Soldier shot for cowardice in WW1 may be pardoned

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The Independent Online

Defence Secretary John Reid is to "reconsider" granting a posthumous pardon for Private Harry Farr, a First World War soldier shot for cowardice, the High Court has been told.

Lawyers for Mr Reid also indicated that he would give "serious consideration" to a request for "a personal meeting" made by the legal team acting for Pte Farr's 92-year-old daughter, Gertrude Harris. The extraordinary move came at the start of a challenge by Mrs Harris, of Box Tree Lane, Harrow, north west London, to the Government's latest decision refusing her father a pardon of any sort.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, appearing for Mrs Harris, told the High Court in London, there was now even more evidence to support the submission that the case for a pardon was "overwhelming".

Agreeing to the adjournment, Mr Justice Walker said: "Effectively the matter starts again afresh."

Mr Fitzgerald made it clear that Mrs Harris's legal team were hoping for a speedy new decision in view of her age.

It was the second time the case of Private Harry Farr has come to court.

His family was angered when, in February, Mr Reid upheld earlier decisions turning down the request for a pardon.

Pte Farr, from North Kensington, London, fought with the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment and was shot at dawn on October 2 1916, aged just 25. He had been in hospital for five months, suffering from severe shell shock. Family lawyers say he had served continuously in France from 1914 to 1916 and seen many horrors, including those at Neuve-Chappelle and the Battle of the Somme.

Despite the time he spent in hospital, where nurses noted that he trembled so severely he was unable to hold a pen, Pte Farr was found guilty of cowardice and sentenced to death.

In September 1916, a month before his execution, the soldier confided to colleagues that he had become "sick with nerves" before breaking down and saying that he could not go on.

But he was ordered back to the trenches, where he had spent two years fighting. The Defence Secretary rejected Pte Farr's case on the grounds that it could not be proven conclusively that shell shock was behind Pte Farr's refusal to go back to the front.

At his execution Pte Farr refused a blindfold, preferring instead to look the firing squad in the eye.