Guardian Friday 10 November 2000
Shamed soldiers acknowledged
Soldiers who were shot
for desertion or mutiny in the first world war will be publicly remembered
and honoured for the first time at the remembrance day parade in London on
Families of about 15
executed men will parade past the Cenotaph in Whitehall under the banner of
the First World War Pardon Association and their wreath will join others
laid by military chiefs, politicians and members of the royal family.
"It will be a very
emotional moment for me," said Tom Stones, whose great uncle Will
Stones was shot at dawn in 1917 after being convicted at a court martial of
"shamefully casting away his rifle".
Inclusion in the
ceremony, organised by the Royal British Legion, is seen as a big step in
the campaign to win pardons for more than 300 British and Commonwealth
soldiers, some as young as 17, who were executed. It coincides with a new
approach by Andrew MacKinlay, Labour MP for Thurrock, to Tony Blair to
persuade him to endorse the campaign.
It also follows an act
by the New Zealand parliament, given the royal assent in September, to
pardon five of the country’s soldiers shot between 1916 and 1918. The
Canadian government is now reviewing the cases of 23 soldiers.
ceremony will be a tremendously significant occasion," said Mr
MacKinlay, who has tabled private member’s bills seeking pardons every
year since he was elected in 1992.
‘It is perverse that
New Zealand has been able to do this and we have not. It doesn't even need
an act of parliament. Tony Blair could ring up the Queen to day and ask her
to exercise the royal prerogative."
Following the New
Zealand pardons, Mr Stones, from Stafford, wrote to the Queen to urge her to
lend support to the cases of other men. Her defence services secretary
replied that she could act only on the advice of her ministers.
Mr Stones added
yesterday that the families wanted only pardons and denounced as
"obscene" suggestions that they were seeking compensation.
For four years, families
have held their own ceremony at the Cenotaph on the Saturday before the main
parade. But November 11 is the traditional date for a ceremony held by the
Western Front Association.
A British Legion
spokesman said that policy had been changed this year to open the
remembrance day parade to people other than ex-service personnel. "The
families will be very welcome," he said.
Although the legion had
not come out directly in support of the campaign, he described its attitude
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