On this day in history : 8th September 1914 – Nineteen-year-old Private Thomas Highgate is the first British soldier to be executed for desertion during World War I….

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Private Thomas Highgate – image via Pinterest

Three days earlier, on the first day of the Battle of Marne, Thomas had been found hiding in a barn, dressed in civilian clothing – his nerves having got the better of him…. Thomas had fled from the battlefield and had hidden in a barn in the French village of Tournan; he was discovered by a gamekeeper – who happened to be an English ex-soldier….

Thomas was tried by court martial – a brief trial presided over by three officers…. The following morning at 6.20am he was informed that he was going to be executed; at 7.07am he faced the firing squad….

In total 306 executions of British and Commonwealth soldiers took place in World War I – for ‘crimes’ such as cowardice and desertion….

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The National Memorial Arboretum – ‘Shot at Dawn’ – Photo credit : Matthew Rogers CC BY SA 3.0

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