WWI: The Tragic Moment a Man Was Ordered To Kill His Best Friend

Private Jimmy Smith joined the British army to fight and protect his country. But after fighting gallantly at Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 and the Battle of the Somme during the First World War, his own best friend was ordered to kill him at a firing squad. What was his crime? He deserted the army and had to pay with his own life, in a gruesome and disgraceful manner.

Even though Smith received two good conduct medals for fighting in Somme where he was badly injured as well as returning to the frontline during the Battle of Ypres in Belgium in 1917, the brave soldier was named a coward and executed by his own friend – Private Richard Blundell.

As if having to shoot his friend in a firing squad was not enough, Blundell was ordered to apply the ‘coupe de grace’ on Smith as the shooting did not complete the job. Until his death, Blundell lived with the torment and trauma of killing his friend and comrade in that tragic way in the course of the First World War.

As stated by his son William Blundell, before Richard Blundell’s death in February 1989, he was often heard hysterically murmuring ‘What a way to get leave, what a way to get leave.’

Jimmy was tied to a chair and blindfolded, and to indicate he was a target, a white disc was placed over his heart. Blundell and his comrades knowing Jimmy was a brave soldier only suffering from shell shock now known as Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) and not a deserter deliberately tried to miss the target to keep him alive.

As a result, Jimmy was severely injured but not dead. To complete the execution, Blundell was the unfortunate one ordered to shoot him in the head. With shaking hands while watching his friend writhe in agony from his injuries, Blundell fired the last shot that ended Jimmy’s young life.

All through the First World War, about 306 British and Commonwealth military men were killed through firing squad for desertion and other related offences.

In 2006, after a long campaign that started immediately after the Great War, the executed men were given a comprehensive pardon that made it possible for them to be recognised and honoured like their comrades. As a result, Jimmy’s remains now lies in the Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery where his gravestone engraving reads, ‘Gone, but not forgotten’, the Mail Online reports.

In memory of Private Jimmy and hundreds of other young soldiers shot at dawn during the First World War,‘Early One Morning’ is a play that tells the stories of these men in relation to desertion and their preceding execution. It is written by Les Smith and directed by David Thacker.

Jimmy was just 18 when he joined the Army. He was fighting in the 1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers at the time he was shot at down by his own best friend.

Ian Harvey

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