Letter: Reconsidering executions for cowardice in the First World War

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Sir: Accompanying your articles (16 August) on the execution of British soldiers in the 1914-18 war is a picture of troops going over the top in 1916, which has become a sort of icon of the suffering of that dreadful campaign. Yet in the 60 years or more that I have been aware of that picture, I have been and remain puzzled. Is it a genuine record, or is it, like the equally famous officer-led platoon moving into action at El Alamein, a set-up picture taken in a rear area?

I realise that troops did not carry 60-70lbs of equipment on every engagement, but these are carrying nothing - no haversack, no water bottle, no belt, no spare ammunition. Was it perhaps a patrol? But, even then, surely they would have been carrying more than a rifle and fixed bayonet (with nowhere to replace the bayonet if unfixed]).

This is all as nothing compared with the sadness of death by enemy action or by execution, but it is an answerable question and some reader may have an answer.

Yours faithfully,


Lewes, East Sussex

16 August