Great War Pardons a charade

The Herald: 22.9.2006

‘Pardons’ blow for victims’ families

IAN BRUCE, Defence Correspondent September 22 2006

The posthumous "pardons" announced last month for 306 British soldiers executed for alleged cowardice and desertion in the First World War do not erase the convictions against their names, The Herald can reveal.
Despite official assurances that the granting of pardons would lift 90 years of stigma from families whose relatives were shot and branded as cowards, it now emerges that the dead will still have the offences on their records.

A Ministry of Defence letter of clarification issued during the parliamentary recess states that while the pardons indicate "that execution was not a fate the individual deserved, convictions would not be quashed".
Campaigners who fought to clear the men and end 90 years of secret shame for their descendants yesterday accused the MoD of "betrayal" and "political chicanery".

Statutory pardons were granted in August for the victims, some as young as 16, who were condemned for cowardice, desertion and other frontline offences while many were suffering from shell-shock and not responsible for their actions.

John Hipkin, who started the UK's Shot at Dawn campaign in 1990 to seek justice for soldiers and their families, accused the MoD of "backtracking in a despicable manner" and "betrayal".

The Royal British Legion in Scotland, which represents 57,000 ex-servicemen and women, said the decision meant "no family has, in reality, received more than a half-pardon". A spokesman described the manner in which the pardons were now being devalued as "sly at best".
He added: "Our point has always been that, while some of those shot by firing squad were genuine deserters who deserved their fate, very many others were condemned unfairly while suffering from what is now recognised as post-traumatic stress disorder. Their nerves were shot and their convictions were unsound."

Almost all of the 306 "other-rankers" executed between 1914 and 1918 were sentenced after summary courts-martial. Only two officers were shot. One was a lowly naval sub-lieutenant, and the other a junior infantry officer of Canadian extraction with no influential regimental connections.
Another batch of 15 officers was cashiered from the Army in disgrace, but later received full royal pardons.

Mr Hipkin said: "If this latest move is aimed at denying surviving relatives financial compensation for travesties of justice, it is cruel and unnecessary. Only one family out of 306 has even made inquiries about a cash settlement.

"The others just want closure and the clearance of a legacy of shame which has lasted almost a century. They will be deeply disappointed by this chicanery.

"We have to face the fact that the MoD is ruled by the same kind of people as those who set policy back in 1916."

The MoD's written statement says the effect of the pardons is intended "to recognise execution was not the fate the individual deserved", but "should not be seen as casting doubt on the procedures and processes of the time or the judgment of those who took these very difficult decisions".
It adds: "The amendment will not create any right to compensation."
Angus Robertson, SNP defence spokesman, said: "Obviously a pardon is not a pardon when handed out by the MoD. If it were not so tragic, it could be part of a Blackadder sketch. The families do not deserve to be treated in this shabby manner."