British Military & Criminal History:
1900 to 1999.
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This article deals with the courts-martial of soldiers during the First World War, and in the period 1941-1953.
Only those courts-martial which resulted in the death sentence being passed on soldiers from the Middlesex Regiment or Royal Engineers have been covered. I have started with these two British Army units, as I am especially interested in the history of the Royal Engineers and the Middlesex Regiment.
The various records concerning courts-martial are contained in the National Archives. The First World War courts-martial papers are now open for public inspection. An increasing amount of World War Two, and later, papers are becoming available for public inspection.
There are two main types of record relating to individual courts-martial during World War One: proceedings and registers. When papers, which were compiled at the time of the courts-martial, arrived at the Judge Advocate Generals Office (JAGO), the contents were entered into volumes of proceedings. The JAGO also compiled registers of courts-martial, giving the name, rank, regiment, place of trial, charge, finding and sentence.
The Middlesex Regiment
The following list shows the soldiers from the Middlesex Regiment who were sentenced to death for various offences, and were actually executed. All of the soldiers were serving in the France & Flanders theatre.
The Corps of Royal Engineers
The following list shows the soldiers from the Corps of Royal Engineers who were sentenced to death for various offences, and were actually executed. All of the soldiers were serving in the France & Flanders theatre.
1941-53 Military Executions
During the period 1941 and 1953, a total of 47 soldiers were sentenced to death and executed by British courts-martials. The first executed person was Driver Shabani bin Salu of 1st (T) Field Ambulance. He was tried and sentenced to death by shooting, for murder, by a Field General courts-martial (FGCM) in East Africa, on 28 June 1941. His sentence was confirmed on 18 July 1941, and he was executed on 3 September 1941.
The last person was Private J.J. Itumo of 3rd (Kenya) KAR. He was tried by General courts-martial at Kuantan (in modern day Malaysia), on 5-7 August 1953 for murder. His sentence was confirmed on 5 September 1953, and he was hanged on 10 November 1953. The following table summarises the capital courts-martials during the period 1941 to 1953.
The only serviceman courts-martialled for treachery was Theodore Schurch. Although he was tried by a courts-martial, he was executed at London's Pentonville Prison in January 1946.
Cocos Islands Mutiny
The Cocos Islands Mutiny was a failed mutiny by Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) soldiers against their British officers, on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in May 1942.
The mutineers were to seize control of the islands, disable the British garrison and to transfer the islands to the Empire of Japan. However, the mutiny was defeated after the Ceylonese failed to seize control of the islands.
The men who were convicted of mutiny were:
The 15 mutineers were court martialed on the Cocos Islands. Seven men were sentenced to death and four soldiers received terms of imprisonment.
Gunner Samaris Jayasekera who was killed during the mutiny, attending to a wounded friend, was buried with full military honours on Horsburgh Island on the evening of 10 May 1942 and later reburied in Singapore's Kranji War Cemetery (Plot 46, Row C, Grave 13).
The condemned mutineers were shipped back to Ceylon and imprisoned at the military jail in Flagstaff Street and then at military detention barracks at Hulftsdorp.
Bomdadier G.H. Bernando was was executed on 5 August 1942, Gunner G.B. de Silva was executed on 7 August 1942 and Gunner. C.A. Gauder was executed on 8 August 1942.