Shot at dawn pamphlet published online


A campaigning contemporary pamphlet, designed to draw attention to the British army’s relatively common and often arbitrary use of the death penalty, has been made available online.

Entitled Shootings at Dawn and written by Ernest Thurtle MP, it uses extracts from eye-witnesses to emphasise the way in which circumstances were often ignored and men condemned to death despite extenuating circumstances.

Triple execution

One example concerns the account of an unnamed soldier who was present when a sergeant and two corporals of the Durham Light Infantry were executed in 1917.

The man recounts that the Durham NCOs were ordered to retreat by their captain following a German counter-attack. The officer was then killed and the men were arrested the next day and shot shortly afterwards.

The three were 24-year-old lance sergeant Joseph Stones, 28-year-old lance-corporal John McDonald and lance-corporal Peter Goggins, all of 19th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.

Ordered to retreat

In his defence Stones said he was ordered to retreat by lieutenant James Mundy. His rifle was jammed so he used it to block the trench to slow the German advance.

Stones then came to a post manned by McDonald and Goggins and advised them to fall back because the enemy was close behind him. This they duly did, taking up positions in a reserve trench just 20 yards away.

Stones has seen action at the Somme and was known as a reliable, brave and capable soldier. Brigadier-general H O’Donnell doubted the evidence but upheld the death penalty to send a message to the remainder of the battalion and other regiments in the sector.

To read the pamphlet, click here.


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