Bennett, Private John 4071, 1/Hampshire Regiment.

From the File WO 71/492 Held at TNA

CHARGE SHEET

16th August 1916

No. 4071 Private J. Bennett

1/Hampshire Regiment

When on Active Service misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice in that he in the trenches on the night of 8/9th August 1916, during a Gas Attack on the Battalions, front, and when under the enemies fire, absconded himself from his platoon.

FORM FOR ASSEMBLY AND PROCEEDINGS OF FIELD GENERAL COURT MARTIAL ON ACTIVE SERVICE

 PROCEEDINGS

At* On Active Service this Sixteenth day of August, 1916

Whereas it appears to me, the undersigned, an officer in Command of 11th Infantry Brigade on active service, that the persons named in the annexed Schedule, and being subject to Military Law, have committed the offences in the said schedule mentioned.

And I am of opinion that it is not practicable that such offences should be tried by an ordinary General Court Martial:

I hereby convene a Field General Court Martial to try the said persons and to consist of the Officers hereunder named.

President

Major H.S.C. Peyton 1st Battalion, The Rifle Brigade

Members

Captain P.H. Hudson 1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment

Lieutenant D.B. Barr 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment

(Signed) H.W Rees Brig. Gen

Commanding 11th Infantry Brigade

TRIAL OF NO. 4071 PRIVATE J. BENNETT 1ST HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT

PROSECUTION

1st Witness

5827 Sgt. E Marshall, 1st Bn. Hamps Regt being duly sworn states:-

About 10pm on Tuesday 8th August I heard the gas alarm and I received an order from my  Platoon Commander to put on smoke helmets. I went down the line to see the men had them on and I saw the accused putting his helmet on. About 10.20pm I was ordered to move the platoon up into the support trenches and I found the accused was absent.

Accused declines to cross examine the witness.

2nd Witness

90001 Cpl. S. Hemsley, 1st Bn. Hamps Regt being duly sworn states:-

About 10.15pm on Tuesday 8th August I heard the gas alarm go and heard my Company Commander give the order to put on smoke helmets. I saw the accused with his helmet on. At 10.20pm we received orders to move to another support trench. I noticed the accused was absent. I reported the fact to the Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant Marshall.

Cross Examined

Q. How did you know it was me with my helmet on?

A. I have lived in the same dug out with the accused for some time and should know him by his build and from the place where he was standing to.

3rd Witness

20342 Pte. C. Finn, 1st Hampshire Regiment being duly sworn states:-

On the morning of 9th August at 2.15am I was on duty at the telephone at the Canal Bank about 3/4 mile behind the support trenches. The accused came into my dug out and said during the bombardment he had lost his nerve and climbed out of the trench, and that when he returned he was unable to find his company. He was without his rifle.

Accused declines to cross examine the Witness.

DEFENCE

The accused being duly sworn states on oath:-

At about 10.15pm on the night of the 8th August I was sitting in my dug out. I heard a commotion outside and saw the remainder of the men putting on their gas helmets. I had not previously heard the alarm or order to that effect but at once put my helmet on. The order was given to stand to, and I stood to with the rest of my platoon. I stood by the doorway of my dug out in order to be under cover from the shell fire. After that I climbed out of the trench into a shell hole without knowing what I was doing and I ultimately rejoined the battalion the following morning. I do not remember what occurred after I left the trench. I am given to understand that I am awaiting a medical inspection since a previous occurrence of this sort.

Lieutenant Flint, 1st Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment duly sworn states;-

I produce certified true copy of AFB 122. The accused is under suspended sentence of 2 years Hard Labour. No further evidence as to the character is available.

(Countersigned)

Major H.S.C. Peyton 1st Rifle Brigade

PRESIDENT FGCM

Newton Range 28.11.14

Not complying with Battalion Orders (while smoking a cigarette)

Punishment: 3 days Confined to Barracks.

Fort Gomer 13.3.15

Having a rusty rifle at C.O’s Inspection.

Punishment: 3 days confined to Barracks.

Fort Gomer 30.3.15

Irregular conduct on 2.30pm Parade.

Punishment: 5 days confined to Barracks.

Fort Gomer 25.6.15

Refusing to obey an order. Insolence to an N.C.O

Punishment: 7 days confined to Barracks.

Fort Gomer 13.8.15

Neglect of duty whist Orderly man.

Punishment: 3 days confined to Barracks.

Fort Gomer 10.9.15

Inspection Conduct on 9am Signalling parade.

Not complying with an order.

Volunteering for Guard detention Room.

Punishment: 21 Days Detention.

‘In the Field’ 1.5.1916

When on active service refusing to follow an order.

Punishment: 7 days confined to Barracks

‘In the Field’ 20.7.1916

1st Charge: When on Active Service deserting His Majesty’s Service. When on Active Service absenting himself without leave.

2nd Charge: When on Active Service neglect of his equipment and Regimental Insignias.

Punishment: 2 Years Hard Labour.

SCHEDULE

Name of Alleged offender (a):

No. 4071 Private J. Bennett  1/Hampshire Regiment

Offence Charged:

When on Active Service misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice in that he in the trenches on the night of 8/9th August 1916, during a Gas Attack on the Battalions, front, and when under the enemies fire, absconded himself from his platoon.

Plea:

Not Guilty

Finding, and if Convicted, Sentence (b):

GUILTY. To suffer DEATH by being shot.

Recommended to mercy.

(Signed)

Major H.S.C. Peyton 1st Rifle Brigade

President FGCM

RECOMMENDATIONS

REGIMENTAL C.O

To 11th Infantry Brigade

It is impossible for me to give much information concerning the previous behaviour of this man as with myself nor any of the Officers of his Company have known him longer than a month or so. However I have interviewed his Company Sergeant Major (a most sensible man) who has known him for about eight months and from his remarks I forward the following report.

1. From a fighting point of view the man is absolutely useless. It appears that he is more or less alright as long as things are quiet but as soon as any shelling starts or there are any signs of an attack he goes all to pieces and as far as I can gather seems to go practically off his head through sheer terror. The man appears to be a very poor type of individual and has no stamina in him whatever. His character from the point of view of ordinary behaviour since he has been with the Expeditionary Force has been fairly satisfactory but the greater part of this service has been spent in various hospitals and for some time he was kept back at the transport.

2. In my opinion the crime was not deliberately committed with the sole objective of avoiding the particular service involved, but rather through the fact that the man was in such a nervous state and so frightened that he nearly did not know what he was doing.

3. I would further point out that a man of this sort is a pointed danger when anywhere near   the firing line and behaviour of this sort easily spreads and on identical occasions his conduct is such that me might easily start a panic amongst his comrades.

(Signed) FW Armitage Major

Commanding 1st Hampshire Regiment.

16/8/16

BRIGADE

Division

I recommend that that the sentence of death passed on by 4071 Pte. J Bennett, 1st Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment be commuted to a term of Penal Servitude which I recommend be put into execution and not suspended.

My reasons for the recommendation is as follows:-

a) The state of discipline  in the Battalion is good.

b) This man was apparently too terrified to know what he was doing and therefore can hardly be described as deliberately avoiding the duty in question.

(Signed) H W Rees Brig. General

Commanding 11th Infantry Brigade.

16-8-16

DIVISION

To VIII Corps

I do not concur with the recommendation of the 11th Infantry Brigade Commander and consider that the existing penalty should be enforced as the case appears one of deliberate cowardice. I would endorse the remarks of General Rees as to the good behaviour of the 1/Hampshire Regiment in action.

(Signed) W. Lambton

Major-General

Commanding 4th Division

17/8/16.

CORPS

To Second Army A.

I concur with the opinion of the Divisional Commander. Cowards of this instance are a serious danger to the Army.

The death penalty is instituted as to make each man fear running away when they face the enemy.

In the interests of the Service I recommend that the death sentence be carried into execution

(Signed) Aylmer Hunter-Weston  Lieut. General

Commanding VIII Corps.

18th August 1916.

ARMY

To D.J.A.G

I recommend that the sentence be carried out.

(Signed) Herbert Plumer.

Commanding 2nd Army.

(Attached)

To GHQ

Enquiries have been made as to the accused’s statement that he was awaiting medical inspection and the Division informs me that it is untrue.

(Signed) Hargreaves

Captain D.A.A.G

for G.O.C 2nd Army.

C-IN-C

Confirmed

(Signed) D. Haig Gen.

23 Aug: 16

A.P.M. 4th Division

The sentence of death passed on No. 4071 Private BENNETT, 1st Bn. Hampshire Regt, has been confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief.

You will carry out the sentence in due course.

(Signed) W. Lambton

Major-General,

Commanding 4th Division

27th August, 1916.

SENTENCE

I certify that No. 4071 Pte. J Bennett of 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment was executed by shooting at 5.40am on 28 August 1916 at Poperinghe. Death was instantanious.

(Signed) WJ Dwyer

Captain RAMC

28 Aug 1916

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