went into the next bay to tell the W.Yorkshires, who were on the right.

I am certain the second order was given.”[278]

In response to two final questions by the Court, Spence remembered:

“I was about 10 yards into the bay where the W. Yorks. were. I have been with the Battalion 5 months.”[279]

Thus concluded the evidence for the prosecution. Next, each of the accused in turn had the opportunity to defend their conduct.

The defendants each in turn presented their defence, giving evidence under oath.

Lance Corporal John MacDonald’s explanation for his actions was brief:

“On 26th November all the men who were off duty were standing to in the dugout. I was with them. Somebody came running down the trench and shouted ‘Run for your lives, the Huns are on top of you.’ When I got out of the dugout I couldn’t see anybody. I walked about 5 yards towards the front trench and as nobody was there I went down [i.e. towards] Cecil Avenue. When I got to the Avenue I was halted by the Royal Scots sentry. We went in to G Works and got bombs and stood on the fire-step. We were escorted to a dugout where one of the Royal Scots officers took our names. We were sent back to our company on the right of King Crater.”[280]

Under cross-examination, the N.C.O. added:

“I saw no one when I came out of the dugout in the front line when I got there. The front line was very thinly held on this night, it was possible to go for 20 yards along the line and see nobody. I expected to see all the sentry group when I got to the front line because they all went out of the dugout before me. I was not on duty at the time. I heard some men running down the C.T. [i.e. communications trench] as I came up the dugout steps. I followed the men down to see where they were going. The Coy. HQ were not in G Works. I can give no reason why I went to G Works. I did not see the enemy but I heard them. That was before I went down the C.T.. I couldn’t tell what direction they were in.”[281]

A further question or so yielded Macdonald’s final statement:

“When I was on duty it was my business to change the sentries. On that night we were ordered by Mr Harding to get under cover if we could.”[282]

Lance Corporal Peter Goggins, the NCO on duty at the time of the German attack, was then called on to present his defence. Goggins declared:

“On the night in question I happened to be on top of the dugout stairs when I heard a panic in the trench. I stepped up to see what it was and I heard some men rushing out of the trench. I informed the men in the dugout and ordered them to stand-to. All I could hear was “Run for your lives, the Huns are on top of you.” I was under the impression that the front line was held by the enemy and that we were cut off from the front line. I went down Cecil Avenue thinking that it was the sentries who had rushed out. We were detained and ordered by an officer to man a bay.”[283]

In response to cross-examination by the prosecution, Goggins explained:

“I was in charge of the group. I turned to go up the front line and went about ten yards towards it. I was knocked down by people rushing out [of the line]. Then I went and warned the men in the dugout. After I had shouted down the mouth of the dugout I saw three sentries running down the C.T. and was under the impression they were my sentries. I did not go to the front line to see if my sentries were there because so many men had gone past. I did not order my men to go down to G Works. I did not see them going, it was too dark.

The members of the group should have stayed in the dugout.

As I did not find them there I just followed them down. I went down to G Works because we had been there before when there had been a gas attack, I was going there on this occasion to get bombs with which to turn the enemy out of the front line.

I thought we were cut off on account of the panic and excitement. We could not fire at the enemy because there was a bend in the trench. The rifle I had was no use, it wasn’t my rifle.”[284]

Cross-examination by the defending officer then focussed in Goggins’ orders. The NCO told the court:

“If the sentry groups had left the post the dug-out would have been cut off.

The orders we received on that night were that all men, except two on the fire step, were to be in the dugout. That order came at 12 o’clock. That was the last time I saw an officer till Mr Harding came at 5 minutes to Those were all the orders I received. The sentries in the open got no further orders so far as I know.

My sole object in going towards G Works was to get some bombs and form a counter-attack with the men of my group.

I succeeded in getting all the men together. An officer told us to get on to the fire-step which we did.”[285]

Cross-examined by the court, Goggins appears to have been questioned about four issues, to which he replied briefly:

“I lost my steel helmet when I was knocked down, I did not pick it up because I did not think of it. I was thinking of the position I was in. The two occasions when I was in the little bomb shelter was when I was getting bombs to issue to the men. My counter-attack didn’t come off because Mr Bryce wouldn’t allow it. I was a guide not an escort that Mr Bryce sent back with us.”[286]

Next, it was the turn of Private David Forrest to refute the charge against him. He stated:

“On the 26th Nov. I was in the dugout in Cecil Avenue. At about 2.30 am some men came along the trench and shouted down the dug-out, “Run for your lives. The Huns are on top of you.” When I got out of the dugout there was no one there. I heard some men running down Cecil Avenue and I thought that the front line was occupied by the enemy and that the dugout was cut off from the front line. So I followed a man down Cecil Avenue and when I got down to the junction of the works I found that the man had been halted and an officer put me on a fire-step. We were taken off the fire-step down to a dugout where there was an officer who took our names. We were then sent up to Company HQ and we returned to the post.”[287]

Cross-examined by the prosecuting officer, Forrest revealed more about his movements and motivation:

“I received no order to leave the dug-out. I simply followed the other men. We couldn’t get to the bombs in the front line because the dugout was cut off. I went about 5 yards up the trench and then returned. I never went to the front line to get the bombs. The front line was 20 yards from the dugout. I thought the front line was occupied by the enemy. I took no steps to find out whether that was so or not. I did not see the enemy but I heard them. I heard them as I was going up towards the front line. There was no firing at that time. I went of my own accord down to G Works.”[288]

Captain Warmington then quizzed Forrest, who continued:

“I followed the other men down to G Works. I was at about the centre of the dugout when I heard a shout to run. The orders we had that night were that we were to stand to in the dugout, two of us being on the fire-step, and one NCO on duty, and one man on the dugout stairs.

One of the sentries on the fire-step told me that he had received an order to take cover from T.M.s if he could possibly get it. That was Pte. Ritchie, he told me when he was relieving me.

I had my rifle when I arrived at G Works. We had no bombs given us at G Works.”

Finally, responding to final queries by the court, Forrest said:

“When we were sent back one of the Royal Scots was sent with us. I couldn’t say what he was sent for. I knew the way from G Works to Coy. HQ.”

Pte Ritchie was the next defendant to address the court.[289]:

“At about 1.30 a.m. on 26th Nov. I was down in the dugout. At about 5 minutes to 2 Mr Harding came. He told me about the raid going over and that we should be bombarded by the enemy. Pte Spence and I went on from 2 to 3, we relieved Ptes. Forrest and Dowsey. We were told to take as much cover from the TMs as possible. At about 2.15 the enemy started shelling with TMs.  Spence lay flat on the trench boards and I ran round by the sap. All of a sudden as I was coming back to the step someone rushed past and said, ‘The Huns are in the front line, run for your lives.’

I warned the men in the dugout and went back to see if the other sentry was there. There was no one there. I heard some firing about 100 yards away. I saw nobody else there so thought it was my opportunity to go where the others had gone. I went down Cecil Avenue and we went to man a bay for about three quarters of an hour. We were fetched out of one bay by an officer and put in another bay where there were some bombs. I went into a small dugout where the bombs were and got a box of bombs. We were standing on the step about three quarters of an hour. Then the officer sent for us and we went down into the dugout and he took all our names. Then he sent a corp[oral]. back with us with our names on a paper to our Coy. HQ. then we were returned to our post.”[290]

Under cross-examination, Ritchie went on to explain:

“I don’t remember any other order than I have stated being given on the night. I was about 5 yards from Pte. Spence. he received no other order while he was with me. The sap to which I went was less than 10 yards from my post. I think I saw three men running past me on my way back. They seemed as if the had lost their heads. Spence was lying flat on the trench boards when I got back. The time he went on the trench boards was when the TMs came over. When I got back from warning the dugout Spence was not there. When I turned back to go the dugout I was about three yards from the post. Spence was not there then. I had no direct order to go to G Works. I didn’t see the enemy, I heard them.”[291]

Responding to a couple of questions by the defending officer, Ritchie added:

“When I got to G Works I had a rifle and bayonet with me. Mr Harding gave me the order to take cover when on sentry go. That was about a quarter to two.”

Cross-examined by the court, Ritchie then stated:

“It was the firing in the trench of rifles and revolvers and what I was told that made me think the enemy were there. I am quite sure it was for three-quarters of an hour that I was in the fire-bay at G Works.”

The penultimate defendant, Private Henry Dowsey was one of those who had been sheltering in the dugout when the alarm was raised. He recalled:

“I was in the dug-out on the morning of 26th Nov. when I heard the cry, “Run for your lives.” I came out of the dugout and could see no one, it being too dark. There is a trap door at the entrance to the dugout used for blocking the trench. I tried to block the trench with it. Owing to it being clogged with dirt I could not do so. I went a few yards back in the trench to the rear entrance of the dugout. Presently I heard someone coming down the trench towards me. I halted him. It was LCpl. MacDonald. The news he gave me of the front line gave me the impression that it was occupied by the enemy, so we went back into the reserve trench, which I thought was the best possible idea under the circumstances. Our men were standing-to and I stood to along with them until we were sent back to Coy. HQ and from there to the front line. When I got to G Works I had my rifle, bayonet and equipment. We had an order that night to stand to in the dugout. I know nothing of orders to sentries on the fire-step.”[292]

In his concluding responses to cross-examination, Dowsey inferred that he had been suffering from stress. He explained:

“When the voice came down the dug-out, there were four other men there. I did not ask the other men to help me with the trap door. I did not think of it. I was in a queer state owing to being overworked. I did not see the other men leave the dugout. I received no order from LCpl. MacDonald. I did not see or hear the enemy or hear any firing.”[293]

Private Davies was the last to testify in his own defence. According to the written proceedings, Davies maintained that initially he had been stunned by news of the raid. He explained:

“On the 26th Nov. at 2.30 am I was on the dug-out stairs when I heard three or four men run along the trench past the top of the dug-out. They shouted, “Run for your lives. The Huns are on top of you.” I fell down the stairs with the shock. Then I came up the stairs and went down towards Cecil Avenue. When I got to the junction of G Works I met LCpl. Goggins & Private Ritchie who were in front of me. We were halted by the sentry. Then we went and manned a bay and stayed there for about three-quarters of an hour. Then we were taken to a dugout about two or three hundred yards away, where an officer took our names. He asked us if we had our rifles with us and sent us back to our coy. HQ. He sent a corpl. back with us with a note of our names. Then we returned to our post. I had rifle, bayonet, equipment and ammunition when I got to G Works.”[294]

When cross-examined by the prosecuting officer, Davies openly admitted that on 26 November he had been totally confused. Without the accompanying questions, his answers as noted down in the written proceedings differ significantly from statements made by his co-defendants:

“It was the way they shouted that made me fall down the stairs. I did not see the other men leave the dugout. There was a candle in the dug-out. There were three men and a sergeant and an officer in the dugout. The sergeant and the officer were both wounded. I made no effort to go to the front line. I did not know what I was doing. I did not know which way I was going, for all I knew I might have been going towards the front line. I lost my head altogether. I had no orders to go. I did not see or hear the enemy nor did I hear their firing.”[295]

Given that Davies was on trial for his life, there is little excuse for this lack of clarity in the written proceedings. Were the “three men” may have been stretcher-bearers tending Lieutenant Harding and Sergeant Napier? Were they in the dugout at Post C, G Work or in a third location, perhaps the “dugout about two or three hundred yards away”? If so, should not corroboration about Davies’ nervous state from at least one of these independent witnesses? And in the absence of the question he was posed, what should be made of Davies’ response to a final question that was put to him in cross examination by the court, namely, “There were two entrances to the dug-out”?

Captain Warmington did not take advantage of the opportunity to cross-examine Davies, instead he presented a general defence and the written proceedings suggest that he made no reference to any of the defendants by name. As with Stones’s case, the key points made in the concluding statement by the “Accused’s friend” were recorded in note form. These consisted of the following:

“A raid was about to take place therefore front line was practically evacuated except for a few posts.

Enemy raided our line about half an hour before we were to start.

Found only a patrol in Crater & sentry group on each side.

Original orders varied.

Orders to take cover if fired on by TMs.

Remainder in dugout.

Novel situation.

If enemy raid in great numbers these few sentry groups were groups such as might be employed in  (an?) outpost scheme.

If they had orders to take cover and knew, as they did, that front line [had been] evacuated, they were quite right to take up position & line of resistance [in the] reserve line.

Considering circ[cumstance]s, bombardment for 3 hours, novel orders, and the disorder accused acted in good part and did what they thought was their duty.

All their statements agree, all have given evidence on oath.

Confinement they have already had and this charge is sufficient penalty for any unintentional mistakes they may have made.”[296]

The court, accompanied by the Court Martial Officer then adjourned to consider their verdicts. How long they deliberated remains unknown but they found all the accused to be guilty as charged and sentenced them to be executed by firing squad. However, the words “Guilty - Death” which feature on the court-martial schedule were supplemented in Ritchie’s case by the subsequent addition of a recommendation to mercy because, “It appeared to the court that he is a person of low mental development & that he has been rejected by the A.D.M.S on account of his nerves.”[297]

The convicted men’s disciplinary records were then produced by the prosecuting officer. Lance Corporal was the only one to have anything adverse on his record of service, having been convicted by General Court Martial in the United Kingdom on 13.2.16 of being absent without leave from Perham Camp, while under orders for overseas service.[298] However his character and that of McDonald and Forrest were recorded as being “Very Good”; Dowsey and Davies were considered to be “Exemplary” and Ritchie was classed as “Fair”.[299]

Further details about the men were submitted by Warmington and noted by the court:

  1. LCpl. Goggins - aged 21, married - enlisted 1.3.15 - miner.
  2. LCpl. McDonald - aged 28, married - enlisted 2.3.15 - labourer.
  3. Pte. Forrest - aged 20, single - enlisted 10.3.15 - chimney sweep.
  4. Pte. Davies - aged 20, single - enlisted 5.3.15 - miner, wounded 1.4.16 at Fleurbaix.
  5. Pte. Dowsey - aged 35, married - enlisted 6.7.15 - miner.
  6. Pte. Ritchie - aged 20, single - enlisted 3.3.15 - miner.

The court was told that Private Ritchie had been classified as unfit for service in the front line by the Assistant Director of Medical Services, 35th Division; Lance Corporal Goggins, Privates Davies, Forrest and Dowsey had been similarly classified by the Corps Commander, and Lance Corporal MacDonald was reported by his company commander as being physically incapable of carrying out the normal work of an infantry soldier. All except Forrest and MacDonald were recommended for employment in tunnelling work with the Royal Engineers and all had been on active service with 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry since the battalion disembarked in France.[300]

Their company commander, Lieutenant William Oliver then acquainted the court with the defendants’ general behaviour:

“Their general conduct has been good. I have never had any trouble with any of them. None of them has done anything special as soldiers but each of them is quite up to the average and has down all I have asked them to do. Goggins and Ritchie I have noticed appear to suffer from nerves, this has not been sufficient to give me any trouble in the trenches but it is quite noticeable. In Ritchie’s case he was rejected by the ADMS on account of his nerves.”[301]

None of the defendants had anything further to say but Warmington ended his contribution to the proceedings by pointing out to the court that the men he had been representing had been under close arrest since 28 November, except for McDonald (who had been away on a course) who had been arrested on 13 December. [302]

The trial ended with verdicts that were identical with the outcome of ninety per cent of Field General Courts-Martial – Guilty. However, in Ritchie’s case, the court qualified their verdict with a recommendation to mercy, because it was considered that he was “a person of low mental development and has been rejected by the A.D.M.S. on account of his nerves.”[303] The proceedings noted that the men were sentenced to death and they were taken away.

The process of confirmation did not begin immediately, possibly because the following day was Christmas Day. The justifications that informed the confirming officers’ decision to endorse the execution of Goggins and MacDonald were made in contributions by Brigadier O’Donnell (who had resumed command of 106th Brigade) and the divisional commander, Major General Landon.

Annexed to O’Donnell’s was a note (dated 29.12.16) from Lieutenant Oliver, in which the subaltern repeated, with additional reference to MacDonald, his oral testimony to the court:

“Their behaviour has always been good & as regards fighting they were good average soldiers doing what was required of them. They all came out with the Battalion in Feby. 1916 & have performed their duties without any special distinction. L/C Macdonald, L/C Goggins & Pte Ritchie have previously shown nervousness under fire. Pte. Ritchie was cast by the ADMS about a fortnight ago on account of nerves.”[304]

O’Donnell waited until New Year’s Day before writing his contribution:

“In each case the men have been found guilty of the charge and have been sentenced to “Death”. I am doubtful, however, if the evidence is sufficient for a conviction. From enquiries made the men in character and behaviour appear to be of the average in their battalion. The battalion, however, has not done well in the fighting line. They suffered somewhat severely from heavy shelling while in the SOMME fighting in July and were very shaky in the advanced trenches before GUILLEMONT in August. I am reluctantly compelled to recommend that should the finding be confirmed the sentence be carried out for the purpose of example and to show that cowardice in the presence of the enemy will not be tolerated in the British Army.”[305]

Two days later, Major General Landon expressed his opinion:

“These 2 N.C.Os and 4 privates have been found guilty of a most serious crime. They appear all equally culpable as soldiers, but the N.C.Os must be held as having especially failed in their duties, and responsibilities. There are, however, some 4000 men in the Division of whom 314 are in the Durham L.I. who are recommended for transfer as being unsuitable mentally and physically as Infantry Soldiers and it is probable that any of them would have behaved similarly under the circumstances described in the proceedings of this Court Martial. In view of the mental and physical degeneracy of these men I consider that though the sentence passed on all six is a proper one, the extreme penalty might be carried out in the case of the two N.C.Os only and that the sentence on the four privates be commuted to a long term of penal servitude, and this I recommend.”[306]

On 3 January the convicted men’s trial dossiers was forwarded to Haldane and thence to fto Allenby, who agreed with Landon’s recommendations[307] Accordingly. MacDonald and Goggins were singled out for execution, a decision that was approved by Haig on 11 January.[308] 

This spate of capital courts martial was unusual for a number of reasons, not the least of which was their sheer number. The death sentences they awarded comprised a third of all the circa 88 death sentences that were passed on British and Imperial soldiers serving in overseas theatres of operations during December 1916.[309] The 35th Division death sentences included three soldiers from 17 Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers who had been tried on 15 December, after having been found guilty of quitting their posts during the German raid on I Sector.[310] In addition to the eight capital cases directly linked with the incident at King Crater, on 30 December an NCO and a further sixteen soldiers who had been involved with the Durhams’ unsuccessful raid were sentenced to death for cowardice.[311] The final case. involving Sergeant Robert Rumley, the most high-ranking raider accused of cowardice, was disposed of on New Year’s Day.[312] Of those whose death sentences were not confirmed, the men sentenced to death for quitting their posts had their sentences reduced to15 years penal servitude and those sentenced to death for cowardice were condemned to 10 years imprisonment. [313]

The selection of victims for the firing squad was also rather curious because the incident at King Crater had been arguably the least damaging in terms of casualties.[314] The heaviest losses had been sustained in I Sector by the17th Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers: two soldiers killed, seven wounded and 24 taken prisoner by the enemy. The casualties arising from the botched raid by the 19th Durham Light Infantry culminated with one officer being wounded, two soldiers being killed and a further seven wounded.[315] The incident at King Crater involved two officers wounded (one fatally), three other ranks wounded (one fatally), and one soldier captured by the enemy. [316]

From O’Donnell’s confirmatory remarks and procedural advice recorded in the Manual of Military Law, it is possible to deduce the military status of the condemned men figured in selecting to execute Goggins and MacDonald, and possibly also Stones.[317] However, if tenure of their non-commissioned rank was the sole criteria for shooting these three, then consistancy if not logic suggests that a further four NCO’s who had also been condemned to death ought also to have been executed.[318] The resolution of this apparent anomaly may lie in the general application by the British Army of “bureaucratic decimation”, for recent scholarly research indicates that the Judge Advocate General and the Adjutant General throughout the war maintained a steady 10:1 ratio between the number of men sentenced to death and the number whose sentences were confirmed.[319] However, these statistics of military-judicial mortality do not account for senior confirming officers’ decision to select firing squad fodder exclusively from one battalion. Was it more than a morbid coincidence that three of the wounded officers were from 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry, of whom one was with the raiding party and two plus a sergeant were casualties arising from the incident at King Crater? [320]  If so, the decision to shoot Stones, Goggins and MacDonald appears less arbitrary.

Although the British Army usually executed men singly and occasionally shot deserters in pairs, when commanding 3rd Division Haldane sanctioned the execution of five men from one battalion, four of whom he arranged to execute simultaneously. It may therefore reasonably be expected that Haldane would have been uninhibited about the prospect of executing the three NCO’s. However, in his memoirs Haldane maintained that it was the Allenby who insisted on the three NCOs being executed:

“I felt sorry for them, for they had not the stamina to make them battleworthy, but the army commander was merciless and insisted on the extreme penalty being carried out.”[321]

When confirming a death sentence Allenby rarely expressed more than a blunt recommendation and he certainly never had any qualms about executing soldiers under his command. After the war, when the campaign for abolishing the death penalty for military offences was being advanced by MPs who had fought in the war, Allenby partnered Field Marshal Lord Plumer in a last-ditch defence in the House of Lords.  Referring to the clause proposing abolition of the death penalty for soldiers leaving without orders, their “ guard, picquet, patrol or post”, Plumer insisted:

“The only deterrent for a man who will wilfully behave in such a way… is the knowledge that, while his colleagues may possibly incur death at the hands of the enemy, which will be a glorious and honourable death, he, if convicted of one of these offences by a Court-Martial and executed, will die a death that is honourable and shameful.”[322]

Allenby began his contribution to the debate in the House of Lords by stating, “I entirely endorse every word that my noble friend, Lord Plumer has uttered”, and ended with,” Any alteration would be that now these offences are to be regarded as less grave than they used to be. That will surely, to my mind, and I hope your Lordships will agree, strike at the foundations of discipline.”[323]

Even allowing for their obduracy, these military commanders’ affirmation of the military utility of the death sentence does not tell the whole story, for Allenby’s action in 1916 could also be understood as a placatory gesture that acknowledged the persistent complaints voiced by his officer-subordinates. The latter had been prompted by a marked increase in the monthly totals of men (all ranks) being evacuated sick. It had been 471 during September, 655 for the whole of October and was due to reach 747 by the end of November.[324] The increase was almost certainly caused by the onset of winter weather and the influenza pandemic but it reduced the number of infantrymen available for service in the trenches. Workloads would have increased for battalions that were already under strength and the signs of stress became very evident via a sharp increase in the number of accidents and officers recourse to courts martial. The convening of courts martial rose to 50% higher than those of other divisions attached to 6th Corps. Between 1 November and 25 November, 103 men from the 35th division were tried for military offences, 62 of which related to accidental injuries, being drunk or sleeping on duty and 29 involved insubordination. There were 10 cases of desertion or absence without leave and only one case of a soldier escaping from anescort. Unfortunately for the officers concerned, Allenby responded to these negative indicators by threatening to suspend leave for all ranks unless the number of courts martial diminished. [325] Without identifying any by name, Davson confirmed that 35th Division’s officers continued to manifest their discontent about the puny physique of reinforcements and he complained more generally about the bantams’ intellect, remarking,  “Their minds were in keeping with their bodies, they were, in fact, degenerates.”[326] He recalled:

“It was decided something must be done, the complaints of the division, brigade and battalion commanders passed unheeded, and it was only the unhappy results of the raids of 26th November that brought home to the powers-that-be that such a state of things could not continue.”[327]

Lobbying their commanders having proved ineffective, the alternative way in which attention was drawn to the “state of things” involved the officers who wrote reports about the raids in which they alleged and probably exaggerated the confusion and panicky behaviour of the other ranks. Nowhere in the records of 35th Division do they or more senior commanders compare the casualty figures with those incurred as a consequence of encounters with the enemy in earlier weeks and months. Had such a comparison been made, the alleged “shambles” of 26 November would have been relatively unexceptional.

The bantams’ officers were also vulnerable to criticism. Aside from an oblique remark by Captain Bernard Montgomery about the unusual coincidence of British and enemy raids, neither is there a scrap of evidence to demonstrate the division’s intelligence officers anticipated the German raids.[328] After the division’s artillery had been re-organised, 158th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, whose shells had struck the British raiding party, ceased to exist but no artillery officer was held to account for the gunners’ repeatedly firing on the British infantry.[329] While it is certainly true to say that war-service officers, like Lieutenant William Oliver and Captain George Warmington showed support for the men under their command, with the exception of Brigadier O’Donnell, it is difficult to find any regular army officer who was prepared to defend the bantams.

A week before the raids occurred, some moves had been made to “comb–out” (purge) short-sighted and deaf soldiers from the ranks of 104th Brigade but after the 35th Division was taken out of the line on 5 December, Landon and Haldane immediately began combing out men of “low physical and moral standard” from all the brigades. [330]  On 18 December Landon informed his brigadiers that it was, “GOC’s wish that in re-organising the division ‘Bantam’ standard must be disregarded for good and all.”[331] Haldane wanted a bigger “rubbish heap” of bantams than he suspected Allenby might permit, so he stage managed the inspection:

“The men who had been combed out were therefore drawn up in a line by companies along some steeply sloping ground and care was taken that the army commander, who was not lacking in inches, should view them from above and not below. On the flank of certain companies were disposed a few files of tall cavalrymen… The Bantams looked at from above seemed more the dimensions of young chickens than dwarf poultry. Only one contretemps occurred which almost upset my carefully arranged plan, when one of the brigade commanders, who had been with the division from the time of its arrival in France when it was at its best, failed to support my selections, and when asked by Allenby his opinion of human bantams began to praise them. Before he committed himself too deeply he got a gentle reminder by a kick on the shins that he was spoiling sport.”[332]

On 21 December it was recorded 2,784 soldiers were classed as unfit to serve in the trenches.[333]  Some bantams were retained but as a division, they ceased to exist. All that remained was to have blame for the demise of the bantam division firmly associated with the rank and file, an exercise that was accomplished by the capital courts martial and the otherwise gratuitous execution of three NCOs.

11) Executions

The execution of the NCOs was well chronicled by Private Albert Rochester, an unwilling participant in the choreography that prefaced the army’s ultimate disposal of three of General Landon’s mental and physical “degenerates”. Rochester recalled:

“In the morning, after a wash and a scanty meal of biscuits and “pozzy” [jam], three of the men, all NCO’s, were ordered out through the hole [in the wall of the outhouse], and escorted by a squad of military police armed with revolvers, transferred to a more isolated cell.

‘Come out, you!’ ordered the corporal of the guard to me. I crawled forth. It was snowing heavily. ‘Stand there!’ he said, pushing me between two sentries. ‘Quick march!’ and away we went, not, as I dreaded, to my first taste of ‘pack-drill’ but out and up the long street to an R.E. dump.[334] There the police corporal handed in a ‘chit’ whereupon three posts, three ropes, and a spade were given to me to carry back. Our return journey took us past the guardroom, up a short hill, until we reached a secluded spot surrounded by trees.

‘Drop ‘em there!’ ordered the corporal. After waiting about an hour, and officer and two police sergeants rode up. Certain measurements were made in the snow after which I was ordered to dig three holes at stipulated distances apart.

The next three scenes I shall present very briefly: They do not make good reading; they may hurt your eyes.

Scene 1 is a French village behind the British lines on an intensely cold January night. A heavy mantle of snow covers the earth; overhead, a steely moon.[335] The hour is near midnight, and in the distance is heard the incessant thunder of the guns.

Down the street there comes a file of soldiers, with rifles at the slope and bayonets gleaming in the moonlight.

They wheel into the yard of the farm allocated to the military police, and are promptly ordered into military formation. Ten minutes later a luxurious car arrives with four British officers.

More orders; then from a barn close at hand emerge three handcuffed men who are led before the company. the senior officer pompously unrolls a document, and by the aid of a flashlamp read the confirmation of the death sentence, and the decrees they be shot at dawn.

A gasp from one poor trembling victim, the other two remain stiff and impassive. The officer quickly rolls up his papers and makes for the car, and the soldiers march away.

Scene two opens upon a piercingly cold dawn; a crowd of brass hats, the medical officer, and three firing parties. Three stakes a few yards apart, and a ring of sentries around the woodland to keep the curious away.

The motor ambulance arrives conveying the doomed men. Manacled and blindfolded they are helped out and tied up to the stakes. Over each man’s heart is placed an envelope.

At the sign of command the firing parties, twelve to each, align their rifles on the envelopes. The officer in charge holds his stick aloft, and as it falls 36 bullets usher the souls of three Kitchener’s men to the great unknown. The aim of the firing party is not quite steady. The medical officer quickly examines each victim, gives a sign to the officer, who with his revolver completes the ghastly work.

Scene 3. The same morning in County Durham. Two workmen’s cottages. Tenants away in France. half a dozen bairns trooping downstairs ask of two weary mothers: ‘Any letters from daddy this morning, Mum!’[336]

As a military prisoner I helped clear away the traces of that triple murder. I took the posts down - they were used to cook the next morning’s breakfast for the police; the ropes were used in the stables.

The ambulance conveyed the dead bodies back to the barn, where they lay pending completion of burial arrangements (the British bigwigs must needs bungle a burial!): I helped carry those bodies towards their last resting place; I collected all the blood-soaked straw and burnt it.

Acting upon police instructions I took all their belongings from the dead men’s tunics (discarded before being shot). A few letters, a pipe, some fags, a photo.

I could tell you of how the police guffawed at the loving terms of good cheer from the dead men’s wives; of their silence after reading one letter from a little girl to ‘dear Daddy’; of the blood-stained snow that horrified the French peasants; of the chaplain’s confession that braver men he had never met than those three men he prayed with just before the fatal dawn.”[337]

12) Conclusion:

Only one of the executed men’s final letters to their family has come to light. Sergeant Stones wrote it on a couple of pages torn from an army notebook and addressed to his sister, Isabel. It was dated 15 December and decorated with fifty kisses, he wrote:

"I am sending out a few lines to say I am going on all right. I've had no time to write before. It's not like been (sic) at home to write a few lines. It will soon be Christmas and I hope you all enjoy yourselves. I only wish I had been at home to make you all happy. I had a letter from Jack and he tells me they are going to make the men a present.[338] I hope they do not forget me this time, they did last Christmas. Well, then tell the little nut that his Uncle Will is asking after him and I wish you a very happy Christmas and a brilliant New Year.[339] From your loving brother Will. Goodbye and God bless you all. Sorry I have no more [writing paper]."[340]

The next communication about her husband that reached Elizabeth Stones, informed her of his death. From whom it was sent remains unclear, for the memorial card she arranged to have printed referred to him having been killed in action on 13 January. However, the truth about his fate was brutally and directly communicated to her in a letter from the War Office that probably reached her about a week after the executions had taken place. The War Officer letter candidly told her of his offence and the date when he was shot.[341] Six months later, payment of the Army’s dependent’s allowance ceased and because Will Stones had been executed, Elizabeth was not entitled to a pension.

Her predicament had been bad enough in February 1915, when she persuaded Isabel to write a letter to officials, begging for some money with which to support herself and the two children but six months after Will’s execution she would have been completely destitute and their children were suffering abuse from their schoolmates. Fortunately, a fellow collier and good friend of Will’s, Arthur Jones had promised to look after Elizabeth and the children in the event of Will’s death. As good as his word, on 6 October 1917 Arthur married Elizabeth and they later moved away from County Durham. The Stones family, stigmatised and shamed by the taint of cowardice, expunged Will from their memories.[342] The War Office dealt no less harshly with the widow of Peter Goggins and John MacDonald’s wife and children, though nothing is known about what subsequently happened to them.[343] 

In general, the War Office did not enjoy a reputation for generosity when dealing with soldiers’ dependents and with good cause they had been sharply criticised in August 1916 by Sylvia Pankhurst, the British socialist and feminist. She observed:

“When a man joins the Army he enters into a strange bondage, a subtle form of slavery, into which he takes his wife and children, and in which neither he nor they have power to claim any rights. At any moment the rule which govern the man’s service and the conditions promised to his dependents may be changed, and at no time can he or they rely that existing rule will be carried out. Indeed the rules are most constantly and shamelessly broken where they should operate for the benefit of soldiers and their relatives, but are enforced with cast iron severity where they are detrimental and cause hardship, privation, and punishment to the defenceless human beings concerned.”[344]

The Army and War Office officials’ refusal to surrender to compassion by extending war pensions to the executed men’s dependents provoked public outrage. After a nationwide campaign on behalf of the widow of Private Harry McDonald, headed by Keighley Board of Guardians, the War Office was compelled by the War Cabinet to allow executed men’s dependent’s to the same financial entitlements as those of soldiers killed under other circumstances.[345]

It took Britain a decade before the death penalty for most military offences was abandoned. Until the 1990’s all the First World War capital courts martial proceedings were kept secret but when they were finally made available for independent scrutiny it regenerated public unease about the executions. A vigorous campaign to secure posthumous pardons for the executed developed in Britain, Canada and New Zealand. In Britain, proposals to enact posthumous pardons for the executed men (other than murderers and mutineers) were resisted by Conservative and New Labour governments. Ministers maintained that there was insufficient evidence to overturn the original verdicts but conceded the executed men could be regarded as “victims of war.” [346]

In September 2000, the New Zealand government granted posthumous pardons to those who were executed in France and Flanders and in 2001, the Canadian government added the names of those executed for desertion and cowardice during the war to the Book of Remembrance at Parliament Hill.[347]

The sentiments that informed the New Zealanders’ decision also led to the creation in Britain of a memorial corner for the executed men at the National Arboretum. War memorials and regimental rolls of honour admitted the executed men’s names long before such gestures were conceded by John Reid, when Armed Forces Minister and the families of the executed men, at the invitation of the Royal British Legion, now participate in annual Armistice Day ceremonies. These gestures of reconciliation and acceptance have eased the pain of the executed men’s families but infuriated some ex-military officers, defence college lecturers, members of the Royal United Services Institute, the British Commission for Military History, Conservative politicians and irritated a couple or so New Labour ministers.[348]

Until 2006 there appeared to be little prospect of any resolution to controversy that was been generated by the incident at King Crater on 26 November 1916 - or for that matter, any of the other executions that were sanctioned by the British Army. It was not only because injustice remained an issue of enduring interest but also because the generals executed so many soldiers from loving families with long memories. However, in 2006 Prime Minister Tony Blair’s administration granted a generic pardon to soldiers that had been executed for military offences during the First World War. The decision was partially prompted by years of dogged lobbying by Andrew Mackinlay, the condemned men’s families and supporters of the Shot at Dawn campaign, as well as the New Zealand and Canadian governments’ remedial initiatives. Diplomatic overtures by the Republic of Ireland were also significant but it was probably the demand for a judicial review by Gertie Batstone, the daughter of Private Harry Farr that proved decisive.

With support from senior legal advocates, she challenged the British government’s refusal to grant a posthumous pardon for her father. The High Court judge accepted that Harry had been found guilty of cowardice by the court martial. He also conceded Harry there was a reasonable possibility that Harry was suffering from shellshock when he was arrested for cowardice.

The judge lacked constitutional authority to force the government to change its mind but he ruled the Ministry of Defence had to explain the process by which it had concluded Harry did not deserve a pardon. In other words, had the MOD been fair when it examined the evidence used by the court martial to condemn Harry? The military law of 1881, which was in force when Harry was court martialled did not compel the court to inflict a death penalty – the death penalty was not mandatory, it had been a matter of choice. In order to prevent unnecessary delay by the MOD, the judge declared a deadline for the response. The MOD was given a few weeks in which to prove that it been fair, that it had conducted a genuine enquiry about Harry’s case before formally refusing to grant a posthumous pardon.

Tony Blair and his Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne recognized the government was in a very difficult position: Other countries had offered apologies and granted posthumous pardons; the British media and public opinion was generally sympathetic to posthumous pardons being granted. Also the Foreign Office and Northern Ireland Office may have considered that a posthumous pardon might assist the peace process in Northern Ireland and dialogue with the Republic of Ireland.

Finally, even if the Ministry of Defence managed to satisfy the High Court judge that Harry Farr had quite correctly been denied a pardon – it would not solve a bigger problem. The SAD campaign and the executed men’s families had a cab rank of kindred cases to submit demands for judicial review and the lawyers of the Minister of Defence would have to contest and win every one. 

However, the Ministry of Defence never had to respond to the judge because Des Browne announced that a conditional pardon would be granted to all the men convicted of military offences, except for the murderers. In October and November 2006, Amendment 177 (a) to the Annual Army Act 2007 was approved by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and given the Royal Assent.

The terms of the conditional pardon stated that the executed men did not deserve to be executed, that they were victims of war, not military injustice. So, the original judgments of the military courts martial were not overturned, the executed men remained guilty and the families were not going to be presented with the dead men’s war medals.

It was a compromise, a generic semi-pardon. The soldiers remain cowards and deserters but the government was sorry they were killed by the war. The Irish government and some families were content with the conditional pardon; others were very deeply unsatisfied with the outcome. As for the late Tom Stones, great nephew of Willie Stones and myself, we reckoned the bronze metal statue of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig deserved to be melted down and recycled to create commemorative medals for the descendants of the men that he ordered to be executed.

Article by Julian Putkowski 

This is the revised and updated account of an original narrative that was translated into French by Yves Bufftaut and published in a two-part work:

Arras, 26 novembre 1916, les fusillés de King Crater. II, L'incident de king crater et les cours martiales (Louviers, Ysec, 2002)


Further Reading:  

Discipline in the BEF: An analysis of executions in British Divisions 1914-1918

Each One a Pocket Hercules: The Bantam Experiment and the case of the 35th Division


[1] Before the war, unsuccessful efforts were made by right wing politicians promote compulsory military service. See, A.J.A. Morris (1984) The Scaremongers (London, RKP), pp. 224-248.

[2] The Territorial Army were part-time volunteers whose duties were usually limited to home service. Kitchener’s call to arms was publicised on 7.8.14.

[3]  R.J.Q Adams & P. Poirier (1987) The Conscription Controversy in Great Britain 1900-1918 (London, Macmillan), p. 60.

[4]  G.J. DeGroot (1996) Blighty – British Society in the era of the Great War (London, Longman), p. 47; see also: I.O. Andrews (1921) The Economic Effects of the World War on Women and Children (Oxford, OUP), ch. 3; A.L. Bowley  (1921) Prices and Wages in the United Kingdom 1914-1920 (Oxford, Clarendon Press).

[5]  S. Pankhurst (1932) The Home Front (London, Hutchinson), p. 47.

[6]  Times, 12.9.14.

[7] See: Letter: T.B. Thompson to G.G.M. James, Durham Chronicle, 23.2.17.

[8] War Office (WO) (1914) Royal Warrant for the Pay, Promotion and Non-effective Pay of the Army 1914, sec. 13 (1260-4).

[9] J. Winter (1985) The Great War and the British People (London, Macmillan), pp. 50 – 53.

[10] On the recruiting boom, see P. Simkins (1988) Kitchener’s Men (Manchester, MUP), pp. 49 –78.

[11] In mid-October the WO reduced the minimum height requirement to 5 feet 5 inches (Durham Chronicle 16.10.14) and by July 1915 it was 5 feet 2 inches. K. Grieves, (1988) The Politics of Manpower 1914 – 1918 (Manchester, MUP), p.12.

[12] S. Allinson (1981) The Bantams (London, Howard Baker Press), pp. 38 – 9. Bigland’s own dynamic account assigns himself a possibly over-generous personal role in establishing the first two bantam battalions. The War Office originally sanctioned the recruitment of the first bantam battalion in September 1914. Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 3A, op. cit., p. 57.

[13] A. Crookenden (1939) History of the Cheshire Regiment in the Great War (Chester, Crookenden), pp. 346-7.

[14] 15th Bn. Cheshire Regiment was raised on 18.11.14 (Bigland, op. cit., states 30.11.14); 16th Bn. was raised on 3.12.14. E.A. James (1978) British Regiments 1914 – 1918 (London, Samson Books), p. 66.

[15] No bantam battalions were raised in Ireland.

[16] See: R. Douglas, ‘Voluntary enlistment in the First World War and the work of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee’, Journal of Modern History, vol. 42 (4), 1970.

[17] The Durham Parliamentary Recruiting Committee (PRC) was based in West Hartlepool. Eight months later, after the 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry had been taken over by the army authorities, the WO formally thanked Durham PRC. Stanley News, 7.10.15.

[18] The attack took place on 16.12.15. In all, 119 people were killed, including 5 of the 18th Bn., of whom 11 also featured amongst the 300 who were wounded by the 1500 shells discharged by the German warships Derrflinger, Von der Tann and Blucher. W.D. Lowe (1920) 18th Durham Light Infantry (Oxford, OUP), pp. 5 – 8.

[19] Viscount Midleton had quoted statistics during a House of Lords debate, suggesting that recruitment had been comparatively low in areas like Northumberland and Durham. House of Lords Debates 1915, XVIII, col. 351.

[20] Durham Chronicle, 5.3.19.

[21] After 1913, John Sheen maintains the demand for steel to build ships had declined and industrial disruption in August, September and October 1914 had left colliery companies with surplus stocks of coal, so output had been cut. However, of more immediate significance was the war-related curtailment of imported Baltic timber for pit props, cancellation of overseas orders and bad weather. ”Pit props from Sweden”, Dundee Evening Telegraph, 26.2.1915, p.2;  “Boats”, Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 20.1.1915, p.10.

[22] Cocken Hall is close to the River Wear, 5 ½ kilometres North East of Durham.

[23] Lt. Colonel Charles Mordaunt Fitzgerald had retired from the Indian Army in 1904. Hart’s Annual Army List, 1915; Monthly Army List, June 1915.

[24] The Artillery, Engineers and Pioneers of 35th Division were not composed of bantams. Masham Hall is circa 13 kilometres North-West of Ripon, Yorkshire.

[25] The British offensive at Neuve Chapelle (10-12.3.15) produced an advance of one  kilometre at a cost of 12,000 casualties.

[26] O’Donnell (born 1862), had originally been commissioned in the West Yorkshire Regiment.

[27] H.O’Donnell, (1912) Catechism on Field Infantry Training (London, Gale & Polden); (1912, 1914, 1915) Lecture Series (for Army Officers), (Aldershot, Gale & Polden).

[28] 35th Division Headquarters was established at Marlborough (23 August), moved to Chiseldon (14.9.15) and Cholderton (11.10.15). Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 3A, op. cit., p. 57. About military camps on Salisbury Plain, see N.D.G. James, (1987) Plain Soldiering (Salisbury, Hobnob Press).

[29] Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 3A, op. cit., p. 57.

[30] Ibid.. The abrupt change of destination occurred immediately after Lloyd George became Prime Minister (5.12.15) and reflected the strategic priorities of Sir Douglas Haig, who had been formally appointed Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (12.12.15).

[31] On Haking, see: P. Warner (1976) The Battle of Loos (London, William Kimber), pp. 22-23.

[32] Kitchener expressed satisfaction with the division but only had time to witness the march past of 104th and 105th Brigades. WO 95/2468 War Diary, HQ, General Staff, 35 Division, 11.2.16.

[33] e.g.  Allinson, op. cit., p.87.

[34] Public Record Office (PRO), Kew,  WO 95/45 War Diary, GHQ, Director General, Medical Services, January-December 1916. Extract from report concerning the 35th Division, 31.1.16.

[35] WO 95/2468, op. cit., 7.3.16.

[36] G. Coppard (1969) With a machine gun to Cambrai (London, HMSO), p. 58.

[37] On the “quiet front”, see T. Ashworth (1980) Trench Warfare 1914-1918:The Live and Let Live System (London, MacMillan), pp. 17-18.

[38] WO 95/2470, Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General. HQ, 35th Division, 14.3.16.

[39] WO 95/2468, op. cit., 13.3.16. At the time, 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry and the remainder of 106th Brigade were temporarily attached to 19th Division. The mine explosion on 14.3.16 killed one man and wounded 16 others. PRO, WO 95/2490 War Diary: 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry; WO 95/2095, HQ 20 Division, March 1916.

[40] WO95/2468, op. cit., 24.3.16. The 50-strong raid by 17th Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers was terminated after the raiders were detected and forced to retire by enemy machine gun fire.

[41] WO 95/2468, op. cit., March-June 1916.

[42] B. Rawling (1992) Surviving Trench Warfare (Toronto, University of Toronto Press), p. 48.

[43] Of these circa half involved men from other battalions. PRO, WO 95/2470, op cit.,   War Diary, 23rd Bn. Manchester Regiment, 8-9.5.16..

[44] Between January and April 1916, similar difficulties were also being experienced by the 40th Division, which had been compelled to abandon the all-bantam status of four of its twelve bantam battalions. Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 3A, op. cit., p. 106.

[45] The first Conscription Act (27.1.16) was confined to unmarried men and widowers, a second act (25.5.16) extended conscription to include married men. For a brief summary of these laws and subsequent legislation, see: C. Braithwaite (1995) Conscientious Objection to compulsion under the Law (York, York Sessions), pp. 131 – 134.

[46] Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 3A, op. cit., p. 52

[47] PRO WO 95/885, War Diary, A. & Q., X1 Corps, 11.5.16.

[48] Op. cit., JAG, Registers, WO 213/7 – 9.

[49] Army Act. Sec. 40, Manual of Military Law, 1914, p. 412. WO 213/9, Judge Advocate General (JAG), Register of Field General Courts Martial, pp. 59, 60. On 14 May, an FGCM in 106th Brigade sentenced a soldier to 56 months Imprisonment with Hard Labour for disobedience., ibid., p. 60.

[50] PRO WO 71/473, Field General Court Martial: J. Archibald.

[51] The third, most junior member of the court was Lieutenant J.K. Thomson, 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry.

[52] The two were: Private Arthur Dale, 13th Bn. Royal Scots, executed for murder 3.2.16,WO 71/ 451: Written Proceedings, FGCM, Privates A. Dale and Arthur Robinson, 9th Bn. Northumberland Fusiliers, executed on 10.5.16 for desertion. The latter’s defending officer was allowed 30 minutes in which to prepare the case for the defence, WO 71/475: Written Proceedings, FGCM, Private A.H. Robinson. Of men executed during the war 85% were undefended. 

[53] Ibid., Evidence: Sergeant Francis Carrie, 17th Bn. Royal Scots. The trenches at Ferme du Bois were about a kilometre to East of La Couture (North-East of Bethune).

[54] Ibid., Evidence: Private Alex Forrester, 17th Bn. Royal Scots.

[55] Vieille Chapelle is circa 3 kilometres North West of La Couture.

[56] Ibid., Evidence: Lance Corporal William Johnstone, 17th Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers.

[57] Ibid., Evidence: Regimental Sergeant Major Ernest Martin, 17th Bn. Royal Scots.

[58] Ibid., Defence Statement: Private James Archibald.

[59] Ibid., Private J. Archibald: Conduct Sheet, A.F.B. 122. It is quite possible that Archibald would have been fatigued due to the stress generated by Field Punishment No.1 (F.P. No.1). On F.P No.1, see A. Baxter (1939) We Will Not Cease (London, Gollancz), pp. 103-110;, PRO, WO 32/5460 Enquiry into Field Punishment No. 1, Memo: Brade, WO to all GOC-in-C, Abroad, 12.1.1917. Alec Graham Scougal MA (Classics) was an Edinburgh schoolmaster promoted from the ranks.

[60] Ibid., Memo: Captain L.H. Ross, Staff Captain, 106th Brigade to Officer Commanding, 17th Bn. Royal Scots, 24.5.16.

[61] Ibid., Memo: (signed) Lieutenant Colonel R.D. Cheales, 20.5.16.

[62] Ibid., Memo: H.O'Donnell,106th  Brigade to H.Q., 35th Division, 25.5.16. Three men from the battalion had been court martialled for misbehaviour or insubordination between 1.5.16 and 12.5.16, WO 213/9, pp. 20, 22, 53.

[63] Ibid., Memo: Pinney, H.Q., 35th Division to H.Q.XI Corps, 27.5.16. Immediately above Pinney’s addendum, an unsigned note states, “ The President & Prosecutor have been informed that the evidence of R.S.M. Martin should not have been accepted in its present form; Capt. Barry should have been called to give evidence as to the finding of the rifle.”

[64] Ibid., Memo: Haking  Lieutenant General, Commanding XI Corps to 1st  Army H.Q., 29.5.16. A telegram, dated 26.5.16 from Scougal to 106th Brigade H.Q. states, “Archibald… according to his Attestation Paper is 19 years 355 days. He enlisted on 8.6.15 and gave his age as 19 years.”

[65] Ibid., Memo: C.C. Monro, General, Commanding 1st Army, H.Q. 1st Army to Adjutant General (A.G.), G.H.Q., General Headquarters, 30.5.16.

[66]  Ibid., Schedule, p. 2.

[67] Captain Montagu Turner, Assistant Provost Marshal, 35th Division supervised the execution and Lt. S.W. Fisher, R.A.M.C., signed Archibald’s death certificate. Ibid., Memo: Captain A.B. Beauman, D.A.A. & Q.M.G. 35th Division, 2.6.16; Death Certificate: Pte. J. Archibald. See also: Commonwealth War Graves Commission (C.W.G.C.) Register: Beuvry Communal Cemetery Extension, Northern France, No.25531 Pte. J. Archibald, 17th Battalion, The Royal Scots.

[68] PRO WO 95/ 2468, War Diary, H.Q., 35th Division, June 1916.

[69]  M. Bacon and D. Langley (1977) Blast of War: Nottingham’s Bantams (Nottingham, Sherwood Press), pp. 24-5; PRO, WO 95/2468, op. cit., Lieutenant Colonel R.N.S. Gordon, First Report on Operations on night of 30 May 1916, 31.5.16; WO 95/2485 War Diary, H.Q., 105th Brigade, 30.5.16-1.6.16 & Appendices. See also, Cox & Co. (1919) List of British Officers taken prisoner in the various theatres of war between August, 1914 and November 1918 (London, Cox & Co.), p. 79

[70] A first hand account of the raid may be found in Allinson, op. cit., 125-128.

[71] Ibid., 11.6.16.

[72] WO 95/2470, op. cit., casualty returns for June 1916.

[73] Figures derived from daily casualty returns, op. cit., WO 95/2470, War Diary, A.A.& Q.M.G., 35th Division.

[74] WO 95/2472 War Diary, Assistant Director, Medical Services, 35th Division, Sickness & Wounded, monthly returns, February – June 1916 gross total (wounded and sick) for the period is circa 3,090.

[75] Maltz Horn Farm is situated mid-way between the villages of Guillemont and Hardecourt-aux-Bois.

[76] WO 95/2468, op. cit., Report: 16th  Chesh., Trones Wood-Waterlot Farm, 16-19 July, 22.7.16. Waterlot Farm, mid-way between the villages of Longueval and Guillemont was actually a ruined sugar refinery that had been fortified by the Germans.

[77] Ibid. , cites 244; WO95/2470, Casualties, 17.7.16 – 20.7.16 yields the higher figure.

[78] WO 95/2468, op. cit., O.C. 105th Brigade, Report on Attack by 15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters, 20.7.16, 23.7.16. Arrow Head Copse, South-West of Guillemont, is located to the East of Trones Wood.

[79] Ibid., p.8.

[80] Ibid.,

[81] Ibid.,  p.2.

[82] Ibid., p.3.

[83] WO 95/2468, op. cit., O.C., 105th Brigade, Report on attack by 15th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, 23.7.16.

[84] WO 95/2470, op. cit., 20.7.16.

[85] Ibid.

[86] WO 95/2468, op. cit., 22-23.7.16.

[87] WO 95/2482, War Diary, 104th  Bde. , 22.7.16 – 23.7.16. See also WO 95/2468, Appendix, July 1916,  Report on Operations 22.7.16 – 23.7.16.

[88] WO 95/2470, op. cit., 22.7.16.

[89] WO 95/2468, op. cit.. H. O’Donnell, Short Account of Operations of 10th Infantry Brigade, 13.7.16 – 31.7.16.

[90] WO 95/2470: War Diary, 35th Division, A. & Q., Casualties, August 1916.

[91] Ibid.,, 18th Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment, Casualties 13 - 31.7.16.

[92] Delville Wood, situated immediately to the east of Longueval, was known to the British rank and file as “Devil’s Wood”. The 3,153-strong South African Brigade, which was wholly composed of white troops, went into action on 14 July. When it was withdrawn on 20 July, it could muster only 778 men.

[93] WO 95/2470, op. cit., Casualties, July 1916.

[94] WO 71/519, Field General Court Martial: Pte. H. Flynn. Written Proceedings, Evidence: Sgt. Thomas Minto, 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry.

[95] Ibid.

[96]  WO 71/518, Field General Court Martial: Pte. J. McQuade.

[97] WO 95 2470, op. cit., Casualties, July 1916; WO 95/2470, op. cit., Sick Returns 1.7.16 – 31.6.16

[98] WO 95/2468, op. cit., H.O’Donnell, 106th Brigade  to HQ, 35th Division, Operations 13.7.116 – 31.7.16, 3.8.16

[99] WO 95/2468, O.C., 105th Brigade: Report on Attack by 15 Battalion, Sherwood Foresters 20.7.16, 23.7.16, pp. 1, 6.

[100]  e.g. WO 95/2468, op. cit., Report: 16th  Chesh., Trones Wood-Waterlot Farm, 16-19 July, 22.7.16

[101] PRO WO 213/11, Judge AdvocateGeneral, Register of Field General Courts Martial, p. 78; 2.8.16; WO 71/ 489 F.G.C.M., Corporal J. Wilton.

[102] Ibid., Schedule.

[103] Ibid., Evidence: Sergeant J. Casserley, 15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters.

[104] Ibid., Evidence: Private A.W. Daniels, 15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters.

[105] Ibid., Evidence: Private J. Hughes, 15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters.

[106] Ibid., Defence Statement: Corporal J. Wilton.

[107] Ibid.

[108] Ibid., Sentence.

[109] Ibid., Memo.: R.N.S. Gordon, O.C. 15th  Bn. Sherwood Foresters to O.C., 105th Infantry Brigade, 2.8.16.

[110] Ibid., Memo.: A. Marindin, O.C. 105th Infantry Brigade, 2.8.16.

[111] Ibid., Memos.: Pinney, O.C. 35th Division, 9.8.16; Cavan, O.C. XII Corps, 11.8.16; Rawlinson, 4th Army H.Q., 11.8.16.

[112] Ibid., Death certificate: Corporal J. Wilton. 5.10 a.m.. “Death was instantaneous”, (signed) Lieutenant J. Mackenzie Miller, R.A.M.C. , 17.8.16. Captain Hamilton, Assistant Provost Marshal, 35th Division commanded the firing squad.

[113] B.L.P.E..S.: H. Dalton Papers; Diary, vol. 1, 26.8.16. Dalton later became a Labour Party M.P., Head of the Political Warfare Executive during the Second World War and served as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1945-1947).

[114]  WO 95/2486, op. cit., War Diary, H.Q., 35th Division.

[115] i.e. heavy artillery.

[116] WO 95/2485, War Diary, H.Q., 105th Brigade, 20.8.16; Appendix: Report on Operations between 19 and 23 August 1916.

[117] Ibid.

[118] i.e. trench mortars.

[119] Op. cit., WO 95/2485.

[120] WO 95/2468, op. cit., 20.8.16.

[121] WO 95/ 2470, op. cit., 15.8.16 – 28.8.16.

[122] ibid, 22.8.16; op. cit., WO 95/2485, Casualties..

[123] ibid.

[124] P. Gibbs (1920) Now It Can Be Told (New York, Harper), ch. 17; WO 95/2484 War Diary, 23rd Bn. Manchester Regiment, 20-21.8.16.

[125] WO 95/2470, op. cit., Casualties, 20th  Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers: 9 dead, 40 wounded, 2 missing; 23rd  Manchester Regiment: 17 wounded, 22.8.16.

[126] Davson (1926) History of the 35th Division in the Great War (London, Sifton Praed), op. cit., pp. 50–51.

[127] Ibid., p. 52.

[128] Total derived from, WO95/24790, op.cit., War Diary, DAA & QMG, 35th Division.

[129] H. Dalton Papers, op. cit., 26.8.16.

[130] Haig Diary, 4.9.16, cited in Blake, op. cit., p. 163.

[131] WO 71/518, op. cit., Evidence: Sergeant Thomas Watson, 18th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry. The rail head at Doullens was one of the key evacuation points for wounded men from the Gommecourt area.

[132] M. Middlebrook (1975 edn.) The First Day on the Somme (London, Fontana Collins), pp. 257-258; 284-285.

[133] J.A.L. Haldane (1948), Soldier’s Saga  (Edinburgh, Blackwood), pp. 333-334; R. Blake (ed.) (1952), The Private Papers of Douglas Haig 1914-1919 (London, Eyre & Spottiswoode), pp. 158-159.

[134] For details, see P. Chielens and J. Putkowski (2002), Unquiet Graves (London, Francis Boutle Publishers)

[135]H.M. Davson (1926) Memoirs of the Great War (Aldershor, Gale & Polden), p.56-57.

[136] The 24.5 cm. heavy minenwerfer, fired a 100 kg. projectile. Depending on the model, they had a maximum range of between 600 metres and a kilometre.

[137] Ibid., p. 63, 64.

[138] WO 95/2468, War Diary, op. cit., 11-14.9.16; Davson (1926), op. cit., p. 60.

[139] J.A.L. Haldane (1948), Soldier’s Saga (Edinburgh, Blackwood), pp. 333-334.

[140] Op. cit., Rochester.

[141] I.W.M., P443, op. cit., p.26.

[142] Ibid., p. 61.; Davson (1926), op. cit., pp. 60-62.

[143] Ibid, p. 63.

[144] WO 95/2482, War Diary, 104th Brigade, op. cit., 26-28.9.16.

[145] WO 95/2472, op cit., Sick Evacuated to CCS from 35th Division, 1.9.16-30.9.16;

[146] H.M. Davson (1964), op. cit., p. 60.

[147] WO 95/2468, op. cit. 7-9.10.16; WO 95/ 2489, op. cit., 6-8.10.16.

[148] Ibid.,

[149] Ibid, 11-12.10.16. The periscope was destroyed on 13.10.16; Dunn, op. cit., p. 28 maintains that in J4 sub-sector, he once encountered two German spies, masquerading as British officers.

[150] WO 95/2468, op. cit., 18-22.10.16; Davson (1926), op. cit., p. 67.

[151] Ibid., Raid of 15 Sherwood Foresters, 25.10.16.

[152] Private James Williamson arrived in Arras at the end of March 1916 and was stationed in J Sector for a year. Imperial War Museum, Lambeth, James Williamson MM (untitled memoirs),  Papers IWM: P443, p. 52. See also, pp. 20, 31.

[153] Haldane, op. cit., p. 335.

[154] WO 71/518, op. cit., Schedule. On 5 July McQuade had been found guilty of disobeying an officer and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment with hard labour, subsequently suspended. O’Donnell reviewed the suspension on 6 October.

[155] Ibid.

[156] Ibid., Evidence: Corporal Andrew Noble, 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry; Sergeant John Harvey, 17th Bn. Royal Scots, both attached to 106th Trench Mortar Battery.

[157] Ibid., Evidence: Private William Cruden, 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry. The deceased N.C.O. was Corporal Young, 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry.

[158] Ibid.

[159] Ibid.

[160] See also: G. Oram (1998), Worthless men – Race, eugenics and the death penalty in the British Army during the First World War (London, Francis Boutle Publishers).

[161] WO 71/518, op. cit., Pte. John McQuade: Form AFB. 122.

[162] Ibid., Form W 3104: (signed) R.P. Hills, Captain, D.A.A.G., for General Commanding, 4th Army, 21.7.16.

[163]  WO 95/ 2468, op. cit.,15-31.8.16.

[164] Ibid., Memo: R.R. Lawrenson, Lieutenant Colonel, 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry to O.C., 106th Brigade, 13.10.16.

[165] Ibid., Memo: H. O’Donnell Brigadier General, 106th  Brigade  to O.C., 35th Division, 13.10.16.

[166] The other Highlander was Private M. Dowie, who was also court martialled on 10.10.16 and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment with Hard Labour. His sentence was subsequently suspended. WO 213/12, op. cit., p. 15.

[167] WO 213/11, op. cit., pp. 160, 171 cites: J. Green, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry, tried 24.9.16 (Guilty of Absence: 2 years Hard Labour/Sentence Remitted); Private J. McCaughey, 17th Bn. Royal Scots, tried 29.9.16 (15 years Penal Servitude/Suspended). WO 213/12, op. cit., p. 6 cites: Private H. Barron, 20th Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers, tried 4.10.16 (10 years Penal Servitude, commuted to 5 years/Suspended).

[168] WO 71/518, op. cit., Memo: A.H. Marindin, Brigadier General, commanding 35th Division.

[169] WO 71/518, op. cit, Memo: V. Couper, Major General, VI Corps to Third Army “A”, 17.10.16. Couper was officer commanding 14th Light Division, 7th Corps, also part of 3rd Army.

[170] Ibid, Memo: Headquarters, Third Army. 22.10.16 Adrian Clark Capt. D.A.A.G., Third Army to H.Q., 106th Infantry Brigade, 22.10.16; Routine Orders, 106th Infantry Brigade, 24.10.16.

[171] Ibid., Revision (signed) B.C. Dent, Lieutenant Colonel, President, 25.10.16.

[172] Ibid., Memos: Haldane, Lieutenant General, 6th Corps, to Third Army A, 28.10.16; Allenby, Commanding Third Army to Adjutant General, Headquarters, 30.10.16. Corns and Hughes-Wilson, op. cit., p. 157, correctly state that Haig crossed out his confirmatory signature on Schedule (10.10.16) but they wrongly conclude there is no document in the file confirming the sentence on McQuade. See Schedule (25.10.16), signed by Haig, 1.11.16.

[173] Ibid, WO 71/518, Memos: (signed) C. Hamilton, A.P.M., 35th Division, 6.11.16; Medical Officer, S. D. Bridge, Lieutenant, RAMC, 6.11.16; No. 5323 Private John McQuade’s grave is in Habarcq Communal Cemetery Extension.

[174] Unless his pre-war military service had been prematurely terminated by the Army (e.g. on grounds of health or fitness), McQuade in 1914 would have been mobilised as a reservist.

[175] WO 154/114, War Diary, Assistant Provost Marshal, H.Q., B.E.F., Lines of Communication, List of Absentees reported to P-M, G.H.Q. up to 10.9.16.  

[176] H. Johnston (1919) Extracts from an Officer’s Diary, 1914-1919 (Manchester, G. Falkner & Sons), cited in Allinson, op. cit., p. 205.

[177] Defendants were given a cursory medical examination prior to their trial but it was only to certify that they were fit to undergo punishment.

[178] Over 90% of those seeking enlistment as soldiers were unemployed. See: Report of the health of the Army for the year 1909, Cd. 5,477, 1911, XLVII, p. 2.

[179] WO 71/ 518, op. cit., Memo: R.R. Lawrenson, Lieutenant Colonel, 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry to O.C., 106th Brigade, 13.10.16.

[180] Ibid., Schedule.

[181] Ibid., Evidence: Sergeant Thomas Minto, 18th  Bn. Highland Light Infantry.

[182] Ibid., Evidence: Acting Sergeant J. Daly,  18th  Bn. Highland Light Infantry.

[183] Ibid., Evidence: Sergeant J. Coats,  18th  Bn. Highland Light Infantry.

[184] Ibid., Evidence: Private. A. Robson, Army Service Corps.

[185] Ibid.

[186] Ibid.

[187] Ibid., Defence.

[188] Ibid.

[189] Ibid.

[190] Only one was serious enough to be dealt with by his battalion commander, for “Using obscene language to an N.C.O.”, on 8.1.16 the latter awarded Flynn 25 days’ Field Punishment.

[191] Ibid.,

[192] Ibid., Evidence: Lieutenant J.C. Barrie, 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry.

[193] Op cit., Flynn.

[194] Ibid., Memo: Captain L.H. Ross, Staff Captain, 106th  Infantry Brigade.

[195] Ibid., Memo: Lieutenant Colonel R. Lawrenson, 18th Bn. Highland Light Infantry to H.Q. 106th Inf. Brigade, 28.10.16.

[196] Ibid., Memo: H.O'Donnell, Brigadier-General, 106th  Brigade to H.Q. 35th Division , 29.10.16.

[197] Ibid., Landon, Major General,35th Division to VI Corps, 30.10.16.

[198] Ibid., Memo: A. Haldane , Lieutenant General, VI Corps  to A.G., HQ,  8.11.16.

[199] Ibid., Memo: Allenby, General, Third Army to A.G., 10.11.16.

[200] Ibid., Schedule, note (signed) C. Hamilton, A.P.M. 35th Division, 15.11.16;  Death Certificate: Pte. H. Flynn, (signed) F.C. Lees, Lt., R.A.M.C., 15.11.16.

[201] WO 95/2482, War Diary, 104th Brigade, 26.11.16; WO 95/2468; 35th Division, Intelligence Summary No.82, noon 25th Nov. to noon 26th Nov., Operations, 26.11.16.

[202] Ibid.

[203] Ibid.

[204] Davson (1964), pp.64-65; WO 95/2485, War Diary, 15th Bn. Sherwood Foresters, Report on Operations, Morning 26th Novbr., 1916, 26.11.16.

[205] Ibid., Report on the Raid carried out by the enemy on J Sector on the night of 25/26th. Nov. 1916.

[206] WO 95/2468, Report on hostile raid on the trenches of the 19th. Durham L.I. on the right of K2 sub-sector on the night of November 25/26th.,1916. (Hereafter Report on Hostile raid)

[207] Ibid.

[208] Ibid.; WO 95/2468, Report on Raid Carried out by the 19th Durham L.I. on the night of 25/26th Nov. 1916.

[209] WO 95/2489, op. cit., War Diary, 106th Brigade, November 1916, Appendix 32, 106th Brigade Order No. 63..

[210] Ibid., Tactical Progress Report, 106th Infantry Brigade, from 12 noon Nov. 25th to 12 noon Nov. 26 1916; WO 95/2468, op. cit., Report on the raid carried out by 19th Durham L.I., etc.; WO 95/2490, War Diary, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry, 26.11.16.

[211] Ibid, Report on hostile raid; WO 71/535, Field General Court Martial: Lance Sergeant J.W. Stones. Written Proceedings, Evidence: Lance Sergeant J.W. Stones.

[212] WO 95/2468, op. cit., Intelligence Summary No.82.

[213] Ibid, Report on hostile raid; WO 71/534, Field General Court Martial: Lance Corporal Peter Goggins et al. Written proceedings, Evidence: Privates Spence and Ritchie.

[214] Ibid., Report on hostile raid .

[215] WO 95/2468, War Diary, H.Q., 35th Division, 26.11.26 Raid of the 19th Durham L.I. on the right of K.2. sub-sector. During May 1916 Greenwell replaced Dent as commander of the 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[216] Ibid.; WO 95/2468, War Diary, H.Q., 35th Division, 26.11.26 Raid of the 19th Durham L.I. on the right of K.2. sub-sector and WO 95/2489, op. cit., Appendix 30: Tactical Progress Report, 106th Infantry Brigade, 12 noon, Nov. 25th to 12 noon Nov. 26th 1916 both refer to only 7 other ranks accompanying the officers into the German trenches.

[217] Ibid.. Raid of the 19th Durham L.I. on the right of K.2. sub-sector adds, “This was vouched for by Lieut. Pearson commanding the covering party and Lieut. Dillon, R.E.”.

[218] Op. cit., WO 95/2468, Raid of the 19th Durham L.I. on the right of  K.2. sub-sector; WO95/2468, op. cit., 35th Division, Intelligence Summary No.82; Davson (1926), op. cit., p. 78.

[219] Ibid.

[220] WO 95/2490, War Diary, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry, op. cit., 26.11.16.

[221] Ibid.

[222]  In WO 95/2468 may be found reports that recount officers’ versions of events on 26.11.16.

[223] One of the N.C.O.s, Lance Corporal Peter Goggins, was serving with X Company, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[224] A.E. Rochester, ‘A Reminiscence of the Great War – for Liberty’, Forward, 15.4.22, p.5. The text was originally published in Railway Review, 3.2.22.

[225] WO 95/2489, War Diary, 106th Brigade, op. cit., 26.11.16.

[226] Davson (1964), op. cit., p.65.

[227] Ibid.

[228] WO 95/2468, op. cit., Report on hostile raid…. Elsewhere, the raiders were estimated to have been 14. Given what is stated about Hopkinson, it appears curious that he was not, like Stones, charged with casting away his arms.

[229] Army Act (1914), s.4 (2).

[230] War Office (1914), Manual of Military Law (London, HMSO), p. 660 includes Specimen Charge No.1, A.A. Sec.4 (2) with the addendum, “When on outlying picquet, and attacked by the enemy, shamefully cast away his rifle, left his picquet, and ran away.”

[231] WO 71/534, op. cit., Schedule; WO 71/534, op. cit., Schedule; WO 213/13, op. cit., pp.

[232] Corns and Hughes-Wilson, op. cit., (p. 162) refer to G.J.B. Riccard, 17 Royal Scots, however WO 71/534 and WO 71/535 refer to Cecil Bampfylde James Riccard (aged 54), Royal Dublin Fusiliers, a Boer War veteran who was Acting Lieutenant Colonel, 1/6th Bn. Essex Regiment. He assumed command of 17th Bn. Royal Scots during December; by the end of January 1917 he had become General Staff Officer (Grade 2), 33rd Division. Davson (1926), op. cit., pp. 94, 104. 17th Bn. Royal Scots was usually commanded by Lieutenant Colonel R.D. Cheales. Bell and Mason held war service commissions.

[233] Ibid., WO 71/535.

[234] WO 213/13, op. cit.. With many other dossiers, Hopkinson’s was destroyed by enemy action during World War 2. PRO 1/387, Letter: G.W. Lambert to Master of the Rolls, 25.10.40.

[235] Ibid.. G.E.D. Warmington (born 1876) was one a family of solicitors from Lee, Kent. He qualified in 1900 and worked at Banks Chambers, Bermondsey. Temporary Second Lieutenant, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry, 1.3.15; Temporary Captain, Y Company 5.6.15; Deputy Assistant Director, Graves Registration and Enquiries, 1.1.20 – 29.3.20.

[236] Ibid, Evidence: Lt. C.W. Howes, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[237] Ibid.. Though in most respects a reliable depiction of sub sector K2 , the sketch can also generate misunderstanding about locations of sentry groups and Stones’ movements, e.g. see Corns and Hughes-Wilson (2001), p. 160.

[238] Ibid.

[239] Ibid., Evidence: Company Sergeant Major Holdroyd; Acting Sergeant James Staff, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[240] Ibid., Evidence: Private J. Pinkney, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[241] Ibid.

[242] Ibid., Evidence: Private R. Foster, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[243] Ibid.

[244] Ibid., Note: From M.O., 19 D.L.I. (signed) G.A. Barss, Capt. RAMC, 23.12.16.

[245] Ibid., Defence Submission, Captain G.E.D. Warmington, 119th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[246] War Office (1914) Manual of Military Law (London, HMSO), pp. 66 – 67 [Ch. VI (45) Number of witnesses requisite.]

[247] Ibid., Defence, Evidence: Lance Sergeant J.W. Stones, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[248] There were two routes by which it was possible to reach Bogey Avenue. Stones infers he went to the company headquarters via Ghost Avenue and Spook Avenue (see sketch map of K2 sub-sector).

[249] Ibid., Defence: G.A. Barss, Captain RAMC.

[250] Ibid.

[251] See WO 95/2482 War Diary 104th Brigade, Circular Memo. 3960/7, 8.11.16 specifically refers to the G.O.C. complaining, “A large number of men in the trenches are deficient of  rifle breech covers.”

[252] On the wet weather and poor visibility, see WO 95/2489, War Diary, 106th Brigade, op. cit., 25.11.16

[253] Ibid., Defence, Evidence: Company Sergeant Major Holdroyd, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[254] Ibid, Defence, Evidence: Captain G.A. Barss, RAMC.

[255] Ibid, Defence: Concluding Statement: Captain G.E.D. Warmington, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[256] Ibid., After Finding: Lieutenant R.M. Middleton, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[257] Ibid., After Finding: Lieutenant C.W. Howes, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[258] Had he been found not guilty, Stones would have immediately been informed of the court’s verdict.

[259] Ibid., Schedule.

[260] War Office (1914) Manual of Military Law (London, HMSO), p.59 [Ch. VI (12) Burden of proof].

[261] e.g. Corns and Hughes-Wilson (2001) op. cit., pp. 166, 168.

[262] Ibid., Memo: Lieutenant Colonel B.C. Dent, 106th Brigade to Headquarters, 35th Division, n.d..

[263] Ibid., Memo: Re. L/Sergt. Stones, (signed) Lieutenant W.J. Oliver, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[264] Ibid., Memo: H.J.S. Landon, Major General, 35th Division to VI Corps, 31.12.16.

[265] Ibid., Memo: Allenby, O.C. 3rd Army, 7.1.17.

[266] Rochester, op. cit.

[267] Ibid., Evidence: Company Sergeant Major D. Austin, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[268] Ibid.

[269] Ibid.

[270] Ibid.

[271] Ibid., Evidence: Second Lieutenant C. Bryce, 17th Bn. Royal Scots.

[272] Ibid.

[273] Pte. J. Kidd, 17th Bn. Royal Scots.

[274] Ibid.

[275] Ibid.

[276] Ibid, Evidence: Private C. Spence, 19th Bn.  Durham Light Infantry.

[277] Ibid.

[278] Ibid.

[279] Ibid.

[280] Ibid., Evidence: Private J. (sic) McDonald, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[281] Ibid.

[282] Ibid.

[283] Ibid., Defence, Evidence: Lance Corporal Peter Goggins, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[284] Ibid.

[285] Ibid.

[286] Ibid.

[287] Ibid., Defence, Evidence: Pte. D. Forrest, 19th  Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[288] Ibid.

[289] Defence, Evidence: Private J. Ritchie, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[290] Ibid.

[291] Ibid.

[292] Ibid., Defence, Evidence: Private

[293] Ibid.

[294] Ibid., Private A. Davies, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[295] Ibid.

[296] Ibid., Defence, Final Submission: Captain G.E.D. Warmington, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[297] Ibid., Schedule.

[298] WO213/7, op. cit., p.168 indicates that a Field General Court Martial at Boesinghem (near Ypres) found Sergeant P. Goggins guilty of Absence Without Leave and he was reduced to the ranks.

[299] Ibid., After Finding: Second Lieutenant R.M. Middleton, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[300] Ibid., After Finding: Captain G.E.D. Warmington, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[301] Ibid., After Finding: Lieutenant W.J. Oliver, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry.

[302] Op. cit., Warmington.

[303] Ibid, Schedule.

[304] Ibid., Memo: Lieutenant W. J. Oliver, O.C. ‘Z’ Coy. to Officer Commanding, 19th Durham L.I., 29.12.16.

[305] Ibid., Memo: O’Donnell, 106th Brigade to Headquarters, 35th Division, 1.1.17

[306] Ibid, Memo: Landon, 35th Division to VI Corps, 3.1.17.

[307]  Ibid., Haldane’s confirmatory remarks, if he made any, are not readily discernible.

[308] Ibid: Schedule.

[309] December 1916 featured the third highest monthly total of the war, exceeded only by September 1917 (142 death sentences) and October 1917 (104 death sentences). Oram (1998), Death Sentences, op cit., pp. 19-65.

[310] Op. cit., WO 213/13.

[311] Ibid.

[312] Ibid.

[313] Ibid.

[314] WO 95/2468, op cit., This does not include J Sector because no courts martial were convened after the enemy raiders had been driven back. J Sector casualties were: Two Other Ranks killed and one wounded.

[315] WO 95/2468 op. cit., 26.11.16 cites one officer wounded, one soldier killed and seven wounded. According to John Sheen, the two soldiers killed on the raid were Privates Phillip Charlton and Henry Lynch.

[316] WO 95/2482, op. cit, 26.11.16; WO 95/2468, op. cit., Report on hostile raid…; WO 95/2470, op. cit., Casualties, 26.11.16 – 28.11.16.

[317] Manual of Military Law, 1914, Part 1, Ch. V (81), p.50 states, “A non-commissioned officer should, as a rule be more severely punished than a private soldier concerned with him in the commission of an offence.”

[318] The other three, all 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry, were convicted of cowardice: Sergeant R. Rumley and Lance Corporals: M. Dempsey, E. Hopkinson, J.W. Richardson. WO 213/13, op. cit..

[319] G. Oram (2000) ”What alternative punishment is there?”: Military Executions during World War One (Open University: Unpub. Phd. Thesis), pp. 103-4.

[320] With regard to Mundy’s death and Stones’ conviction, see: Corns and Hughes-Wilson, p. 168.

[321] Haldane (1948), op. cit., p. 335. See also, copy of Allenby’s 3rd Army Circular, October 1916, National Library of Scotland, Haldane Papers: 20,048,82.

[322] 5th Series, Parliamentary Debates, Lords, 1929-30, vol. 77 (8.4.30 – 4.6.30), 15.4.30, col. 133. Plumer also insisted, wrongly, that only 1% of convicted men had been executed. See also: J. McHugh, “The Labour Party and the Parliamentary Campaign to abolish the Military Death Penalty, 1919-1930”, Historical Journal, 42, 1 (1999), p. 249.

[323] Ibid., cols. 135-6.

[324] WO 95/2472, op. cit., Sick evacuated to CCs from 35th Division, September, October and November 1916.

[325] WO 95/2482 op. cit., Pro Forma attached to Memo: A. Hasted, Lieutenant Colonel, AA & QMG, 35th Division to 104th Brigade, 26.11.16.

[326] Davson (1964), op. cit., p. 65. Regarding inability of men to carry 12 grenades, see: Memo: J.W. Sandilands, Brigadier General, Commanding 104th Infantry Brigade to 35th Division “G”, 1.11.16.


[327] Davson (1964), op. cit., p. 65.

[328] WO 95/2468 op. cit., 35th Division, Intelligence Summary No.81, from noon 24th Nov. to noon 25th Nov., Operations; Intelligence Summary No.82, from noon 25th Nov. to noon 26th Nov., Operations.

[329] WO 95/2468, op. cit., 10.1.17. Bernard Montgomery became a Field Marshal during World War 2.

[330] See, for e.g. Memo: H.W. Snow, AAG for Major General, DAA & QMG, 3rd Army to 6th Corps, 17.11.16 and responses in WO 95/2482 War Diary, 104th Brigade, November 1916, Appendices.

[331] WO 95/2468, op. cit., 5.12.16 – 18.12.16.

[332] Haldane (1948), pp. 335-6.

[333] Ibid., 18.12.16 – 26.12.16.

[334] REs, i.e. Royal Engineers.

[335] WO 95/2468, op. cit., 17.1.17, records 3 inches (7.5 centimetres) of snow covering the ground.

[336] All three were married men but Peter Goggins and his wife did not have any children.

[337] Op. cit., Forward.

[338] Bowden Colliery owners were paternalists who worked miners hard throughout the year but  consoled their workforce with gifts at Christmas.

[339] The 'little nut' , i.e. John, Isabel Stones' son.

[340] Letter: Will Stones to Isabel Stones, 12.12.16. Original in the possession of John's son, Tom Stones

[341] CAB 23/4/279(9), Minutes of the War Cabinet, 21.11.17.

[342] WO 363 First World War, British Army, Personal Service Record (Burnt Documents): Sergeant W. Stones. Letter: I.W. Stones to [Officer Commanding, 19th Bn. Durham Light Infantry?], 15.4.15. I am grateful to Tom Stones for additional information about Elizabeth Stones and her family.

[343] I am grateful to Marina Brewis for information about her uncle, Peter Goggins.

[344] The Woman’s Dreadnought, 12.8.16.

[345]WO 95/514 Written Proceedings, FGCM:  Private Harry McDonald, 12th Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment. He was found guilty of desertion, the confirming officers ignored the court martial’s recommendation to mercy and he was executed at Louvencourt on 4.11.16.  See also: WO 32/3675; Keighley News, 21.1.17, 21.7.17, 1.8.17, 5.1.18.

[346] In 1985 after support for a review had been expressed by the Royal British Legion, a War Pardons Bill was tabled in 1993 by Andrew Mackinlay MP. His proposal attracted over 300 signatures of support from fellow MPs but progress was repeatedly blocked by ministers. Since 1998 over a 130 local councils voted support for such a measure, as did the Scottish Parliament. For further information See:

[347] The enactment of posthumous pardons by the Canadian Government was hampered by the disappearence circa 1919-1920 of the courts martial dossiers of executed Canadian soldiers. For a conservative defence of the Canadian courts martial and critique of the Shot at Dawn campaign, see: T. Iacobelli, (2013) Death or Deliverance: Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War (University of British Columbia Press).

[348] See: J. Putkowski, “Tommyrot: The Shot at Dawn campaign and First World War Revisionism” in M. Howard (ed.) (2008) A Part of History: Aspects of the British Experience of the First World War (London, Continuum), pp. 17-26; D. Johnson (2021) The Last Campaign of World War One 1990-2006 (London, Austin Macauley Publishers); S. Walker (2007) Forgotten Soldiers: the Irishmen Shot at Dawn (Dublin, Gill & Macmillan), pp. 186-203; J. Booth & J. White (2017) He was no Coward: the Harry Farr Story .