Category: Anglo Boer War

OTD: The Victoria Cross is established

On the 29th of January 1856 Queen Victoria issued the royal warrant that established the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system.  Prior to the 1850s, there was no official standardised system for recognition of gallantry in the British armed forces and the courage of ordinary British servicemen highlighted the issue that their bravery went unrewarded. 

It is the premier award for gallantry, and is available to all ranks, to cover actions since the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854. It is described as a cross patteé, the obverse is a lion guardant on the royal crown, with the words “FOR VALOUR” on a semi circular scroll. The reverse is a circular panel on which is engraved the date of the act for which the decoration was awarded. The cross is suspended on a ring from a seriffed “V” attached to a suspension bar decorated with laurel leaves hanging from a crimson ribbon. The reverse of the suspension bar is engraved with the name, rank and ship, regiment or squadron of the recipient.  The medal was originally made from the bronze of Russian guns captured in the Crimean War, but guns captured in other conflicts have been used at various periods.

A number of South Africans have been awarded the VC, and many were issued during the Boer War to Imperial soldiers and officers. I have an extensive section on allatsea dedicated to the Victoria Cross and the graves that I have personally seen and photographed.

The list below covers South Africans, South African born, buried in South Africa or with links to South Africa.  I also have a page for VC graves in South Africa.  

  • 21. Lance Sergeant JOSEPH MALONE VC., 25th October 1854, buried St. Andrew’s Churchyard, Pinetown, Natal, South Africa. VC location, 13th/18th Hussar’s Museum, Barnsley, Yorkshire, England.
  • 36. Lieutenant FREDERICK MILLER VC., 5th November 1854, buried Ossuary Garden of Remembrance, Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 97. Colour Sergeant JAMES CRAIG VC., 6th September 1855, buried St. Mary’s Cemetery, Valley Road, South End, Port Elizabeth, Cape Province, South Africa. VC location, Scot’s Guards RHQ, Wellington Barracks, London, England.
  • 153. Lt-Col JOSEPH CROWE VC., 12th August 1857, Grave relocated on 5 February 1977 to the Moth Garden of Remembrance in Uitenhage, South Africa. VC location, destroyed in a fire at his sister’s farm, it is not known if an official replacement was issued.
  • 302. Private THOMAS LANE VC., 21st August 1860, buried Gladstone Cemetery; RC Section, Row 4, Grave 23. Kimberley, South Africa. VC location, Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum, Winchester, Hampshire, England.
  • 332. Private WILLIAM GRIFFITHS VC., 7th May 1867, buried in unmarked mass grave, Isandlwana, Natal, South Africa. VC location, South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Wales.
  • 345. Lt TEIGNMOUTH MELVILL VC., 22nd January 1879, buried with Lieutenant Nevill Coghill, Fugitive’s Drift, below Itchiane Hill, South Africa. VC location, South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Wales.
  • 346. Lieutenant NEVILL COGHILL VC., 22nd January 1879, buried with Adjutant Teignmouth Melvill, Fugitive’s Drift, below Itchiane Hill, South Africa. VC location, South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Wales.
  • 351. Assistant Commissary JAMES DALTON VC., 22nd/23rd January 1879, buried Russell Road RC Cemetery; Plot E. Port Elizabeth, South Africa. VC location, RLC Museum, Deepcut, Camberley, Surrey, England.
  • 368. Sergeant ROBERT SCOTT VC., 8th April 1879, buried Plumstead Cemetery; Allotment EA, Grave 88. Wynberg, South Africa. VC location, Manchester Regiment Museum, The Town Hall, Ashton-under-Lyne, England.
  • 369. Trooper PETER BROWN VC. . 8th April 1879. Buried Woltemade Cemetery, Cape Town. Grave 81594A but grave has been reused, now bears the name Abrahamse). VC Location: Amatole Museum, King William’s Town
  • 371. Surgeon Major EDMUND HARTLEY VC, 5th June 1879, buried Brookwood Cemetery; St. Judes Avenue, Plot 2, Grave 193293. Cemetery Pales, Woking, Surrey, England. VC location, Army Medical Services Museum, Mytchett, Surrey, England.
  • 373. Captain HENRY D’ARCY VC., 3rd July 1879, buried King William’s Town Cemetery; Section D, Grave 32-33, family plot. Cape Province, South Africa. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 374. Sergeant EDMUND O’TOOLE VC., 3rd July 1879, no known grave, died in Harare, Salisbury, Zimbabwe. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 381. Lieutenant WILLIAM DICK-CUNYNGHAM VC. , 13th December 1879, buried Ladysmith Cemetery, Natal, South Africa. VC location, Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen, Scotland.
  • 389. Surgeon JOHN McCREA VC., 14th January 1881, buried Kokstad Cemetery, Transkei District, Cape Province, South Africa. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 391. Trooper JOHN DANAHER VC. (or DANAGHER), 16th January 1881, buried Milton Cemetery; Plot M, Row 1, Grave 6. Milton Road, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. VC location, National Army Museum, London, England.
  • 413. Trooper HERBERT HENDERSON VC.. 30 March 1896. Buried Bulawayo Town Cemetery, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. VC Location: National Army Museum London, England.
  • 414. Trooper FRANK WILLIAM BAXTER VC. 22 April 1896 Buried Bulawayo Town Cemetery, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. VC Location Imperial War Museum, London, England
  • 415 Captain RANDOLPH NESBITT VC.. 19 June 1896. Cremated, ashes interred at Anglican cathedral, Harare, Zimbabwe. VC Location: National Archives of Zimbabwe.
  • 429. Lieutenant RAYMOND de MONTMORENCY VC., 2nd September 1898, buried Molteno Cemetery, near Dordrecht, South Africa. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 436. Captain CHARLES MULLINS VC., 21st October 1899, buried Grahamstown Old Cemetery, South Africa. VC location, Imperial War Museum, London, England.
  • 440. Cpl. JOHN DAVID FRANCIS SHAUL VC.. Born 11/09/1873 Kings Lynn, Norfolk. Died 14/09/1953 in Boksburg, South Africa. VC gazetted 28/09/1900.
  • 446. Lieutenant FREDERICK ROBERTS VC., 15th December 1899, buried Chievely War Cemetery; Plot 136. South Africa. VC location, National Army Museum, London, England.
  • 449. Sergeant HORACE MARTINEAU VC., 26th December 1899, buried Andersons Bay Soldiers’ Cemetery; Returned Serviceman’s Area, Block 73, Plot 16. Dunedin, New Zealand. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 450. Trooper HORACE RAMSDEN VC., 26th December 1899, cremated at The Maitland Crematorium, Woltemade, Cape Town, South Africa. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 452. ROBERT JAMES THOMAS DIGBY-JONES VC.Born 27/09/1876 Edinburgh. Died 06/01/1900. Buried Ladysmith Cemetery, Ladysmith. KZN. VC Location: Goredon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen, Scotland.
  • 454. Trooper HERMAN ALBRECHT VC., 6th January 1900, buried in mass grave, Waggon Hill Cemetery, South Africa. VC location, Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • 457. Lieutenant FRANCIS PARSONS VC., 18th February 1900, buried Driefontein Cemetery; an isolated grave on the battlefield. Orange Free State, South Africa. VC location, Essex Regiment Museum, Chelmsford, Essex, England.
  • 458. Sgt ALFRED ATKINSON VC.. Born 06/02/1874 Leeds. Died 18/02/1900. Originally Buried in an unmarked grave at Gruisbank British Cemetery, Petrusberg District, Paardeberg, Free State.
  • 468. Driver HORACE GLASOCK VC., 31st March 1900, buried Maitland Road No. 4 Cemetery, Cape Town, South Africa. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 478. Captain DAVID YOUNGER VC., 11th July 1900, buried Krugersdorp Cemetery, Halgryn Street, Krugersdorp, South Africa. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 497. Private JOHN BARRY VC., 7th/8th January 1901, buried Belfast Cemetery, East of Johannesburg, South Africa. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 500. Corporal JOHN CLEMENTS VC., 24th February 1901, buried Town Cemetery; Dutch Reform Section. Newcastle. South Africa. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 507. Lt. ALEXANDER YOUNG VC. 13 August 1901, No known grave, commemorated on Thiepval Memorial Pier 4, face C. VC Location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 503. Lt GUSTAVUS COULSON VC. 18 May 1901, Buried Lambrechtfontein Farm Cemetery near Bothaville. VC Location: King’s Own Scottish Borderers Museum, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland.
  • 558. Bandsman THOMAS RENDLE VC. 20th November 1914, buried Maitland Road No. 1 Cemetery; Family Plot No. 24598. Cape Town, South Africa. VC location, Duke of Cornwell’s Light Infantry Museum, Bodmin, Cornwell, England.
  • 642. Captain PERCY HANSEN VC, DSO, MC, Born 26 October 1890 in Durban, South Africa, died on the 12th February 1951. There is reference to his funeral been held in London, his ashes were interred in the family vault, Garnisons Kirkegard, Copenhagen. Section R. Row K. Grave 3. VC Location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 731. Private WILLIAM FAULDS VC. 18th July 1916, buried Pioneer Cemetery, Remembrance Drive, Harare, Zimbabwe. VC location, unknown, medal stolen from National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa in 1994.
  • 746. Captain WILLIAM BLOOMFIELD VC. (born BROOMFIELD), 24th August 1916, buried Ermelo Cemetery, Ousthuizen Street, Transvaal, South Africa. VC location, with recipient’s family.
  • 775. Sergeant FREDERICK CHARLES BOOTH VC.  : 12 February 1917.  Buried Bear Road Cemetery, Brighton, Sussex. VC Location: Rhodesia Native Regiment, Harare, Zimbabwe.
  • 783. Captain OSWALD REID VC., 8th to 10th March 1917, buried Braamfontein Cemetery; Section EC, Plot 22932. Johannesburg, South Africa. VC location, Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • 883. L/Cpl WILLIAM HENRY HEWITT VC., 20 Sept 1917, Cremated in Cheltenham, ashes scattered off Hermanus, Cape Townl. VC location, Framlingham College, Suffolk.
  • 891. Captain CLEMENT ROBERTSON VC., 4th October 1917, buried Oxford Road Cemetery; Plot III, Row F, Grave 7. Near Ypres, Belgium. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 919. Acting Lieutenant Colonel JOHN ‘BOMB’ SHERWOOD KELLY VC., 20th November 1917, buried Brookwood Cemetery; Block 86, Grave 196296. Cemetery Pales, Woking, Surrey, England. VC location, National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • 937. Acting Captain ARTHUR MOORE LASCELLES VC 03 December 1917. Emigrated to South Africa in 1902 and joined the Cape Mounted Rifles as a Trooper. Buried Dourlers Communal Cemetery, France. VC Location Durham Light Infantry Museum, Durham.
  • 955. Acting Captain REGINALD HAYWARD VC., 21st/22nd March 1918, ashes scattered at Putney Vale Crematorium; Garden of Remembrance. Stag Lane, London, England. VC location, The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire & Wiltshire Regiment Museum, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England.
  • 1029. Acting Captain ANDREW BEAUCHAMP-PROCTOR VC. (born PROCTOR), 8th August to 8th October 1918, buried Mafeking Cemetery; European Section, Grave 1050-2. South Africa. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 1040. Captain FERDINAND MAURICE FELIX WEST VC. 10 August 1918. Buried Holy Trinity Churchyard, Sunningdale, Berkshire. VC Location: The Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum
  • 1108. Temporary Lieutenant ROBERT GORLE VC., 1st October 1918, buried Stellawood Cemetery; Section K, Grave 144. Durban, Natal, South Africa. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 1133. Lieutenant Colonel HARRY GREENWOOD VC DSO* OBE MC. 23/24 October 1918. Buried Putney Vale Cemetery, London. VC Location: King’s Own Yorkshire Museum, Doncaster.
  • 1170. CSM GEORGE GRISTOCK VC.. Born 14/01/1905 in Pretoria. VC Gazetted 23/08/1940. Buried in the War Graves Section (Plot Z.G.L. Grave 28), Bear Road Cemetery, Brighton, Sussex, England.
  • 1203. CHARLES GROVES WRIGHT ANDERSON VC. MC. Born 12/02/1897 Cape Town, VC gazetted on 13/02/1942.  Died Red Hill, Canberra, Australia 11/11/1988
  • 1214. Squadron Leader JOHN DERING NETTLETON VC Born 28/06/1917 in Nongoma, Natal. VC was gazetted on 24/04/1942. His aircraft was shot down on 13/07/1943 and his body was not recovered.
  • 1217. Sergeant QUENTIN SMYTHE, 5th June 1942, ashes buried on his farm, Nottingham Road, Natal, South Africa. VC location, original unknown, the official replacement is in The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 1293. Lieutenant GERARD NORTON, 31st August 1944, burial location unknown, died in Harare, Salisbury, Zimbabwe. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 1316. Acting Major EDWIN SWALES VC., 23rd February 1945, buried Leopoldsburg War Cemetery; Plot VIII, Row C, Grave 5. Limburg, Holland. VC location, National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa.

DRW © 2020. Created 29/01/2020

Updated: 15/02/2020 — 08:57

Shipshape and Bristol Fashion (1)

For quite some time I have been mulling over a return trip to Bristol, I wanted to go already in 2017 but the weather was just not amiable to a day trip so I kept on putting it off. However, by the time I was planning Liverpool I was already looking at Bristol once again. In 2015 I had been fortunate enough to be there for the Heritage Festival, so ideally I wanted to do the same once again. The closest window being the weekend of 21 and 22 of July 2018. And, just for once I was not going via Arnos Vale Cemetery but was going to strike out North West to find the Cenotaph. I had never really ventured into Bristol so had no real idea of what was out there, but it is an old city so you can bet there were some wonderful old buildings to see. 

I arrived at Bristol Temple Meads station bright and early. It had been touch and go though because the weather forecast had been for clouds and possible rain and I was not feeling very energetic when I woke up at some ungodly hour to get to Ashchurch for Tewkesbury Station. I will skip all that malarky and continue from where I am in Bristol.

There is one of those horrible traffic circles that I needed to navigate across, hoping to find the one branch that is Victoria Street. Unfortunately they were building a road in the middle of the street which threw my navigation off. A similar thing had happened to me when I visited Birmingham in 2015 and I suspect they are still digging and excavating there. 

The correct road selected and I was off… and then had to stop and go have a look at a church. Now I am a sucker for churches and old buildings, and I do love a good set of ruins. This one fitted all the criteria in one space. The space is called Temple Church and Gardens, and the church is really just a shell, and like the church I saw in Liverpool it too was damaged by bombing during the Second World War. After the war they excavated the shell of the building and discovered that the church was originally round. The round church was originally called Holy Cross and it was part of a monastery built here in the 1100’s by the Order of the Knights Templar. Their church was designed to look like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It was enlarged between 1300 and 1450 and lost its original round shape, and became the church that is there today, or should I say the ruins of the church?  

 

The other peculiarity about the building is that the tower leans by roughly 1,6 metres from the vertical, and the top was built so as to correct the lean, but it ended up looking somewhat odd as the lean increased. Unfortunately I never knew about this and the image I took of the tower does show the lean, but it is somewhat corrected by the camera lens. 

The church and a large portion of medieval Bristol was destroyed by a raid that occurred on 24 September 1940. This area was known as “Temple” and in the medieval period it was where cloth workers lived and worked. The Guild of Weavers even had their own chapel at the church.

The churchyard around the church still has graves in it, although their legibility is very poor.  The area is now a well placed leisure space and I doubt whether anybody really knows that they may be strolling through a former churchyard.  Following this discovery it was time to continue on my way, still in Victoria Street and heading towards The Bristol Bridge across the Avon. 

Looking West (downstream)

Looking East (upstream)

There was another ruined church on the east side of the bridge but I decided to give it a miss on this occasion. If I stopped and detoured all the time I would never get to where I was going.  The green area just after the bridge is called Castle Park, and the next landmark is… a giant pineapple?

Actually the tower sticking out behind the building is the remains of St Mary-le-Port Church which was also destroyed during the bombing of 24 November 1940. The buildings around it were built for Norwich Union (facing the camera) and the Bank of England. Both buildings are apparently empty and have been the subject of a number of contested plans for redevelopment.   I cannot however comment on the pineapple, but it appears to be the work of Duncan McKellar.  

On the left side of the street is St Nicholas Church, and I had to get the shot very quickly because a large mobile crane was coming down the road and it was guaranteed to ruin any further images of the church. Maybe it was going to collect the pineapple?

I was now in High Street heading into Broad Street, and there were a number of places that caught my eye.

Broad Street was surprisingly narrow, and the Grand Hotel was really too big to even get a halfway decent pic of. 

As I descended further I felt almost hemmed in but at the end of the street was an archway that seemingly marked the end of this area. Actually, looking at it from Google Earth (centred around  51.454577°,  -2.594112°) there is a lot to see, and I suspect this is quite an old area too. Definitely worth a return trip one of these days.

Exiting out of the gate I had to turn left into Nelson Street and after a short walk could see the Cenotaph in the distance. This area had an incomplete feel about it and from what I gather had been redone not too long ago. The Cenotaph may be found at  51.454987°,  -2.596391°.

Sadly mankind has not learnt how to live in peace. I have covered the Cenotaph in more detail on allatsea.

The Fourteenth Army 1942-1945. Known as “The Forgotten Army”, they defeated the Japanese Invasion of India in 1944 and liberated Burma in 1945.

I was now moving South West through this paved area, it was very pretty but the fountains were not working which made it look bad.  Even Neptune was looking kind of parched. The day had turned out nice and sunny and it got hotter all the time.

I was now heading South towards a junction on the A38 which was more or less where I needed to be to find my next destination. In the middle of this junction stood the Marriott Hotel, and it was quite an impressive building.

The building on the left was really part of the harbour structure. I could have entered the harbour at that point but my destination was really to the right of the Marriott, so I turned to starboard. 

Queen Victoria was not amused because I needed to go to the right of her into Park Street. Behind her was the triangular shaped “College Green”, with Bristol Cathedral on the left and the City Hall to the right. I covered the Cathedral in a different post, but will mention that it was almost impossible to get the whole building in a pic because of the trees and length of the building and the sun position. The City Hall is quite an impressive structure though and it reminded me of the Royal Crescent in Bath. It too was way too big to get into a  single image.

I had to pass to the right of the building into Park Street and when I emerged I almost died when I saw what a steep hill I was facing.  What is it about Bristol and all these hills anyway?


The tower in the distance is the University of Bristol Wills Memorial Building and construction was started on it in 1915 and it was completed in 1925. The tower is 65,5 metres high, and it is a really beautiful structure and is the 3rd tallest building in Bristol.  Next to the building is the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Having arrived at this point I started to look around in dismay, my memorial was nowhere in sight! I consulted my main map and found that I had made a mistake on the small map I was using, and my memorial was still 3 blocks away! 

And there he is…

“In Memory of the Officers, Non Commissioned Officers
and Men  of the Gloucestershire Regiment,
Who gave their lives for their Sovereign,
and Country in the South African War
1899-1902″

Behind the memorial was another ornate building with a statue of King Edward VII and it was known as “CHOMBEC”, or, Centre for the History of Music in Britain, the Empire and the Commonwealth.

While the building below is the  Royal West of England Academy of Art

It was time to turn around and head back down the hill to the Cathedral which was the next stop on my journey. I had achieved all my goals so far with a few bonus discoveries along the way. It was fortunately downhill from here…

I made one detour on my way down, and that was to a building I had seen on the way up. I could not investigate it too closely but it is St George’s Bristol, it was once a church but is now a concert hall.

Had I continued with the road I was on I would have come to the park on Brandon Hill where the Cabot Tower is.

I will add that to my bucket list for a return trip as their is one more Anglo Boer War Memorial I need to research. I photographed the tower at a distance in 2014, although I cannot work out where I took the photograph from. With my luck the tower would be closed on the day I visit.

I was once again at the College Green and the Cathedral was my next stop.  forwardbut

DRW © 2018 – 2019. Created 21/07/2018

Updated: 04/01/2019 — 06:56

Shot at Dawn

In April 2015 I visited the National Memorial Arboretum and one of the many Memorials I saw on that day was the “Shot At Dawn” Memorial. 

Shot at Dawn Memorial

I commented at the time:

“The subject is a difficult one to read up on, because of the controversy of so many of the hasty decisions made by those who endorsed the executions. It can be argued that in many cases the sentence delivered did not take account of the circumstances of each individual, and the age and maturity of so many of those who were executed.
It is true that there were executions for offenses that were not related to cowardice or “lack of moral fibre”, some men were executed for murder. However, the fairness of the court martial process is often questioned, and those high ranking officers who sat on these tribunals were often seen as being totally out of touch with the reality of the situation of soldiers on the ground. It could also be argued that in many armies, the benefit of any sort of hearing did not exist, and the men were shot outright, often on the field of battle.”

Each wooden post that has been driven into the ground represents one of those who had their lives taken from them by the court martial process. 

The statue is fronted by 6 similar pillars, representing the firing squad who had to do the deed. A target was pinned on the person to be shot, and supposedly none of the squad knew whether his bullet would end the life of the accused. However, if blanks were used they would easily know whether their rifle fired a blank or a live round.   

This past week I read a book entitled For the Sake of Example, by Anthony Babington, first published 1983. It is an oldish book, but it is the first one I have read that dealt with the issue of those who were “shot at dawn”. It made for very sad reading because many of those deaths were not necessary in the first place. The common thread I saw in the book was the phrase “setting an example”. I also read a lot between the lines, and there was evidence of very perfunctory “trials” (Field Court Martial), with a swift verdict and the case would be “shoved upstairs” for some higher up to agree with and so on until it reached the desk of Field Marshall Haig or whoever was the end of the chain.

Once they rubber stamped the verdict and passed it back downwards the sentence would then finally be read out to the person who had been found guilty and often he would be shot the next day. It is doubtful whether anybody of high rank gave those meagre findings more than a glance and probably muttered “setting an example” before passing the buck to the next person in the chain. Many of the cases I read about were the result of poor decisions made by the man who was about to be shot. No real account of domestic circumstances was taken, and neither was much attention paid to the mental health of the soldier apart from a brief lookover by the closest doctor.  Many of the men who lost their lives were suffering from what we call today “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (aka PTSD)” , and given the horrors of the typical First World War battlefield it is understandable why so many ended up with the symptoms of PTSD.

One comment was made quite often: “unfit to be a soldier” and it was used in negative way, irrespective of whether the soldier was a success in civilian street, or a good father or dutiful son. The career soldiers with their rubber stamps did not give a hoot. Would we be able to say the same thing about them if ever they ended up on civvy street? would we condemn them as being “unfit to be a civilian” and take them outside and shoot them?

It is an incredibly difficult decision to take a person’s life, although if you were used to sending off complete battalions to their death in nonsensical attacks surely one more wouldn’t make you loose any sleep. I get this feeling that the Tommy on the ground was really just a number, irrespective of whether he was a regular soldier, a conscript or even a volunteer. Let’s face it, many of those who flocked to the colours were under the impression it would all be over by Christmas and they got a rude awakening when it carried on until November 1918 instead. A large number of those who flocked to the colours were young, often under 20, as were some of those who had their lives brutally ended by a squad of men from their own side. The shooting of a soldier often propelled his dependants into poverty as they no longer had the income that was sent home by the soldier, and if my memory serves me correctly a least one solder was shot shortly after he got married, widowing his bride even before he got to know her properly.  

The First World War did bring about many changes to the military, and fortunately the practise of shooting somebody for taking a stroll down the road to visit a girlfriend or local tavern was not as prevalent in that war. It could be that many who had served in the first slaughter avoided the mistakes that were made back then. Political pressure was also used to change the way these situations were dealt with, although it was way too late for the 20,000 who were found guilty of offences carrying the death penalty. 3000 soldiers received the death penalty and 346 were carried out.

In 2006 the British Government agreed to posthumously pardon all those who were executed for military offences during the First World War, but that was too many years too late for the families of these victims of officialdom. The irony is that even though a pardon has been granted, the pardon “does not affect any conviction or sentence.”

*Update 09/08/2017*

While uploading images to Lives of the First World War,  I encountered a private memorial to Arthur James Irish who was “executed for desertion” on 21/09/1915, although the grave (and CWGC record) states he was killed in action in Loos, Belgium. He is buried in Sailly-Sur-La-Lys Canadian Cemetery

This is the first time I have encountered a grave connected to one of those who was executed by firing squad, and I will do some more reading about the case. It could be that the information is incorrect, or it may be a genuine case of mistaken identity. In any event it does not excuse those who rubber stamped these executions without looking into individual circumstances. 

Executed for Murder.

There are three interesting cases in South Africa that need mentioning, although none are from the Western Front during the First World War. 

The first being that of “Breaker Morant” and Peter Handcock.

Lieutenant Harry Morant was arrested and faced a court martial for “war crimes”. According to military prosecutors, Lt. Morant retaliated for the death in combat of his commanding officer with a series of revenge killings against both Boer POWs and many civilian residents of the Northern Transvaal.

He stood accused of the summary execution of Floris Visser, a wounded prisoner of war and the slaying of four Afrikaners and four Dutch schoolteachers who had been taken prisoner at the Elim Hospital. He  was found guilty by the court martial and sentenced to death.

Lts. Morant and Peter Handcock were then court-martialed for the murder of the Rev. Carl August Daniel Heese, a South African-born Minister of the Berlin Missionary Society.  Morant and Handcock were acquitted of the Heese murder, but their sentences for murdering Floris Visser and the eight victims at Elim Hospital were carried out by a firing squad  on the morning of  27 February 1902.  Morant’s last words were reportedly “Shoot straight, you bastards! Don’t make a mess of it!”

They are both buried in Church Street Cemetery in Pretoria.

The next incident is the case of a Veldkornet, Salomon Van As who was executed by firing squad on 23 June 1902, against the back wall of the jail in Heidelberg, having been found guilty of the murder of Captain Ronald Miers at Riversdraai 12 miles south of Heidelberg.

On 25 September 1901, Captain Miers approached a party of Boers under a white flag most likely with the intention to convince them to surrender. What exactly happened is not known, the British claim the Captain was shot in cold blood which made this a war crime, however Van As claimed he acted in self-defence. 

Today the bullet holes from that execution can still be seen on a stone that has been picked out in white paint on the back wall of the building. 

Two years after the war the British authorities apologised to his parents and offered compensation after admitting that false witnesses had been used against him during the case. He was buried in a shallow grave close to the old cemetery (Kloof Cemetery) but reburied on 13 October 1903.    

 

Executed for Rebellion.

Our next example is equally interesting because of the emotions that it raises.  Josef Johannes “Jopie” Fourie was executed for his part in the 1914 Rebellion in protest against the decision to invade German South West Africa as part of the international war effort against Germany. Fourie was an Active Citizens Force (ACF) officer in the Union Defence Force at the time and had not resigned his commission. As a result he was tried under court martial and was sentenced to death. This quirk also means he is eligible for commemoration as a casualty of war by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and his name has been put forward for consideration.

He is buried in Pretoria’s Church Street Cemetery. The same cemetery where Breaker Morant and Peter Handcock were buried. 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 02/06/2017, updated 09/08/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:58
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