Wales

WW1: Edwin Dyett from Cardiff shot by his own side for desertion

Edwin Dyett Image copyright Out of copyright
Image caption Edwin Dyett wandered off and claimed to be lost when told to join a group destined for the Somme

Lieutenant Edwin Dyett from Albany Road in Cardiff was just one of around 70,000 Welshmen to lose his life in World War One - the difference is that he was killed by his own side.

Despite displaying signs of trauma and asking on four occasions to be transferred to naval duties, the 21-year-old was convicted of desertion by court martial, and shot on 5 January 1917.

As the ground war on the Western Front intensified and the sea battles fell in importance, Lt Dyett was amongst men transferred from naval duties to take part in the Somme offensive.

However, both he and his superior officers quickly learnt that he was ill-suited for land warfare, and he was held in reserve.

When Lt Dyett was eventually sent forward in November 1916, he was unable to find the group with whom he had been ordered to meet.

He returned to headquarters and was instructed by a junior officer to try again.

But when he took exception to receiving orders from a lower rank, he wandered off and claimed to have become lost.

Lt Dyett was arrested for desertion the following day, and convicted on the testimony of the junior officer.

He was not given counsel at the hearing, and was sentenced to death despite a plea for clemency from his own commanding officer.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Battle of the Somme claimed the lives of more than 400,000 British soldiers

'Discontent'

As Swansea University WW1 expert Dr Gerry Oram explains, Lt Dyett may well have been a victim of a wider policy.

"Edwin Dyett was one of just a handful of officers to be shot for desertion or cowardice; the overwhelming majority were from the ranks.

"This undoubtedly caused discontent in the trenches, discontent of which Field Marshal Haig would undoubtedly have been aware.

"We can't say for certain that this is why he ordered that officers received particularly harsh treatment on the rare occasions they were convicted, but it has to be considered as a possibility."

However, the field marshal's son, the 2nd Earl Haig, denied this in an interview published by The Guardian newspaper in 2006.

"My father took a lot of trouble anxiously going into these cases late into the night," he said.

"The majority were not shot. Court martial were carefully done… he did not just sign on the dotted line.

"It was a terribly sad situation and some of the soldiers were genuinely shell-shocked.

"But many were rogues, persistent deserters and criminals, or they were guilty of cowardice."

The night before his execution Lt Dyett wrote home: "Dearest Mother mine … my only sorrow now is for the trouble I have caused you and Dad … Please forgive my mistakes … I am sorry for the dishonour I have brought on you."

No medals

In 2006 Lt Dyett was one of around 300 troops granted a conditional posthumous pardon, expressing regret for the death sentence but falling short of quashing the convictions.

However Julian Putkowski, historian and driving force behind the Shot at Dawn campaign, says the gesture did not go far enough.

"The 2006 pardons granted by the British government are a compromise, a generic half pardon. The soldiers remain cowards and deserters but the government was sorry they were killed by the war," he said.

"The terms of the conditional pardon stated that the executed men did not deserved to be executed, and that they were victims of war, not military injustice.

"So, the original judgments of the military court martial were not overturned - the executed men remained guilty and the families were not going to be presented with the dead men's war medals."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Somme claimed 60,000 British casualties on the first day of battle

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