`No pardon' for 300 First War soldiers

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The Independent Online
THE relatives of First World War soldiers executed for cowardice reacted with anger last night at reports that the Government is to refuse them a pardon.

In spite of a growing body of evidence that many of those killed were suffering from post traumatic stress, indications last night were that Labour planned to back the decisions to execute them by firing squad.

John Reid, the armed forces minister, ordered a review of 307 cases of cowardice when Labour came to power last May. Mr Reid was among a large number of Labour MPs - including eight now in the Cabinet - who voted in support of granting a pardon two years ago.

According to today's Daily Mail, that review has found that proper military procedure was carried out, even though some courts martial lasted barely half an hour before sentencing "cowards" still in their teens to death. Quoting government sources, the newspaper said Mr Reid will make a general expression of regret but he will grant no pardons.

The Independent first revealed the stories behind many of the deaths last year. Many of those killed were just boys - some who lied about their ages - who joined up with patriotic fervour and then found themselves subjected to the depravities of the trenches.

Private Harry Farr, 28, was executed for refusing to join the front line in 1914. He had spent five months in hospital suffering from shell shock but was discharged and suffered a relapse. He was shot in spite of the existing medical evidence.

Last night, his grandaughter, Janet Booth, said it would be "an act of cruelty" to deny a pardon.

"If this is true I just can't believe how cruel they could be," she said. "I will carry on campaigning for these boys. You can't call someone a coward who suffered the way they did. Today they would be diagnosed as having post traumatic stress and be given the treatment they need, not shot.

Lance Corporal Peter Goggins, 21, was shot with two other men for leaving their posts and losing their rifles when they were overwhelmed by Germans in the trenches. There was evidence that he had simply ordered a retreat and had wedged his rifle across a trench in order to slow the German advance. When told the news last night, Marina Brewis, his niece, said simply: "Oh my God."

"I don't think any court of law anywhere would order those boys to be shot today," she said. "If there is any way to fight on to clear his name, I will do it. I had hoped they would look at the cases with sympathy and with the understanding we have today of the conditions they were facing. I hope this report is untrue, but if it isn't I have the consolation of knowing that my uncle was innocent."

The Ministry of Defence said the findings of the review were due to be published soon.

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