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WW1

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grizzly
87236.  Fri Aug 18, 2006 12:03 pm Reply with quote

Q. What happened to you if you were branded a coward in the Great War?

A. You were shot

KLAXON

The real answer:

It is very rarely that The Economist brings something QI to my attention but it has, for once, succeeded. According to an article concerning the posthumous pardoning of soldiers executed during the war, the 306 who were actually executed were only a tenth of those sentenced to death for military offences.

Quote:
Some historians, wary about jumping into the trenches with a pair of 21st-century trainers on, are dubious about rewriting the past. First, they argue that although the courts-martial that condemned the men may look shoddy now, they were not by the standards of the day. There were probably some miscarriages of justice in which brave men were branded as cowards. For example, Harry Farr volunteered to join the army in 1914, but then developed something that sounds very like shell shock. After declining the offer of a blindfold, he was executed by firing squad in 1916 for refusing to fight again. But on the whole the system of military justice was not as vindictive as his case suggests.

The 306 who were executed represent a tenth of the total number sentenced to death for military offences (as opposed to civilian ones like murder). The rest were let off. A study of the files by John Peaty, a historian at the defence ministry, shows that 40 of those shot had been handed a death sentence once before. “This scarcely suggests a harsh and unforgiving system of military justice,” says Laurie Milner, a colleague of Mr Peaty. “A majority of cases were recidivists who had deserted before,” points out Hew Strachan, a historian at All Soul's College, Oxford.


Source: The Economist, August 19th 2006, The War Over Pity.

 
BondiTram
87244.  Fri Aug 18, 2006 12:37 pm Reply with quote

Leaving aside the sickening injustice of shooting anyone legally for refusing to shoot someone else legally, you seem to be suggesting that those sentenced twice may have deserved the penalty. In fact they may have only 'offended' twice because they were let off the first time. It is hard to desert if you have already been shot.
If Harry Farr had been pardoned would he then have dashed over the top again? I doubt it. Surely the medical symptoms which caused his first offence would still have been present? Leading therefore to a second court martial, still deserving of sympathy but no doubt being branded 'a recidivist'.

 
grizzly
87248.  Fri Aug 18, 2006 1:00 pm Reply with quote

BTW, that's not what I'm suggesting. That's just what the article said. I think the more QI part is that the majority were not actually shot. Most (including myself) would have been generally ignorant and said that all of them would have been shot.

 
BondiTram
88757.  Fri Aug 25, 2006 5:34 am Reply with quote

grizzly wrote:
BTW, that's not what I'm suggesting. That's just what the article said. I think the more QI part is that the majority were not actually shot. Most (including myself) would have been generally ignorant and said that all of them would have been shot.


Whoops, sorry if I seemed to be shooting the messenger, I know you were quoting not advocating, and yes, you are right, most of us do have a distorted view of the true picture. Doesn't make the whole thing less distasteful though.

 
grizzly
88758.  Fri Aug 25, 2006 5:36 am Reply with quote

I think this could be a good question in the vein of the one about witches being aquited instead of burnt at the stake.

 
Flash
88838.  Fri Aug 25, 2006 8:37 am Reply with quote

I agree. I also recall some statistical work which showed that senior officers had a higher mortality rate than the rank-and-file, which might be good on two grounds: 1) it contradicts the commonly-held view and 2) the commonly-held view is commonly held in part because of Stephen's portrayal of General Melchett in Blackadder IV. Anyone remember the research I'm referring to?

 
dr.bob
88882.  Fri Aug 25, 2006 10:29 am Reply with quote

I've not heard of it before. It does make me wonder, though, whether the small number of senior officers were dying of gout and alcohol poisoning, whilst the huge numbers of rank-and-file who were blown up and generally killed in nasty ways were a smaller proportion of the whole because there were so many others recruited to take their place.

 
Celebaelin
88890.  Fri Aug 25, 2006 10:38 am Reply with quote

I guess what they're saying is that if you have, say, 1 Captain per 100 other ranks then if 100 other ranks die then you'd anticipat that on average 1 Captain would die also. But if the actual figures are something like 1.2 Captains per 100 other ranks then Captains are more likely to die than would be anticipated on an assumption of random probability. Probably because the Captains are leading by example. Possibly because they are worse soldiers. Maybe both.

 
dr.bob
88894.  Fri Aug 25, 2006 10:44 am Reply with quote

Depends how senior you have to be before you get counted as a senior officer.

I'd imagine anyone who was down in the trenches had a pretty similar probability of dying horribly.

 
Flash
88899.  Fri Aug 25, 2006 10:51 am Reply with quote

No; the assumption I'm addressing is the one that everybody has made since the Alan Clark book The Donkeys (a title which refers to the notion that the British army comprised 'lions led by donkeys'), and which is commonplace in all modern works of fiction about WW1: the stereotype of staff officers sitting at a safe distance and ordering the lower orders into the slaughter. The research I'm referring to concluded that casualties in combat were disproportionately greater the higher up the ranks you looked - all the way up to the Generals.

 
Tas
88905.  Fri Aug 25, 2006 10:57 am Reply with quote

Quote:
The research I'm referring to concluded that casualties in combat were disproportionately greater the higher up the ranks you looked - all the way up to the Generals.


That makes perfect sense, assuming upper ranks went into battle. There are fewer and fewer officers of a rank as you rise through toward Field Marshals, Generals etc, so one death would constitute a high percentage of them dead. One Corporal out of 500000 is a miniscule percentage. 1 Colonel out of 5000 is a much higher percentage.

:-)

Tas

 
Flash
88907.  Fri Aug 25, 2006 11:02 am Reply with quote

Yes, quite. I think the point is that the evidence doesn't support the notion that senior officers were shirking the danger.

 
Celebaelin
88909.  Fri Aug 25, 2006 11:06 am Reply with quote

But, bearing in mind the number of men under a Colonels command, how many Colonels would have to die to make the number of deaths of Colonels by proportion higher than that of Corporals? Or Privates?

Well, one more than you'd expect by chance obviously. But how many more in fact?

 
Flash
88917.  Fri Aug 25, 2006 11:25 am Reply with quote

Ah, the facts. Well, we'll need to find that research. My point, though, is that most people would expect the senior ranks to be under-represented in the casualty list, wouldn't they? I should think that most people assume that casualties amongst the Generals were almost non-existent.

There's also a factoid about the life expectancy of a subaltern (junior commissioned officer) in the trenches which is on the tip of my tongue as well - three weeks, or something, wasn't it?

I have a book here by a man named Crosbie Garstin, called "The Mud Larks", which is a collection of the humourous articles he used to write for Punch from the trenches, describing the general hilarity of it all.

 
Celebaelin
88977.  Fri Aug 25, 2006 3:19 pm Reply with quote

Flash wrote:
Ah, the facts. Well, we'll need to find that research.

Gosh, yes, I'd forgotten. The army are frightfully careless with their colonels aren't they? I bet they don't even know how many they've got. I heard tell that six of the little scamps they'd listed as missing in action were found in the officers mess of the King's Own Spoke Tensioners in 1922 slightly the worse for wear due to a large shipment of Glenmortality.

 

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