Shot at Dawn




By December 1916 more than 17,000 British troops were officially diagnosed as suffering from nervous or mental disability (we'd say shell-shock or post-traumatic stress disorder these days), despite which the British military authorities continued to charge and convict sufferers with 'cowardice' and 'desertion', and to sentence to death by firing squad many of those found 'guilty'.

On 16 August 2006 the British government announced that it would pardon 308 British soldiers who were shot by firing squad for 'cowardice' and 'desertion' during the First World War of 1914-18. The decision was ratified by Parliament on 7 November 2006, and represented a remarkable u-turn by this and previous governments who had always firmly refuted any evidence and justification for pardoning the victims.

This reversal followed and was largely due to decades of persistent lobbying and campaigning by organisations and individuals, many being families and descendents of the victims. It is not easy to imagine their suffering, especially of the widows and parents long since gone, for whom this decision came a lifetime too late.

The story emphasises two things: first, that people in authority have a responsibility to behave with integrity. Second, that where people in authority fail to act with integrity, the persistence and determination of ordinary people will eventually force them to do so.

Here is more background about the Shot At Dawn campaign, and the history of this particularly shameful example of British institutional behaviour.

It provides lessons to us all about doing the right thing, and calling to account those who do not.

— A story about eventually doing the right thing.

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