At eleven o’clock this morning, we had two minutes of silence to remember those who have died in our wars.
Why eleven o’clock today? Because, as the BBC Radio 4 announcer repeated, as if reciting Shakespeare ‘The Armistice that ended the Great War was signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh month of the eleventh day in 1918.’
This semi-poetic, romanticised, blame-free way of remembering the end of a war between European Emperors that resulted in the slaughter of a generation, angers me.
The Armistice was actually signed at 05.10 Paris time and was to come into effect at 11.00 Paris time / 12.00 Berlin time. That the Armistice would almost certainly be signed that morning, was widely known on 10th November. It surprised no one.
I think that was unforgivable.
But it is not the worst.
To me, the worst was the ruthless way the British Army executed its own troops.
‘Shot at Dawn’, a memorial in Staffordshire, England to British and Commonwealth soldiers who were executed for desertion or cowardice during the First World War. PENTLANDPIRATE
Private Thomas Highgate the first British soldier to be executed on the Western Front for desertion
The boy on the left is Private Thomas Highgate. He was seventeen when he was executed on 8th September 1914 for desertion. He served in the 1st Battalion of the Royal West Kents, part of the British Expeditionary Force that landed in France on 15th August 1914 and took part in the fighting at Mons where 1.600 British soldiers and 2,000 German soldiers died in one day.
The man on the right is General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien GCB, GCMG, DSO, ADC. When he confirmed the sentence of execution he ordered that Private Highgate ‘should be killed as publicly as possible’ to deter others from deserting. Private Highgate was executed in front of two companies of his comrades.
So, if you’re remembering the war dead this Sunday, please spare a thought for the hundreds of soldiers like Private Thomas Highgate that the leadership of the British Army decided to have shot at dawn.