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The Great War 1914-1918
Shot at Dawn
Some soldiers found it difficult to cope with the circumstances in which they found themselves. Some could not cope and deserted. Discipline was maintained and the brutal system of enforcement has been criticised since.
Some 350 members of the British and Empire forces were executed by firing squad during the war. Many formerly brave soldiers who had simply cracked under the pressure of trench warfare were judicially killed as a lesson to other soldiers.
Five men from the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment were shot as deserters.
Lance Corporal William J Irvine, number 2170, 1st Battalion, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. Shot 20th April 1915 for Desertion.
Lance Corporal Irvine had enlisted in July 1914. After two months training Irvine was drafted to France in mid-September, but deserted a month later on 13th October, after his battalion had been in action at Meteren. The soldier then made his way to Boulogne where he give himself up to the authorities on 28th December. He escaped from custody on 21 January, and was arrested again in Boulogne on 31st January. Irvine escaped and was again recaptured before his court martial, where he was found guilty of desertion, stealing goods from a comrade, and attempting to escape. After spending his nineteenth birthday in custody he was executed.
Lance Corporal Irving is buried in Le Grand Beaumart British Cemetery, France. He was the son of Jane Irvine of 124 Sloop Street, Barrow in Furness.
Private James Kershaw, number 8136, 1st Battalion, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. Shot 26th April 1915 for Desertion.
Private Kershaw was a regular soldier, and had served in India before the war. After fighting in some of the early engagements in 1914 Kershaw decided enough was enough and deserted. He was detained on 29th November, escaped from captivity on 3rd December and fled to Paris, where he was arrested on 2nd January 1915. He was taken to Rouen from where he again escaped, reaching Calais on 26th February he was arrested for the last time. At his trial Kershaw claimed that he had a history of nervous trouble and heart failure. Despite a medical examination, the soldier's fate had been sealed by his catalogue of escapes. He was condemned to be shot.
Private Kershaw is buried in Le Grand Beaumart British Cemetery, France.
Private J Sloan, number 3563,1st/4th Battalion King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. Shot 16th July 1916 for Desertion
Private Sloan had enlisted before the war as a Territorial Soldier, and had been serving in support trenches during June, before being sent to a back area on a course of instruction. During this training, which involved bombing with hand grenades, an eyewitness saw Private Sloan discard his equipment and make off. Six days later he was arrested in Rouen, and when questioned he stated that the had a pass to travel to the UK. His trial took place on the day before Brennan's and in due course the small village of Barly on the Arras front was the scene of his execution.
Private Sloan is buried in Barley French Military Cemetery.
Lance Corporal George E Hughes, number 11257, 7th Battalion, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. Shot 23rd November 1916 for Desertion.
Lance Corporal Hughes is believed to have been a volunteer, and it is known that he deserted on the Somme. It is assumed that he was shot on 23rd November, but few records exist relating to him.
Lance Corporal Hughes is buried in Warloy-Baillon Cemetery. He was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Hughes of 8 Ernest Street, Great Ancoats, Manchester.
Private Albert Holmes, number 18143, 8th Battalion, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. Shot 22nd April 1918 for Desertion
Discrepancies concerning the age of Pte Holmes suggest he might have advanced his true age in order to enlist in 1914. Private Holmes had seen considerable service and had been wounded, but additionally he had been convicted of two offences of desertion. However, a repeat offence committed shortly after his sentence of death had been suspended, proved to be his undoing. The 22 year old married man from the 8th Battalion was shot on 22nd April 1918.
He left a wife, recorded as Bessie Holmes, of Croydon Street, Easton Road, Bristol. He is buried in Chocques Military Cemetery, France.
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