|Dramatization of a British Execution|
From: A Brass Hat in No Man's Land
By Brigadier Frank Percy Crozier, 36th Ulster Division and 40th "Bantam" Division
While commander of the 9th Royal Irish Rifles two of Colonel Frank Crozier's men, an officer and and enlisted man, were convicted of cowardice and desertion in separate courts martial. Crozier later wrote about what ensued.
One day we received a wire. Rochdale [the officer] is to be ‘released from arrest and all consequences.’ They try to send him back to duty but I refuse to receive him.
[I am then asked] as to whether sentence of death should be carried out on [enlisted man] Crocker. In view of certain circumstances I recommend the shooting be carried out… in peace time, I and the rest of us would have been very upset indeed at having to shoot a colleague … Now the men don’t like it but they have to put up with it …I arrange that enough spirituous liquor is left beside him to sink a ship. In the morning at dawn … as he is produced I see he is practically lifeless …
Inside the little garden on the other side of the wall, not ten yards distant from the centre of the line, the victim is carried to the stake. He is far too drunk to walk. He is out of view save from myself, as I stand on a mound near the wall. As he is produced I see he is practically lifeless and quite unconscious. He has already been bound with ropes. There are hooks on the post; we always do things thoroughly in the Rifles. He is hooked on like dead meat in a butcher’s shop. His eyes are bandaged – not that it really matters, for he is already blind.
The men of the firing party pick up their rifles, one of which is unloaded, on a given sign. On another sign they come to the Present and, on the lowering of a handkerchief by the officer, they fire – a volley rings out – a nervous ragged volley it is true, yet a volley. Before the fatal shots are fired I had called the battalion to attention. There is a pause, I wait. I see the medical officer examining the victim. He makes a sign, the subaltern strides forward, a single shot rings out. Life is now extinct. We march back to breakfast while the men of a certain company pay the last tribute at the graveside of an unfortunate comrade. This is war.
To this sad story there was a sequel. Some months later one of my officers was on leave, and as he had recently been awarded the D.S.O. was entertained to luncheon by his Club. At the function there were present some young business men who had not volunteered for war service. One of these asked my officer if it were true that ‘one of your men had been executed for desertion, and if so did he not think it was a very discreditable affair for the battalion and a disgrace to the city?’
‘Well,’ my officer replied, ‘the unfortunate man volunteered to serve his country in the field; you have not done even that yet. He went through the trials of a truly terrible winter in the trenches. He endured bombardment, mud, exposure, cold, frost, trench-feet, sleepless nights and daily drudgery under conditions in which man was never intended to play a part (he had to play a part the whole time to keep going at all). This quite unnatural test broke his spirit. His brain was probably affected. In despair he quitted the line. Why don’t you and your other slacking and profiteering friends join up and have a shot at doing better than this unhappy comrade of ours? If you can’t stand the test and are executed because you are not endowed with the steel-like qualities which make for war efficiency, I shall think better of you than I do now. Our dead comrade, whom we had to kill with our own hands and rifles pour encourager les autres [ for the encouragement of others] is a hero compared with you! He tried and failed. He died for such as you! Isn’t it time you had a shot at dying for your country?’