Shot at dawn

Something I try to do with my novels is tie them in to a larger picture—O JERUSALEM pokes around the realization that, if the British had done things differently during the Mandate, we might have a different set of problems in the Middle East today; WITH CHILD confronts the terrible way we as a society just lose kids through the cracks.

In JUSTICE HALL I made use of a bit of British history that was shocking during the Great War, and shockingly unfinished into the present. 306 young men (mostly enlisted men–officers, you will be astonished to hear, were given a more generous treatment) who had their minds battered by the unrelenting horror that was trench warfare broke under the strain. This happens in every war, and we treat them. Except in the Great War, the first time any of that technology had been used, broken minds and nerves were called cowardice, and the men were hauled in front of a wall at dawn and shot.

And they were never pardoned. Through years of efforts on the part of families and those simply interested in justice, work was done,, but time and again, the British government refused to hear the cause.

Until this week.

Des Browne, the Minister for Defence, yesterday announced that the Government will now amend the Armed Forces Bill due to be debated in the House of Lords in October. The amendment will grant posthumous pardons to the 306 soldiers who were executed in the Great War.

Read about it on the Shot at Dawn site linked to above, and here.

Their families, at last, may rest in peace.

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  1. Elisa on August 19, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    When I heard this story on the radio Thursday morning, I thanked you and JUSTICE HALL for personalizing this injustice. One of the reasons I love your writing is because you create very accessable characters who I enjoy getting to know, if only for 300 pages, well enough that, in this instance, I’m tempted to look for Gabe’s name on the list.

  2. Susanne on August 19, 2006 at 5:05 pm

    I apologize for asking a question in a non-questions post, but as it pertains to your UK tour I hope it might be ok. I’ve been without Internet for parts of the summer, but done my best to keep up, apologies if I’ve missed further information on the subject; according to the tentative schedule posted on July 10 you will be in London on the 3-4 of September, but your website says events in the UK won’t begin until the 7th. I’m wondering if there will be events in London? I’m traveling from Sweden, and would greatly appreciate an answer as I would need to book my tickets fairly soon. Thank you.

  3. laura on August 19, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    I thought of you and JUSTICE HALL immediately when I read the story on BBC this week. Thank you for prodding memories, giving these men “a face” and reminding people of their sacrifice.

  4. Delia on August 19, 2006 at 11:26 pm

    I absolutely feel like crying in memory of Gabe, the families of all those boys who not only gave their all, but gave it in such a mad and disgraceful way. May this very late bow to them be a small amelioration of this scandal. Our boys, our beautiful boys… being tossed into the maw of war. This is why I cannot abide fireworks. I cannot escape the horror of actual war by looking at a beautiful representation of it.

  5. Dakiwiboid on August 20, 2006 at 3:38 am

    That is so wonderful!

  6. L. Crampton, LAc on August 20, 2006 at 3:57 am

    Excellent news of the pardons. May this be the first of a growing wave of intelligence and compassion breaking through and informing the actions of governments and leaders around the globe. One can hope.

  7. bani on August 20, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    Oh, that warms the heart. Such a tragedy. I cried and cried at that scene in Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement”, where he captures the terror and the injustice of executing people for not taking it.

  8. TrudyJ on August 20, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    I posted in your comments about this before you blogged about it, but I’m so glad you mentioned it here. As others have said, when I heard the news my first thought was of Justice Hall and I actually thought, “At last Gabe has his pardon,” which is indeed a tribute to the reality of the character you created. So good to see an injustice addressed at long last.

  9. KLCtheBookWorm on August 21, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    My voice broke reading the historical note out loud to my boyfriend when I got to the end of JUSTICE HALL, and it was all I could do not to break down in tears. I’m glad justice is finally being given to those boys.

  10. Anonymous on August 21, 2006 at 9:12 pm

    In concert with my fellow bloggers, when I heard this on the radio I stood up and went into the kitchen to tell my husband (again) about JUSTICE HALL and this current attempt to redress those terrible events. I reread everything LRK but often have to skim those parts of JUST, hurts too much. Of a certainty, publishing it must have helped.–Meredith T.

  11. Chris on August 22, 2006 at 8:21 am

    As with Laura, I was thinking of Justice Hall last week when the story made our national News headlines in the UK. Shockingly, your footnote in Justice Hall created my first awareness of this part of history. This is long overdue, but no less wlecome for that.


  12. areopagitica on August 22, 2006 at 12:21 pm

    The U.K. story sounds great but the government has chosen to link the pardon to an Armed Forces Bill which ups the penalty for refusing to take part in occupying another country from two years’ to life imprisonment. A more usual course of action in Britain would be a royal pardon, which wouldn’t need a Bill. I think the government has changed tack on this for political reasons and not because they’ve really had a change of heart. While I’m pleased for the families of the World War One soldiers, I’m worried about the possible impact on serving soldiers and reservists who have conscientious objections to current campaigns. The Bill may create further difficulties for anti-war campaigners. (It’s already an offence in the U.K. under the Incitement to Disaffection Act to try to persuade a soldier that military service is wrong.)


  13. Anonymous on August 23, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    On August 22 I received the latest catalog from Daedalus, which sells remaindered and a few new books by mail. They have a website — try (I don’t have the catalog with me to give a correct address.)

    One of the titles being offered is The Thin Yellow Line which is about the WWI soldiers who were executed. This is non-fiction, and the description makes it sound as if the author thinks a miscarriage of justice occurred, even if the title seems to suggets otherwise.

    Just thought I would pass it on — sorry for not having the author’s name.

  14. Anonymous on August 24, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    This is a follow-up to my previous posting about “Thin Yellow Line.”

    First, the Daedalus website is Don’t put an s after sale in the address, or you get a business-book site.

    Second, the author is William Moore.

    Daedalus is selling a paperback edition in the Wordsworth Military Library series, put out by a British firm. This volume was printed in 1999. There was a 1975 edition printed in the US, according to my local public library’s catalog, and there would have been a British edition in that year or earlier.

    I don’t have any relationship to Daedalus other than that of being a customer, so I’m not touting that firm for personal gain.

  15. Anonymous on August 27, 2006 at 8:42 pm

    I’ve just read Kipling’s Choice, by Geert Spillebeen, translaed by Terese Edelstein. (NY:Houghton Mifflin, 2005, original ed. 2002.) It’s a young adult novel.

    It’s an astonishing recreation of the death of the son of Rudyard Kipling in battle in World War I, and the story of how he got to battle in the first place, despite terrible eyes. His son’s death devastated Rudyard, who felt he had shoved his son into the war, in a more deliberate fashion than just by writing his most famous poem of the time, “For all we have and are,” with the verse “There is but one task for all, One life for each to give. What stands if freedom fall? Who dies if England lives?”

    After his son’s death, Rudyard later wrote “If any questin why we died, tell them, because our fathers lied.” (Book doesn’t make clear if that is from a full poem or not.

    This is an extrarodinarily powerful book, very short, very moving. Not really related to the themes of Justice Hall, but it gives a good picture of what was happening, and suggests why some were too shattered to go on.

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