Shot At Dawn

Discussion in 'WWI (1914 - 1918)' started by kernowmaid, Apr 13, 2014.

  1. kernowmaid

    kernowmaid Well-Known Member

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    I feel like Cassandra (or Pte Fraser in 'Dad's Army'), bringing you these "doom & gloom" finds ... sorry!

    There was a pull-out in Sat's paper that named 2 soldiers who were shot for desertion, so I decided to look for them in the WW1 Service Records. No obvious sign of Burden, but the other - Thomas James HIGHGATE - is there. And OH DEAR, it is not easy reading.

    Born in Shoreham, Kent circa 1895 (if he is to be believed) to James John & Alice, he spent at least part of his late childhood on the Training Ship Exmouth, at Grays, Essex. (Which usually means that he was destitute/in trouble/abandoned).

    He signed up (with the Navy?) in October 1912, and in February 1913 opted to join "the Regular Army". He deserted in February 1914, and would probably have survived ... if he hadn't tried to sign up again in May 1914.

    A Court Martial sentenced him to 48days imprisonment - WHICH HE SERVED.

    And WW1 hadn't even started!

    On 6 September 1914, another Court Martial (an FGCM) was held - he was sentenced TO BE SHOT TO DEATH. And he was, on 8 September 1914.

    Do you think they were making an example of him?

    There is a report from a Captain (RAMC - a Doctor?) - "I have spoken to this man and find his memory good at present. His history of two shipwrecks, a fall from aloft and yellow fever on W coast of Africa would amply account for occasional lapses of memory. His manner is stated to be peculiar at times."
    When the heck was he supposed to have experienced these events? He was only 17/18! Maybe he was "simple"? Or a story-teller?

    His Statement of Service ends with "Died Gun Shot Wounds".

    To top it all, the War Office sent a letter to the Records Office, informing them of his death, ending with:
    "I am to request that you will cause the number, name and Regiment to be verified, and the next-of-kin to be informed. Lord Kitchener's note of sympathy will, of course, be omitted from the communication to the relatives who should simply be informed that the man was killed on the 8th ultimo."

    Flippin' 'Eck!!!

    Jane
    (Source: WO 363; HIG; pages 43708 to 43744)
     
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  2. gillyflower

    gillyflower Always caring about others

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    That is so sad.
     
  3. gillyflower

    gillyflower Always caring about others

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    I had to read about him
     
  4. Half Hour

    Half Hour Well-Known Member

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    They were a cold bunch back then....
     
  5. mugwortismy cat

    mugwortismy cat Tenacious to the End!

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    At the moment, I am purposely not reading about him, though I probably will later :(
     
  6. Stafford

    Stafford Well-Known Member

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    How utterly sad Jane.
     
  7. Findem

    Findem The Fearless One

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    A complete lack of understanding about human nature in those days and I do wonder about those who set the rules for shooting people for desertion plus those who sentenced the deserters. Had they ever taken part in a charge in the face of a hail of bullets and bayonets. Ever faced being pounded with cannon balls or shells. I doubt it, in the first world war and earlier wars, so many soldiers were commanded by chinless wonders.
     
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  8. spison

    spison Well-Known Member

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    How dreadful. He was so young!

    Jane
     
  9. Ma-dotcom

    Ma-dotcom A Bonza Little Digger!

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    You mean 'they're' not now??
     
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  10. Bay Horse

    Bay Horse Can be a bit of a dark horse

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    Quite, Findem. :(
     
  11. AnnB

    AnnB Editor in Chief who is Hot off the Press!

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    If you Google "Thomas James Highgate" there are quite a lot of hits. He was, apparently the first British soldier to be convicted of desertion during WW1. A really good site for pictures and info, not only on Thomas but 3 other soldiers from Kent who have no known grave, can be found at bexley.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=5056&p=0 (www in front)
    Thomas's story starts on page 15.

    Ann
     
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  12. spison

    spison Well-Known Member

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    Not to detract from the tragedy of Thomas but this has made me recall the Boer War executions of Harry "The Breaker" Morant and the other lieutenants. It wasn't for desertion but ... There is still controversy about whether these men were acting under orders. Kitchener played a part here too.

    (A rather good movie was made of their trial and execution if you can get your hands on it. Edward Woodward played The Breaker and Bryan Brown played Peter Handcock.)

    Jane
     
  13. Nightryder

    Nightryder Well-Known Member

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    When I received my dads WW11 army service records I was stunned to read he went a.w.o.l twice,once for 5 days, The story goes,although I cant confirm it,that after 1 of these little jaunts him & the other men who were with him were volunteered to go into a mine field to rescue a wounded Australian army officer,which they did, (I would love to know the true account of what happened). Ive wondered if they could all have been shot for desertion.
    Jenn
     
  14. Chimp

    Chimp Moderator & Cheeky Human IMP Staff Member

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    Thomas is on the Find a grave site.
     
  15. Doug

    Doug Administrator. The Main Man. Staff Member

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    If British - if I recall correctly the only charge which carried the death penalty during WII was mutiny.

    Australia did not execute any soldiers for desertion in WWI or WWII. See here.
     
  16. Eve

    Eve Well-Known Member

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    Last week I watched the play Private Peaceful" based on the book by Michael Morpurgo. It was a heartbreaking story. It is touring the country at the moment and I urge you to go and see it if you can. It s one of the most powerful plays I have seen (and I've seen quite a few !!) At the back of the programme is a list of 306 British soldiers executed by firing squads in WW1
    Both Pte T J Highgate and Pte H F Burden are on there.
     
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  17. mugwortismy cat

    mugwortismy cat Tenacious to the End!

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    306 !!? I am shocked :(
     
  18. Flook

    Flook A True Gentleman. Rest in Peace.

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    By 1918 the British Army was composed of 4,000,000 men and so it really was a very very small number compared to the size of the army over a period of 4 years. We really have to be careful in believing that military discipline always got it wrong, that we know far better how infernal wars should really be conducted and in transferring our contemporary moral standards to those of other times.
     
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  19. mugwortismy cat

    mugwortismy cat Tenacious to the End!

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    oh no, Flook you are right and I understand all that

    It wasn't a comment on rightness or wrongness per se, and not meant as a judgement on military matters, but a personal comment .... I am shocked every time I see statistics about how many people died, however they died

    I can't help but compare those figures to the moral outrage the media try to stir us to every time there is a casualty in Iraq or Afghanistan (or wherever the current conflict may be -- and I can't help but wonder where their historical perspective is) --- and I don't wish to belittle those statistics either, and of course the army is much smaller now ... and none of our outrage or shock does anything to help the suffering of the families left behind
     
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