Shot at Dawn Memorial, National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire. By Noisette [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Three simple letters (SaD), whose meaning has awful and sad connotations – SHOT AT DAWN. Mainly soldiers from all sides were shot for cowardice, abandonment of their post, casting their arms or falling asleep on post (as some examples). For these it would seem that the soldiers were suffering from the effects of war and not all were trying to abandon their posts.
Certainly there were stories of french soldiers who were unlucky when being accused of abandonment of posts – one soldier went to the First Aid Dressing station as his hand was injured. However, the Major of the post decided there was some powder on the hand and accused him of abandoning his post. You have to feel for 2 other soldiers; their Captain had ordered that they stay behind in the trench to look after equipment. Unfortunately for them, it appears a new Captain was named and when he saw them in the trench accused them of abandonment. They were shot at dawn. There are probably many stories along these lines. Some soldiers were executed for hitting their senior officer – whilst understanding the need to make an example of them I wonder whether shooting them was perhaps a bit extreme!
However, some soldiers did commit murder and 35 British soldiers were accused and executed for this.
Who was the worse country? Hard to totally identify as I could not find any numerical data of Russian/Austrian Hungarian soldiers shot but of the countries where there is some data France wins with 953. Italy shot around 750 and then Great Britain around 306. However the Germans only shot 48 of their own.
It is worth considering that armies suddenly acquired ‘Civilian Soldiers’ who did not necessarily respect authority, liked a tipple or two! and probably provided some disciplinary headaches. However, it seems the old imperial armies of France, Italy and Britain could not understand especially for the first few years of the war the physiological damage caused to soldiers living under constant bombardment.
Even though at 5.00 am documents were signed in a railway carriage which would in effect end the Great War and that all guns would be put down at 11.00 and there would be peace, 10,944 were still wounded that day and 2,738 died (some may have been from wounded before 11 November)
Meet four of the men that died that day.
Private George Edward Ellison was the last British soldier to die. He was a soldier before the war and had been at Mons at the beginning of the war. Here he was back again and at 09.30 am on 11 November 1918 he was scouting around the woods at Mons where Germans were supposed to be when he was shot by a sniper. He left behind a wife and child in Leeds who were not told of his death until about a month later.
Private George Lawrence Price was from Canada. It is often reported that he was the last person from the Allies to be shot. George was among a patrol of 5 who went to search houses one by one. They discovered Germans setting up heavy machine guns by a brick wall and facing these guns towards their battalion across the river. They tried to shot at the patrol but realising that they were discovered, the Germans started their retreat. George was shot by a German Sniper upon leaving one of the houses they were searching. He died at 10.58 am.
Poor Augustin-Joseph Trebuchon – all he was trying to do was to take a message to troops by the River Meuse. The message was to notify them that soup would be served at 11.30 am to celebrate the peace. He was killed at 10.45 am and would be the last frenchman killed.
The last ally soldier to be killed at 10:59 am was Henry Nicholas John Gunther. Ironically his parents were both children of German immigrants. It is debated about what exactly happened that morning but the US soldiers had been told that there would be no let up until 11.00 am. They spotted German soldiers on the crescent of the slope with machine guns. The Germans looked at the Americans in disbelief knowing that soon their guns would be silenced. No-one know what drove Henry to get up and charge at the enemy. The Germans defending their position until 11.00 am shot back at him.
For the Germans, it would be worse for at midnight, German soldiers arriving at Hamant in Belgium by train were blown apart by a mine – hundreds were killed 13 hours after the armistice.
It is difficult to comprehend these days of communication being so slow. Fighting, however, did continue in some areas until they received the last order at 4.15 pm on that day. However for General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck who was in Africa he did not learn about his nation’s defeat until 23rd November whereupon he surrendered.
#lest we forget #armistice day #george ellison #george price #augustin trebuchon #henry gunther
Probably my interest was picqued when I noticed that a large amount of Algerian soldiers especially but also Moroccan and Tunisian soldiers as part of the French Army died on 22 August 1914 (date of my birthday!). I then researched into the date and found that 27,000 French Army soldiers died on this date. The French were fighting the Battle of the Frontiers which lasted from 7 August 1914 for a month. It took place between the Eastern Frontier of France and Southern Belgium.
In simple terms the plan by the Germans (Schlieffen Plan) was to use their might against France for a quick victory and then spend their efforts on the Eastern Front against Russia. The French have five divisions from Alsace/Lorraine to the Belgium Border – each division partook in different assaults (around 15) but did not communicate these with each other. The French retreated leaving behind many severely wounded and dead.
One difference between the armies that day was the Germans were efficient and organised whilst the French Army (made up from many different parts of the French colony) had not efficiently trained all of their army defensive warfare and nor the german guns out-ranged the french. You could also say that the bright colours of the French uniform (blue coats and red trousers) did not make them inconscipuous – the french had ordered new blue/grey uniform but this was not available in the first few weeks of the war.
A transcript about the 1er Regiment de Marche de Tirailleurs (mostly Algerian soldiers) on this date stated: Attached to the 3rd Army Corps, which occupies Charleroi, he arrives on August 22nd at the Figoterie, where he receives the order to “reject the Germans in the Sambre by counterattacking them towards the Chatelet “. The charge is magnificent, but precipitous, unprepared, unsupported; it breaks on the German lines; the hecatomb is terrible; the battalion has only 5 out of 19 officers and 400 out of 900 men.
#Battle of the Frontiers #lest we forget #remember all in WW1
I mentioned Captain Oswald Boelcke in my previous post. He was one of the first ace fighters and a hero within Germany. He was a great aerial tactian and became a huge influence in the air. His fame was only outmatched by the Red Baron. He was also one of the ‘Gentlemen of the Sky’ in that he visited one of his ‘victims’ in hospital, and like the British did when Immelman died Boelcke managed to drop a letter to a downed pilot behind British Lines. It was not only the British who admired him for Boelcke jumped into a channel and saved a drowning 14 year old French boy in 1915.
This story concerns Captain Wilson but it has been told that he did the same to other pilots as well who were shot down and survived. Wilson was forced to land near the front lines of the Somme in September 1915 and was shadowed by Boelcke all the way down. Upon getting out of the plane he was not met with a gun but a handshake and taken to his mess for a cup of coffee and a tour of his aerodrome. The German wrote about this saying – his machine was wobbling badly…..because I had shot his elevator to pieces. …it was buring when the pilot jumped out and he beat his arms and legs about because he was on fire too……………..took him to coffee in the mess and showed him our aerodrome whereby I had a very interesting conversation with him.
Captain Wilson at the end of war said that ‘it was the greatest day of my life even though it ended badly for me’.
On 28 October 1916, Boelcke and his best friend Erwin Bohme flew four sorties over the front that morning. They were playing Chess when they received a call that British planes were coming overhead. The day was rainy and misty and Bohme and Boelcke had lost sight of each other whilst fighting a british plane. Although they saw each other at the last minute they managed to clip each others planes. Bohme survived and Boelcke might have survived if he had worn a helmet!
A lone British aircraft dropped a wreath at his funeral with the inscription ‘To the memory of Captain Boelcke, our brave and chivalrous foe. From the British Royal Flying Corp’ Even Captain Wilson managed to send a wreath to the funeral.
Captain Wilburg, the staff officer for the airmen of Germany’s First Army said:
A mighty hero, a noble warrior,
A pure soul, our Boelcke has fallen,
His deeds are immortal,
His name is imperishable,
May his spirit be our spirit.
The infamous Manfred von Richthofen (Red Baron) said “I am only a fighting airman, but Boelcke was a hero.
#unexpectedhero #Boelcke #WW1
We all know about the Christmas truce story but another sign of respect from both sides occured in the story below:
Max Immelman was a famous german fighter pilot. He received with his friend, Oswald Boelcke the highest military honour of the Pour le Merite from Kaiser Wilhelm in 1916. His name is more known these days for a plane manoevre called the Immelmann Turn (half loop followed by half turn).
For all his fighting instincts in the air, on the ground Max was meant to be an introverted man who did not smoke and very rarely drank alcohol.
When Max died in 1916, the British DROPPED a black wreath with a commiseration note from the British Flying Corps onto Max’s airfield. The note is below:
We have come over to drop this
wreath as a tribute of the respect
the British Flying Corps held for
We consider it an honor to have
been detailed for this special work.
Lt. Immelmann was respected by
all British airmen, one and
all agreeing that he was a
Allister M. Miller – Pilot (South African aviation pioneer)
Howard O. Houp – Observer
The Kaiser banned Oswald Boelcke flying for a month after Max’s death as he felt that his two famous aces could not die so close to each other! My next blog will be about the time Oswald Boelcke had a cup of tea with Captain Watson.
Men and Women in the Great War from around the world all had a story to tell.. Let us not forget they were fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and someone’s child. It is also important to remember those that survived and bore the scars of war mentally and physically. Currently I am undertaking a project to find out information about those in the Great War. Any stories and photos would be gratefully received. In the meantime, I will undertake to tell you stories that I have learnt about along the way.
War demands sacrifice of the people. It gives only suffering in return – Frederic Clemson Howe