Soldier Shot For Desertion In World War One Is Remembered Ten Years After His Pardon

British Army Training in the United Kingdom during the First World War
British Army Training in the United Kingdom during the First World War

One hundred years after his execution for desertion a soldier from England has been remembered. Alfred Jefferies, a member of the Somerset Light Infantry, was court-martialed in 1916 following his absence after leaving the trenches at the Battle of the Somme.

His great-great-nephew, David Jefferies, said no one in the family was aware of how he had died and had been horrified when they learned the truth. A garland was placed at a park near to where Jefferies had resided.

He was one of the first to enlist after the war started, but in his first year, he was hospitalized for shell shock and an eye injury. By 1916 he was with the Somerset Light Infantry’s 6th Battalion and was unmistakably bewildered, according to Geoff Woolfe, a Bristol Radical History Group member.

He wandered from the reserve trenches just before going into action the following day, he said He was detained at Le Havre, and ultimately court-martialed for attempted desertion and sentenced to execution. As far as they can tell Jefferies was the only soldier from Bristol who was executed for cowardice or desertion,Geoff Woolfe explained.

The local newspaper said he had been killed while in combat, BBC News reported.

David Jefferies said he was very distressed because his family knew nothing about how he had met his death. He does not know if the family refused to talk about it or whether they just were not aware. He knows his grandparents were not aware of it.  His father was not, so it is all news to them.

Over 300 British soldiers were executed during The Great War One for cowardice or desertion. Alfred Jefferies was awarded a posthumous pardon ten years ago.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE