Behind the Town Hall in Poperinge, tucked away in a cobbled courtyard, is a place of execution and death cells.
Soldiers who were ‘shot at dawn’ create quite heated debates these days, especially as we all now know so much more about mental health conditions like PTSD. The British Military executed 346 men during the First World War. The majority of the executed men were sentenced for desertion (77%), 37 were for murder (10%) and another 40 were already under suspended sentences of death.
Twenty seven soldiers were executed at Poperinge; The town was behind the front and military tribunals were able to meet in relatively safe surroundings.
Private James Wilson was the first man shot at Poperinge (he had gone absent whilst in action on Hill 62 in July 1916). 2nd Lt. Eric Poole was the first commissioned officer to be shot (for desertion; his Commanding Officer and the arresting military policeman both recommended he be sent home due to his shell shocked condition). Private William Baker was shot for deserting whenever the opportunity arose.
The headstones of men ‘shot at dawn’ look exactly as all the rest of the graves and as such you would never know the stories behind their deaths.
The pardon stands as recognition that he was one of many victims of the First World War and that execution was not a fate he deserved.Armed Forces Act 2006
5 thoughts on “Summer Road Trip 2022 | A Place of Execution, Poperinge | Belgium”
So sad. If they knew then what we know now about mental health issues after a trauma, those men may have survived the war. An acknowledgement in the form of a pardon is a small step for those families to know that a mistake was made, but cannot bring their ancestors back.
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It is a shocking episode in British history, many of those who were shot at dawn were denied their name being added to War Memorials after the war.
It is good that the pardon has happened, but it should have happened years earlier.
A very sad piece of our history. It was such a savage sentence for those young men suffering from what we now know is a serve illness, PTSD. A truer quote was never spoke; “when we know better, we do better”. While Downton Abbey was fictional, I thought Julian Fellowes brought to light some of those tales of those so deeply affected by PTSD in WWI; 1 shot for cowardice & one struggling to cope living with PTSD in a world with no understanding.
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We stood in front of that post and in the cell for no more than ten minutes, but we all felt the power of history … extremely disturbing.