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.

News
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Media baron Rupert Murdoch owns News Corps and 20th Century Fox
theatrePlaywright David Williamson is struggling to find a big name to star as the media mogul
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
i100
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

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

2nd Line server support - Microsoft certified

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large organisa...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, Adobe, ...

Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Functional/Full Life Cycle

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Func...

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

Day In a Page

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
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?