Shot at Dawn - The Pardon

Wednesday, 8 November, 2006
The 'Shot at Dawn' memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire, United Kingdom. Every man executed is named on the semi-circle of 'stakes' behind the statue. (Click on image to open)

The Armed Forces Act 2006 received Royal Assent on 8 November 2006. Section 359 of the Act recognised that those executed for military disciplinary offences during the period 4 August 1914 to 11 November 1918 were in fact victims of the First World War and were therefore granted a posthumous pardon. Such disciplinary offences included:

Casting away arms
Sentry sleeping at or quitting his post
Mutiny and sedition
Striking etc a superior officer
Disobedience in defiance of authority
Desertion or attempt etc to desert

Those receiving a posthumous pardon in our antecedent regiments were:

The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers:
Pte J Cassidy
Pte J Heppe (aka R Hope)
Pte T Murphy (aka T Hogan)
Pte J Wisart
Pte J Seymour

The Royal Irish Rifles:Shot at Dawn 1
Rfn J Crozier
Rfn S McBride
Rfn J F McCracken
Lcpl P Sands -
Rfn J Templeton

The Royal Irish Fusiliers:
Pte J Carey
Pte G Hanna

The following poem was written as one long stanza in 1916 by Winifred Mary Letts who had worked as a nurse during the Great War:

The Deserter
There was a man, - don't mind his name,Shot at Dawn 2
Whom Fear had dogged by night and day.
He could not face the German guns
And so he turned and ran away.
Just that - he turned and ran away,
But who can judge him, you or I ?
God makes a man of flesh and blood
Who yearns to live and not to die.
And this man when he feared to die
Was scared as any frightened child,
His knees were shaking under him,
His breath came fast, his eyes were wild.
I've seen a hare with eyes as wild,
With throbbing heart and sobbing breath.
But oh ! it shames one's soul to seeShot at Dawn 3
A man in abject fear of death,
But fear had gripped him, so had death;
His number had gone up that day,
They might not heed his frightened eyes,
They shot him when the dawn was grey.
Blindfolded, when the dawn was grey,
He stood there in a place apart,
The shots rang out and down he fell,
An English bullet in his heart.
An English bullet in his heart !
But here's the irony of life, -
His mother thinks he fought and fell
A hero, foremost in the strife.
So she goes proudly; to the strife
Her best, her hero son she gave.
O well for her she does not know
He lies in a deserter's grave.

Playwright, poet and author, Winifred Mary Letts was born in England to an Irish mother in 1882, but spent most of her life in Ireland, where she died in 1972; she was buried at Rathcoole, County Dublin.