28th November to 29th November 1917 Wednesday & Thursday
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“We were relieved on the 28th November, and next day I had to attend at Divisional H.Q. the court-martial of a Pte. Dukes, of 16th R.W.F. accused of desertion. Col. Errington was President, and Major Maclennan, the prosecutor. The padre of the 16th R.W.F. acted as prisoner’s friend. When I got back to Erquinghem I found that the battalion was in brigade support. I had to stay with ‘C’ company at Streaky Bacon Farm.”
Research on this Court Martial has proved a little frustrating. Over three hundred men were accused during the conflict of desertion, cowardice, laying down of arms and murder. Most, on finding of guilt were sentenced to death by shooting by firing squad. Presumably some men might have been found not guilty of the charges but we can assume that most were found guilty. Not all the sentences of death were carried out however with some commuted. The Final say was the Generals in overall charge, usually Douglas Haig, but it was rare to reprieve a man.
However, there is no mention in any list of men executed for desertion of a Pte Dukes, or anything similar, allowing for spelling mistakes or misremembering etc. Frustratingly, Douglas doesn’t record his fate.
In August 2006 the Ministry of Defence announced the pardon of all 306 men that were shot at dawn for cowardice or desertion. All had received proper burials and latterly many names added to war memorials.
Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here
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