Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Shot at dawn in the First World War and the Welsh opposition that seems to have been forgotten.

During the First World War some 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers were shot for mutiny desertion and cowardice. Most of them were sentenced after a short trial at which  no real opportunity for defence was allowed.
Today, it is recognised that several of them were underage when they volunteered and that many were actually suffering from shell-shock or post traumatic disorder. Andy Decomyn's statue ' Shot at Dawn' is modelled on Private Herbert Burden of the 1st Batallion Northumberland fusiliers, who was shot at Ypres in 1915. aged only 17. His name and the names of who suffered the fate of being shot at dawn are listed on the stakes arranged  in the form of a Greek theatre around the statue, symbolising the tragedy that those events signify. The location of the memorial in the most easterly point of the Arboteum means that this is the first place to be touched by the dawn light.
He was one of 306 young British soldiers who met this  cruel fate, including 15 of my own fellow Welsh countrymen, induced by the horrors of the Great War, that at least Jeremy Corbyn has had the tenacity to acknowledge. I remember too  how the late Keir Hardie duel M.P for Mertyr Tydfil and Aberdare raised his opposition to this cruel war. What is also forgotten is around 200,000 miners in  the South Wales valleys  went on strike at the height of the First World War. Not everyone signed up to the  jingoistic version of patriotism that continues to be spread.
There were between 700-900 conscientious objectors in Wales during this period, it was no soft option. It meant tribunals, imprisonment and hard labor. Conchies as they were  known faced with humiliation, called cowards and shirkers. By 1916 Home Office intelligence reports revealed the extent of anti-war, revolutionary opposition in South Wales, it was large.
After the 75 year secrecy Act was lifted, members of the Shot at Dawn Organisation started campaigning for pardon. This week as rememberance Sunday approaches I remember them all not as cowards or traitors, but as victims of injustice that were not given the chance to survive.
I support all those that strive to ensure that a radical anti-war message remains fully embedded in our hearts, without disrespecting others that fell. So on Sunday I will proudly wear a white poppy. Remember these other  heroes that time has forgotten.
Finally in the words of Harry Patch the last WW1 veteran in Europe (1989 -2006)

' War is organised  murder and nothing else. Politicians  who took us to war should have been given the  guns and told to settle their differences themselves instead of organising nothing netter than legalised murder.'

                                      World War One Conscientious Objectors                             

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