The Thin Blue Line

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Shot At Dawn

During the First World War 350 members of the British and Empire Forces were executed by firing squad. No judgement is drawn here on these men but two have been chosen to illustrate their fate.

The Communal Cemetery at Bailleumont contains a plot, in the east corner, of over 30 1914-18 war casualties. The headstones are of a deep red earth colour of the standard Commonwealth War Graves style.

Side by side in graves B. 12 and B. 13 are Private 10495 Albert Ingham age 24, and Private 10502 Alfred Longshaw age 21, both of 18th Battalion, Manchester Regiment. Both had been clerks in Salford Goods Yard and had arrived on the Somme from Egypt and had been posted to their Brigade's Machine Gun Company. In October 1916 the two friends deserted and managed to stow away on a ship in Dieppe. They were discovered and eventually subject to Court Martial proceedings where they were sentenced to death.

They were executed on Friday 1st December 1916 and their deaths were reported to their two families as being 'died of gunshot wounds' and 'died of wounds'. Ingham was the son of George Edward and Eliza Ann Ingham of Lower Kersal, Manchester. Longshaw was the son of Charles and Elizabeth Longshaw of Pendleton, Manchester. For many years both families were unaware of the true cause of the their deaths. Later when he realised the truth George Ingham requested what is now a unique inscription to be placed on his sons headstone:


The National Memorial Arboretum

Andrew DeComyn, a sculptor from Birmingham, crafted the statue of a blindfolded boy soldier awaiting execution which now stands within the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire to form a section uniquely dedicated to the memory of those men Shot At Dawn.

Lying at the eastern end of the Arboretum, close to the River Tame, the memorial is symbolically positioned where dawn first breaks on the site.

The Pardon

On 8 November 2006 Royal assent was given to the Armed Forces Bill. Part of this Act includes a section regarding pardons 'for servicemen executed for disciplinary offences: recognition as victims of First World War'.

This section applies in relation to any person who was executed for a relevant  offence committed during the period beginning with 4 August 1914 and ending with 11 November 1918. Each such person is to be taken to be pardoned under this section in respect of  the relevant offence (or relevant offences) for which he was executed.

The relevant offence are defined as being those from the Army Act of 1881:

Casting away arms etc, cowardice, leaving post without orders, sentinel sleeping etc on post or leaving post, mutiny and sedition, striking etc a superior officer, disobedience in defiance of authority, and desertion or attempt etc to desert.

A similar type list is also included from the Indian Army Act 1911.

The Act is quite clear, however, that these pardons do not affect any conviction or sentence, give rise to any right, entitlement or liability; or affect the prerogative of mercy.