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Myths, Lies and distortions about the First World War.

Phil Perry

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Another essay from Blown Periphery, which I thought you may like to read.


First World War Myths Lies and Distortions




19th August 2018.




What seems such a long time ago, my dear long-suffering wife decided that she wanted to be a teacher. She had lived in many places, often not through choice, served her country in the Armed Forces, brought up two children and supported a husband through thick and thin. I firmly believe that she would have made a great teacher and she commenced studying for a humanities degree and became a classroom assistant to begin the process.


We had inherited through my grandfather, a Princess Mary 1914 Christmas Tin, sadly empty. As the First World War was being studied in the class, she decided to take it in and give the children a little talk on its background, which she thought went down rather well. But she was unhappy about some of the teaching points regarding the Great War. The teacher was good, he could captivate the class and importantly, maintain control. However, she had some concerns about accuracy of the information being taught and voiced her concerns to me.


“Mr ______ told the kids that our soldiers were in the trenches for years without hope, until they were killed, badly wounded or until the war ended. That doesn’t seem likely to me.”


“It isn’t. I think it’s a bit OOT, but kids believe it. I thought they were regularly rotated back to the support trenches and then out of the front line for training, issue of new kit and R&R. The battalions were rotated, except during a major attack or offensive.”


“I mentioned it to him after the lesson, but he was quite adamant. He said: “That’s why so many of the soldiers went mad or tried to run away. That’s why thousands were shot after kangaroo courts.” I know some soldiers were shot for desertion, but I didn’t think it was thousands.”


This started me thinking about just how far the metastasis of the Progressive Left have infested the institutions. We have to push back against this insidious disinformation and do our ancestors who fought in the First World War justice, by dissecting and demolishing these deliberate lies that have become accepted truth. Why? This will be discussed in a subsequent piece.


Military Law


Warfare requires men and sometimes women, to engage in activities that fly in the face of common sense or natural instinct. A normal human reaction when faced with the likelihood of death or serious injury is to avoid it. But an army that avoided danger would be absolutely useless and would never win a firefight, let alone a battle. There would be no point in having Armed Forces, except to make state visits, royal weddings and Wimbledon look nice, and looking at some of the bile-inducing recruitment adverts, I fear that is the route we are taking.


Military personnel are not brainwashed, they are conditioned to act in accordance with the wishes of their superiors and peers, for a common goal. Military law is not civil law and although some comparisons can be made, many cannot. It forms the underpinning principles of ensuring that military personnel will do their jobs in all circumstances. It ensures that men will stand, fight and support each other and it is what makes for a disciplined army rather than an armed rabble.


Unlike some other countries, British military personnel are subject to civil as well as military law. Lesser offences such as common assault against fellow servicemen are tried under military law for convenience. The Army Act also makes it possible to try Servicemen for crimes committed in a foreign country, much to the delight of parasites such as Mr Phil Shiner. Offences tried and prosecuted under the Army Act will carry a much heavier sentence than those under civil law. Falling asleep as a night watchman may result in dismissal. Falling asleep as a sentry was until recently, punishable by death. Interestingly, British Service personnel could not be tried for war crimes if they were acting upon orders received from a senior officer. Whether the order was lawful or not was up to the officer who issued it and their superiors. This was deleted from the manual in 1944, to allow the prosecution of German and Japanese combatants in the post-WW2 war crimes trials.


Civil law is adversarial, and the duty of the court is to hear the prosecution and defence cases and decide which case stands. Whereas military law descends from Roman law and the process is inquisitorial, the duty of the court to discover what actually happened. There has been a recent change in the Court Martial system, to bring the process more in line with civil law. In the period prior to these changes, the person trying the case was a soldier and therefore understood the circumstances under which an offence was committed. For simplicity I’ll use the term “Army” although the principles apply to Navy and Air Force Law. Modern critics say this means the Army is the judge and jury in its own case, but only soldiers understand the significance of certain acts or omission of an act. To hand this function over to civilian courts would not only be time consuming, but would undermine the process of military law which is to deal with a case swiftly and maintain good order and discipline. As part of the recruit training process, all service personnel are introduced to military law and learn the salient points in their first few weeks. Additionally, while I can’t be certain with the Army and Navy, the RAF’s Station Standing Orders and Station Routine Orders regularly outline prevalent offences and the penalties for having committed them. I once lost two-weeks’ pay for sneaking out of a WRAF block one morning, for the sins of being out of bounds, improper use of a fire escape and getting caught.


In 1914 the powers of commanding officers were very limited and they could only hear relatively minor offences such as drunkenness or absence from duty. A commanding officer usually delegated powers to his company commanders and punishments were usually stoppage of pay, confinement to barracks. The soldier had the right not to take his officer’s punishment and elect for trial by court martial. Most took the punishment. As the war dragged on, the powers of commanding officers were increased to allow a CO to award a punishment of up to 28 days detention or field punishment up to the rank of lance-corporal.


For more serious offences there were four levels of court martial, the lowest a Regimental Court Martial, a District, a General and a Field Court Martial. The president of the Regimental Court Martial had to be a major or above and consist of three officers, all having served a minimum of three years. A General Court Martial had to consist of nine officers, the president being a lieutenant-colonel or above and had the powers to award the death penalty if at least two-thirds agreed. This worked well in peacetime, but on active service it was often impossible to assemble nine officers, hence the requirement for a Field Court Martial, only convened in war on active service. It consisted of three officers, all whom must have served at least a year in field duties, the president a lieutenant-colonel and in the case of the death penalty all had to agree. Nobody involved with bringing the case could sit in the court and all members swore an oath on the bible. There was no appeal, but sentences had to be approved in the case of a death sentence by the head of the British Expeditionary Forces. Very serious offences such as murder of a civilian were advised by a civilian judge. This post was known as the Judge Advocate.


Military law was kept simple and as long as the strict guidelines on procedure and evidence were adhered to, a soldier should have a fair and honest trial. If they weren’t, the approving officer would dismiss the case. The accused was asked if he understood the case being brought against him and if he objected to any members of the court, such as a run-in with an officer in the past. He had the right to call any person in support of his case, providing they were available and ask for any officer not involved with the case to defend him. After the prosecution made its case, the defence made theirs, calling any witnesses. Then the case was summed up and the defending officer had the last word. The court adjourned for a decision and if not guilty was announced, that was the end of the matter. If guilty, the previous record was read out and any pleas for mitigation. There followed a second adjournment, after which the sentence was read out. Available to a presiding officer was the suspension of a sentence, something that wouldn’t be available in a civilian court for many years.


The critics of military law cite it brutal and cruel, where young men were hauled in front of hastily arranged courts and robbed of their lives. Much of the criticism is from people who do not and do not wish to understand the imperatives of military life, some are pacifists and most are against the death penalty in any form. Some are politicians who recognise damned well a bandwagon when it rattles past, an ideal opportunity for some virtue signalling. Some think Blackadder Goes Forth is a documentary.


Between 4th August 1914 and the 11th November 1918 there were 286,185 Court Martials in all theatres of the British and Indian Armies. 2,229 Officers were tried in the same period. Eighty-nine per-cent recorded a guilty verdict (seventy-five for officers). There were 123,383 Field Court Martials and the most prevalent offences were as follows:


  • Absence without leave 23%
  • Drunkenness 21%
  • Violence, insubordination and disobedience 18%
  • Desertion 5%
  • Ill treatment of civilians 1%
  • Cowardice 0.3%


The death penalty was served in 3,080 cases and the number actually carried out was 346 in all theatres. The vast majority were reduced to penal servitude, field punishments or suspended. The definition of cowardice is very subjective and therefore very difficult to prove. Only the most blatant examples of cowardice appeared before a Court Martial. Abandoning a post or desertion was more clear-cut, so the majority of death sentences were carried out for these offences, where a credible defence is more unlikely. In these cases a soldier had made a conscious effort to abandon his post, or refuse to carry out a duty. The death penalty was never carried out on an Australian soldier, despite the award of the death sentence in 113 cases.


The men actually executed were found guilty of the following offences:


  • Mutiny 3
  • Cowardice 18
  • Desertion 266
  • Murder 37
  • Violence against a superior 6
  • Disobeying a lawful command 5
  • Sleeping at post 2
  • Leaving a post without authority 7
  • Casting away arms 2


So as we can see, apart from the subjective charge of cowardice, a soldier is at his post awake or is nor. He has either struck his superior or he has not. He has committed murder or mutiny or he has not. Thousands of soldiers were not dragged in front of Kangaroo courts and summarily executed and this excepted wisdom is a monstrous lie. We should refute it for the sake of the hundreds of thousands of men who lie buried in neat rows in Picardy and elsewhere around the world. They did their duty.


Corrigan, G. (2003). Mud, Blood and Popycock. London: Cassell.


Courts-martial Figures for Officer Ranks 1914-1919Type4/8 – 30/9/141/10/14 – 30/9/151/10/15 – 30/9/161/10/16 – 30/9/171/10/17 – 30/9/181/10/18 – 30/9/19GCM Home186356435814599GCM


Abroad468478735839842FGCM Abroad1171558141159 Home courts-martials for Other Ranks 1914-1919Type4/8 – 30/9/141/10/14 – 30/9/151/10/15 – 30/9/161/10/16 – 30/9/171/10/17 – 30/9/181/10/18 –


30/9/19GCM Home31214315863149FGCM Ireland33279––––DCM Home62919,34027,05332,69232,39619,037 Overseas courts-martials for Other Ranks 1914-1919Type4/8 – 30/9/141/10/14 – 30/9/151/10/15 –


30/9/161/10/16 – 30/9/171/10/17 – 30/9/181/10/18 – 30/9/19GCM Abroad–22632122130FGCM Abroad5214,74330,29532,83041,66830,367DCM Abroad908777211,0581,284820



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An excellent resource that should be made available to our history teachers.


As one of them, we were led to believe that Australian soldiers were never executed, because they were all volunteers. The logic of that escapes me; surely men who were conscripted to fight, often against their will, were more worthy of leniency than those who had volunteered to be there.



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An excellent resource that should be made available to our history teachers.As one of them, we were led to believe that Australian soldiers were never executed, because they were all volunteers. The logic of that escapes me; surely men who were conscripted to fight, often against their will, were more worthy of leniency than those who had volunteered to be there.

The story I heard was that Australians Authorities were so incensed at the Brits in the Boer War, in executing Breaker Morant and co, that they passed legislation that deleted the Death Penalty from Australian Military legislation and in the future (post Boer War) all Australian Troops would be under Australian Military jurisdiction.



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