Hundreds of soldiers shot for 'cowardice' to be pardoned

Pte Harry Farr, shot for cowardice during the First World War, is to be granted a pardon posthumously. His pardon came as Des Browne, Minister of Defence, said all 306 soldiers executed during the First World War for cowardice and military offences would be issued a group pardon.

Mr Browne said that the Armed Forces Bill will be amended . "Although this is a historical matter, I am conscious of how the families of these men feel today. They have had to endure a stigma for decades. That makes this a moral issue too, and having reviewed it, I believe it is appropriate to seek a statutory pardon," he said.

Pte Farr's family have fought for 14 years to clear his name, arguing that the soldier, from Kensington in London, who was 25 years old when he was executed for refusing to fight, had shell shock.

His daughter, Gertrude Harris, aged 93, said: "I am so relieved that this ordeal is now over and I can be content knowing that my father's memory is intact. I have always argued that my father's refusal to rejoin the front line, described in the court martial as resulting from cowardice, was in fact the result of shell shock, and I believe that many other soldiers suffered from this, not just my father. I hope that others now who had brave relatives who were shot by their own side will now get the pardons they equally deserve."

Pte Farr, from the 1st Battalion, the West Yorkshire Regiment, died on 16 October 1916, one of 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers executed for cowardice during the First World War. He served in France for two years, fighting at Neuve-Chappelle. His battalion was shelled repeatedly, and he collapsed with the shakes in May 1915.

He was briefly evacuated to Boulogne suffering shell shock, but after returning to the front line and surviving the Battle of the Somme, where 420,000 British soldiers died in battle, he refused to go over the top, saying: "I just cannot go on."

Medical evidence, both at and after the court martial, showed he was treated several times due to being "sick with nerves" and suffering " shell shock". His descendants have argued that his eventual refusal to return to the front was a direct result of the mental stress caused by warfare.

After Pte Farr's execution, an Army chaplain's message to his widow, Gertie Batstone, read: "A finer soldier never lived". He told the family Pte Farr had refused a blindfold when he was shot.

Because of his supposed "cowardice", his military pension was stopped and Ms Batstone was forced out of their house.

Representing Mrs Harris, John Dickinson, from law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: "This rightly acknowledges that Pte Farr was not a coward but an extremely brave man. Having fought for two years practically without respite in the trenches, he was very obviously suffering from a condition we now would have no problem in diagnosing as post-traumatic stress disorder, or 'shell shock' as it was known in 1916."

Janet Booth, Pte Farr's 63-year-old granddaughter, said: "We don't know if it's a full or a conditional pardon yet.I'm so happy for my mother and for everyone."

The family had been appealing against a High Court decision not to grant a conditional pardon posthumously. In 1998, John Reid, then Armed Forces minister, turned down calls for executed soldiers to be pardoned. Again, in June 2004, the then Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, refused to grant a pardon to Pte Farr, but the family sought a judicial review.

Earlier this year it emerged that Mr Reid, as Defence Secretary, was reconsidering the decision.

In June this year, the Ministry of Defence said that Mr Browne, who had expressed sympathy for the cause before taking over as Defence Secretary in May, was prepared to look at Pte Farr's case in the wider context of the whole posthumous pardon issue.

Last night, Mr Browne announced that all soldiers would be pardoned.

"I do not want to second guess decisions made by commanders in the field, but circumstances were terrible," he said. "I believe it is better to acknowledge injustices were clearly done in some cases, even if we cannot say which ­ and to acknowledge that all these men were victims of war." It was not clear whether those shot for murder would be included in the pardon.

Farr case opens way for First World War victims

Following the pardon of Pte Harry Farr, Secretary for Defence Des Browne has said he will issue a group pardon for the 306 soldiers shot at dawn for alleged desertion and cowardice in the First World War

These soldiers include Pte Thomas Highgate from the Royal West Kent Regiment, the first British soldier to be convicted of desertion and executed during the First World War.

On 8 September, 1914 his trial took place. He was not provided with a " Prisoner's Friend" (defending officer).

Another soldier, Pte William Nelson, from the Durham Light Infantry, was shot at the age of 20. He deserted the Army three time.

At the court martial, he said he had left for the night hoping to get sleep and intended to return to the Army in the morning. "My father is a prisoner in Germany," he said. "My mother died while I was still in England, leaving my sister aged 13 and my brother aged 10. I am the only one left. I had to leave them in charge of a neighbour. I had no intention of deserting"

His defence did not receive sympathy. On 11 August 1916, he was shot at dawn.

Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
News
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
peopleFilm star says he is 'not interested in making money anymore'
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
Sport
footballAccording to revelations from Sergio Aguero's new biography
Life and Style
tech

News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker