I think it makes a difference to the family, and possibly to the regimental history. I know I would want justice (or at least my own version of justice) done if he had been Grandfather/greatgrandfather.
I totally agree that this should be resolved, we have to remember that what these men saw and done things that we never will (thank god) and shell shock wasn't regognised in thoses days, as the saying goes we have to remember thoses who fell for us!
I hope that the Private Farr case is the turning point and that the shame that befell the families of these unfortunate soldiers can be eradicated.
I believe there was a serious amount of poor intermediate leadership (ie junior Officers straight out of school). We cannot begin to imagine the horrors these guys went through. I've heard so many stories from the men who "fought" in the Great War, and from my own experience, that I can understand why some soldiers were accused of desertion. I believe many were shot to be as an example and to keep down the possibility of mutiny.
As an aside, if you get a chance, visit the "Shot at Dawn" memorial at the RBL National Memorial Arboretum, Arlewas, Staffs. - A truly sobering experience.
Just two weeks before Farr's fatal offence, Col B H Scott, ADMS 6th Division, reported that St. Brocr had spent 1.25 years in the trenches and was "...simply tired out, and wants prolonged change in England among friends - rest in a Hospital or Convalescent Home." He had him sent to a Hospital on 4 September 1916, with a letter declaring he was, "...anaemic and washed out."
It was common knowledge that Farr was suffering from a medical condition that was then known as shell shock. On four occasions during 1915-16, he reported sick with his nerves. On the first occasion in May 1915, he was in hospital for five months. He had an uncontrollable shake that was so bad that nurses had to write his letters home to his wife. During April 1916 he reported sick again with his nerves and spent two weeks at a dressing station. In July he reported sick with the same complaint and was in hospital for two days. During September he reported sick to RMS Haking who told him to go to the dressing station, but because he did not appear to be wounded they refused to see him. RMS Haking now told him to go up to the front line with a ration party, but Farr remained at the transport lines.
Two accounts of what followed are detailed in the only too brief court martial papers that are reproduced below. Farr's account has a greater ring of truth to it. There is no evidence he was ever given an opportunity to request a "soldier's friend" and so defended himself. For a man as ill as he was, it was a formidable exercise. The entire proceedings took about twenty minutes
The court was negligent in that it never explored Farr's medical condition sufficiently. It's interesting that the Medical Officer, who wasn't qualified in psychiatry, should later formally report his examination in a letter. Why did he take this unusual step? But it's clear he was uncertain of Farr's health. Why did he change the condition from good to satisfactory? 2nd. Lt. Marshall's evidence also reinforced the fact Farr was ill. And his medical history spoke volumes. He had relapsed having never fully recovered. Military experts agree, he should have been examined by an specialist in shell shock but was instead seen by a hard-pressed MO. Harry Farr was not only failed by the medical profession but more importantly the army itself who at the end of the day were in overall command.
The court accepted evidence presented by the Prosecution without question, even though the Defence contradicted it.
The senior officers responsible for confirming the courtâs sentence accepted hearsay evidence in their approval of Farr's execution.
Captain Wilson's positive estimation of his character and his virtually unblemished disciplinary record were nullified by his Brigade Commander and negative gossip communicated by his Divisional Commander to Lt. General Cavan. What follows is that actual record of the trial kept at the Public Record Office.
I have to disagree somewhat. What happened then has to stay then. We would have to reopen every old case when we discover something new, which means a lot of time, energy and money taken up in courts etc by something that will have little effect in real terms.
I'm not saying what happened then was right, but they didn't understand things in the same way as we do now, and if it was today then there might have been a different outcome, but then again there might not.
At the end of the day, what good will it really do? We can't bring him back, and in reality, how much stigma is there really attached (genuine question, i don't know).
Some interesting (and sad) facts and figures
Military executions during the First World War
(includes all commonwealth troops) 346
(for non-military offences e.g. murder and rape) 10
NEW ZEALAND 5
It makes a vast difference to how the families feel. My grandfather avoided a court martial for punching an admiral by agreeing to be sent to a forward artillery unit that suffered casualties rated at over 100% by rotation.
He survived in spite of the War Dept. intention.
My gradfather probably got a slight chance because he was over 6 feet 4 inches and therefore was extremely useful as a loader in his role, Private Farr was in all likelihood 5 feet 7 inches and regarded as useless having been in hospital with "lack of morale fibre" for many months.
Private Farr died a very brave but ultimately broken man. RIP wherever you are.
I cannot believe "Russia nil", when senior NCOs and junior officers even had powers of summary execution in the Czarist Army...
As for reviewing and altering Private Farr's case, well I have no sympathy at all with this revisionist approach. It is typical that the lions led by donkeys argument gets trotted (no pun intended but hah-ha anyway) out again. YOs straight from school probably had Cert A and hence got their commissions on the back of four years at least in the School OTC. As for the quality of generals then once again there has been too much generalization and the fact remains that the poor generals were a minority and bad generals got sacked. A lot of two and one star officers are on the casualty roll.
If we are going to insist that soldiers shot possibly pour encourager les autres are pardoned, then what about poor old Admiral Byng??
What was done to deserters was pretty standard. The book 'Shot at Dawn' suggests that a large number of those shot werre, by today's standards, sick rather than cowards. However, those were hard days in a hard environment and we have to view things as they happened then and not by standards of today. Where would it all end - standards of care at Waterloo? (the battle not the train station)
I went there a couple of years ago. It's a very thought provoking memorial. They have a statue of the youngest bloke they executed, in the middle. He's surrounded by a semi-circle of stakes, one for each man executed, with his name and date of sentence attached.
Although evidence in both directions is a bit flimsy in most of the cases, some, like Farrs just need someone with a bit of common dog to say
"Fair one, lad, we shouldn't have shot you. Your pardoned."
But the figures rather contradict the popular notion that soldiers were being shot out of hand in brutal miscarraiges of justice: eight million or so servicemen in WW1, roughly 1/2 million Courts-martial, about 9,000 death sentences, all commuted less for about 300. If only about 3% of death sentences were actually being carried out, then clearly there was an overwhelming inclination to appeal, mercy and commutation. Equally obvious is that the WW1 military justice system had experience and throughput unlike anything experienced in modern times. The "shell-shock" defence also does not stack up: to a certain extent every serviceman experiences some form of mental trauma, be it "shell shock" or PTSD. Popular myth takes no account of the fact that nearly every contemporary WW1 account shows that mental trauma was not only understood and managed, but that most servicemen recovered from the effects. Private Farr may have had a period of sickness, but it is very likely that - in the experience of officers who had seen thousands and thousands of cases - he was in a relatively normal state at the time of his offence.
In the light of cases such as the Guildford Four, Bliar's policy of appeasement of terrorists by releasing convicted murderers from prison early (including those who killed soldiers and policemen), and that the re-examination of old cases has now become commonplace, I have no difficulty with cases like that of Pte Farr being looked at again. What I find particularly insulting is that a creature like TCH should be in a position to determine whether or not a conditional pardon should be given. He is not a judge, and neither has he any military experience whatever. At least the case is now being dealt with in the appropriate place - the Courts.