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