UK to pardon WWI soldiers executed for desertion

[JURIST] The British government will likely pardon 306 British soldiers - a number that includes 25 Canadians, 22 Irishmen, and 5 New Zealanders - who were executed for cowardice and desertion during World War I [backgrounder], ending a 16-year campaign mounted by families to have the deceased posthumously pardoned, UK Defense Secretary Des Browne announced Wednesday. Supported by the Royal British Legion and Shot At Dawn [advocacy websites], several families had mounted court challenges to the World War I convictions, arguing that the soldiers had suffered from shell-shock [BBC backgrounder], a diagnosis not recognized at the time, and should not have been sent back into the trenches. Former Defense Secretary and current Home Secretary John Reid [official profile] initially decided against pardoning the soldiers in 1998, saying there was not enough evidence in their favor. Reid, however, began to reconsider pardoning one of the soldiers [BBC report] at the center of the legal challenge last March, right before he became the Home Secretary [JURIST report] in May. Critics of the move say the pardons will effectively rewrite history [BBC backgrounder].

The pardons will likely come as part of an amendment to the Armed Forces Bill [text] currently before parliament, and will apply only to the soldiers shot in World War I under the Army Act of 1881 and the Indian Army Act of 1911. AFP has more. BBC News has local coverage.

 

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