First World War Compassionate Cases

Discussion in 'Army Pay, Claims & JPA' started by watertight, May 19, 2005.

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  1. Quite shocking really:

    In July of 1916, Private William Nelson, 14 Battalion Durham Light Infantry was arrested in Poperinge for being absent without leave. Facing a possible death sentence without legal assistance or the support of a prisoner's friend, Nelson had pleaded not guilty to the charge.
    Nelson's defence consisted of a brief statement:
    “I have had a lot of trouble at home, and my nerves are badly upset. My father is a prisoner in Germany and is losing his eyesight there through bad treatment. My mother died while I was still in England, leaving my sister aged 13 and my brother aged 10. I am the only one left. I had to leave them in charge of a neighbour. I had no intention of deserting. I did not realise what I was doing when I left the camp. When I did so I went and gave myself up. When I went to the store my object was to get a night's sleep and then go and surrender in the morning. I thought it was too late to do so that night. I did not know when the battalion was coming out of the trenches.”
    The court was unimpressed by his physical and emotional woes. After they had found him guilty, details of Nelson’s service and his disciplinary record were recounted. During 1916 he had twice previously faced courts-martial. Nelson’s case was complicated by the fact that he was wounded in the hand during the Battle of Loos on 26 September 1915. Although there was no evidence to support the inference that his wound had been self-inflicted, the accusation severely damaged his character in the eyes of the court.
    Nelson’s battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Menzies, declared that the convicted man's character was "Bad from a fighting point of view," but that he did not feel that an example needed to be made of Nelson in order to act as a deterrent to other soldiers in 14 Durham Light Infantry because the performance and morale of the unit was "Very Good.”
    Ignoring Nelson’s explanations for his nervous distress, Haig confirmed that Nelson had no further military value. The Assistant Provost Marshal, 6 Division was ordered to arrange for the twenty year-old soldier to be executed by firing squad at 4 a.m. on 11 August. For reasons which remain unclear, the fatal volley was not discharged until 5.15 a.m. Nelson’s remains were later buried in the British military cemetery at Acheux.

    But there are happier stories:

    On 19 August 1917, 19-year old Gunner William Casey, aged 19 married Margaret Connor, a 21-year old spinster at St. Mary’s Catholic, Newcastle upon Tyne. The bride was eight months’ pregnant with their child and Gunner William Casey had overstayed his leave in order to ensure that the baby would be born legitimate.
    On returning to his Royal Field Artillery unit, which was attached to 8 Army Corps, Casey was tried by Field General Court Martial. His punishment for what was a capital offence remains unknown but his illiterate wife persuaded her mother to write a letter to Casey’s commanding officer, pleading for clemency. The letter was read out to the court and when the proceedings were drawn to the attention of General Sir Aylmer Hunter Weston, the Corps commander, he found the whole business absolutely hilarious.
    He wrote to Margaret Casey:
    “Allow me as the commander of the ArmyCorps in which your husband is serving to send you a cheque with which to buy a wedding present… In my official capacity, your husband’s Court-Martial happened to come to my notice, & though of course his commanding officer had no option but to try him for the very heinous offence of being absent without leave & the Court Martial on the evidence had no other course but to condemn him and sentence him to severe punishment, yet, I am glad to say, it has been possible to commute the sentence and suspend its execution. So your Husband will not be punished. I rejoice that when he was forced with the necessity of committing a fault, your Husband had no hesitation in choosing that fault which would bring punishment to him and not to you. You fully realise, I hope, that in coming home thus to marry you he ran a very great risk of being found guilty of desertion & being shot; so he faced death for your sake . . .”