War and History Fiction posted July 2, 2014

This work has reached the exceptional level
The forgotten ones.

OUT OF THE BLUE. (Shot at Dawn. pt1)

by write hand blue

                  ~ Out of the Blue ~

                    A book of stories
                  Chapter one part one

             Shot at Dawn 




I thought it appropriate at this time while we commemorate the men who fought in World War One, that we think about the 306 men, (and boys), of Britain and the Commonwealth who were tragically executed and branded as cowards and deserters by the British military. Whose names appear on NO memorials.

It is generally regarded that the majority of these unfortunates were suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and/or combat stress reaction. After what was usually a perfunctory court martial of about thirty minutes, often without legal defence. This led to between 10-12% of the cases sentenced to be -- 'SHOT AT DAWN'...

The title I have taken from the 'Shot At Dawn ' memorial in Staffordshire. Picture above.

*all names used in this story are fictitious.


1725 hrs. 14th November 1915.
About thirty miles south west of Calais.

Got the shakes again. Can't help it, started 4pm this afternoon when the verdict was read out by a 'prig' of an Officer.

Nearly fainted I did, as a red mist rose up behind my eyes. Took the strong hands of the two military policemen one each side of me, to keep me on my feet. Expected a sentence of six months in the glass-house. Got that wrong, didn't I? A grim, high pitched laugh escaped my lips, at the memory of it.

"Must keep a hold of myself."

I must admit I struggled to keep my emotions on an even keel. Did this make me a coward? Nahh, not at all -- I've seen my mates weeping for their loved ones just before battle. Oh, how I hated that word coward. They weren't cowards, nor was I. My thoughts were interrupted as the small hatch in the black cell door slid open. It was, of course, Sergeant Malone.

"How is the prisoner, Private Robert Baker?"

"I'm OK, Sergeant Malone," I lied.

I felt like ignoring him as a small protest, but this would only make problems for the Sergeant, who seemed a decent type.

Been on my own in this small, cold prison cell for ten days. They wanted me to answer every blooming thirty minutes; my answer written in the duty log. This was just one more regulation in a world I didn't understand. Not the world I volunteered to fight for. Lied about my age, I did... You see, I joined last May, barely turned sixteen, told them eighteen. I was keen like thousands of my generation to fight for King and country. How misguided were we all, ' Lambs To The Slaughter.'

Today, they told me I was a liar when I gave them my true birth date. Couldn't even remember the false date.

Not sure where I am. Somewhere in northern France some fifteen miles or so behind our lines. Explosions could be heard in the distance. My hands were shaking good and proper again. Thoughts of the explosions gave me a good sweat despite the November chills. I found myself wishing that a shell would find its way and come down upon us. Thoughts of that final screech did nothing for my frayed nerves.

1800 hrs. The Sergeant passed my dinner through the door.

"Sergeant, when -- uhmn! Will it. I mean, what time--." I left it unsaid. I couldn't bring myself to say those words. "I think they told me at the court martial, but I'm not sure."

His eyes watched me and after a pause, mouthed the words, "0730 hours."

Why, oh why, did I ask? Yet of course, I should know when I'm going to be ---. My heart missed several beats, I couldn't even think that word. His eyes showed he understood.

"Listen, Son. It'll be over in a flash. You'll feel nothing."

I nodded, though I didn't believe him. Had to look brave. So I bit my lower lip to stop the tremor. Couldn't do anything about a little moisture in my eyes that could build up to a tear. I had to turn my head.

1930 hrs. That tin plate with bully beef, and overcooked carrots, cabbage and potato lay cold by my bed, a straw palliasse, there on the floor. All thoughts of eating forgotten.

Backwards and forwards, I rocked on a rickety chair that the kindly Sergeant had just given me. With no idea of the time, I remembered Granddad's pocket watch that he left me when he died. This, my GOOD LUCK charm, had stopped working after a few weeks in the trenches. Couldn't take the water and mud. I panicked a little as I wondered where my pack was, with that watch in it.

Good luck? That's a laugh. I do wish I could have looked after it better, though. Then perhaps I may not have ended up here in this mess. It was impossible to keep anything like a watch in good order, where in trenches we had to stand in the rain with mud over our boots.

Barely aware of the passage of time, but all too aware of the minutes. Sometimes I counted out a minute, tick - tock, tick - tock, up to sixty. Another minute nearer... then I remember... "Oh my God!"

Must keep my mind off... I'm shaking again. What would Dad, so strong, with a stiff upper lip, say if he could see me? I think he would take the news in his stride. My Mum and the family are the ones that will be devastated to hear that their son has been branded a coward.

No one will talk to them. Just like the Armstrong family in nearby Rochdale. Their son was shot for desertion. Heard on the regimental grape vine that he was being cared for by a French girl. They say he was in a hell of a state when the military police caught up with him. Had to drag him screaming to the execution yard. Heard they had to tie him to a chair, took four men. Why am I thinking these things?

I really want to weep for Mum. What will she think? Will she believe the army when she receives that letter of execution? Or will she remember how ill I was on my last leave and how I was determined to go back to the front, despite her wishes to the contrary.

All the time I rocked back and forth.


"Sergeant, can you give me the time please?"

The hatch lid opened, "2110 hours, Son."

The eyes that stared at me were of a kind man.

"I have one at home the same age as you, Not old enough yet. 'Thank God. -- Hope this damn war ends soon. Shouldn't do it, but sod the regulations. -- Look, here take this."

He handed me a small bottle of rum through the square opening.

"If you want anything else, just ask."

"Appreciate it, thanks Sergeant." My voice was uneven as I fought for control again.


As I sipped the fiery liquid, I wondered where that Lt. A. Jones was. They warned us he was a right bastard. I never realised how bad he was until he was put in charge of our company, the Seventh Battalion Lancashire regiment. We put up with him for just a week, by that time there was talk of mutiny. All of us were good lads, fighting in the most appalling conditions. There was no need for his extreme discipline. Then the order that we had all dreaded came down from headquarters.

We were due to leave our trenches and go over the top when the artillery barrage stopped. 'The Germans will be blasted to pieces,' they told us. We had heard this before and knew otherwise...

To be concluded in part 2.


It is impossible to know exactly what a person goes through in their mind when sentenced to death. The response will vary with the character of the soldier and the circumstances.

I have made an attempt to portray a little of what I believe may have been the reaction of a young man, damaged psychologically, as he would have been, by eighteen months of fighting in the trenches, and who is not afraid of speaking out.

The one I have portrayed was a sensitive, fairly articulate and ordinary man who responded to the call to arms and fought for King and Country. Certain words indicate that he came from the North of England.

UK English is used.

Owing to the length of this story I have split it into two parts. Thank you for reading...
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Save to Bookcase Promote This Share or Bookmark
Print It View Reviews

You need to login or register to write reviews. It's quick! We only ask four questions to new members.

© Copyright 2022. write hand blue All rights reserved. Registered copyright with FanStory.
write hand blue has granted FanStory.com, its affiliates and its syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.