“Well, one evening I was warned that I had to go on a firing party, to shoot four men from another battalion who had been accused of desertion. Well, I was very worried about it because I didn’t think it was right in the first place that Englishmen should be shooting other Englishmen, I thought we were in France to fight the Germans.
And another thing, I thought that I knew why these men had deserted – if they had deserted – because I understood their feelings and what would make them desert. The fact that they’d probably been in the trenches for two or three months without a break, absolutely broke the nerve. I thought that was the reason why I didn’t feel like shooting them.
So, later in the evening, an old soldier in our battalion told me that it was the one thing in the army which you could refuse, so I straight away went back to the sergeant and said, ‘Sorry I’m not doing this.’ and I heard no more about it.
I think one reason why I felt so strong about it was the fact that the week before, a boy in our own battalion had been shot for desertion. Well, I knew that boy and I knew that he’d lost his nerve. He couldn’t have gone back into the line. And he was shot. I know the exact place where he was shot. The tragedy of that was that a few weeks later in our local paper, I saw that his father had joined up to avenge his sons death on the Germans.”
– Alan Bray, First Manchesters regiment, Battle of Ypres, 1915
As we always say here at Battles and Beers (TM) Every soldier has a story, and every story deserves to be told.