Looking Back: Spare a thought for the young men shot at dawn
When World War 1 began in 1914, the army was composed of volunteers, but in the Battles of the Somme and Ypres, 528,227 men had been killed.
So, in 1916, conscription was introduced with the law stating that you had to serve your country for a certain period of time, although a ‘conscience clause’ was added whereby those who had a ‘conscientious objection’ to bearing arms could opt out.
There were various types of conscientious objectors.
Some were pacifists who were against war in general, some political objectors and some religious objectors. Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses were amongst those.
Many men who were not wearing a uniform, often because of medical conditions, attracted the attention of the White Feather Campaign.
Women were encouraged to present these men with white feathers to signify cowardice.
More than 300 British soldiers were shot during this war for offences such as desertion and cowardice.
There were eight from Sheffield. There were many young boys, some only 16 and 17, often suffering from shellshock and what would today have been called post-traumatic stress.
When they were caught and court martialled, they were tied to a stake and shot at dawn.
Their widows if married, were denied pensions with none of the names added to war memorials.
Some years ago most of these men received formal pardons.
A poignant memorial to those British and Commonwealth soldiers who died at dawn can be found at Alrewas in Staffordshire with the statue of a blindfolded soldier placed at the most easterly point of the Arboretum where it is the first place to be touched by the dawn light.
On Remembrance Sunday we remembered not only servicemen and civilians who died in a never-ending succession of dreadful conflicts, or disasters, many very recent, and families who faced heartbreak, homelessness and hardship, together with those we have lost from our own family history.
And hopefully spared a thought for the young men who were shot at dawn.