18 January 1917 – Joseph Stones, Peter Goggins and John McDonald

Lance-Sergeant Joseph Stones

Three First World War soldiers were posthumously pardoned 90 years on, after they’d been executed for so-called cowardice in 1917.

Around 300-plus soldiers were shot for cowardice during the World War I. But it was these three young servicemen, in particular, who were to represent those ranks who were branded deserters.

For years the families of those men were ashamed to even mention their ancestors – why? Because threre was a stigma attached to having a so-called war coward in the family. And so they were all but erradicated from the families’ history. But their army lives were far from shameful, as younger relatives were to find out.

Under fire

Lance Corporal Peter Goggins and Sergeant Joseph “Will” Stones, both County Durham men, plus Corporal John McDonald from Sunderland, were done for deserting their posts. In actual fact, they were told to retreat 20 yards to a reserve trench, when they came under heavy artillery fire.

The most heart-rending story was that of Stones (pictured), who had actually earned three awards for bravery during his three years’ service. He was done for slinging his gun away when he’d actually thrown it at Germans as they rushed him. He then legged it to warn the rest of his troops on the instruction of his officer, who was wounded. But his actions backfired when he was branded a coward instead.

Court martialled

The irony is that these soldiers survived the hostile enemy attacks only to be shot by their fellow men for retreating. They were court martialled and found guilty. The soldiers were then put in chains, blindfolded and tied to stakes, where they were shot at dawn.

Just under 90 years on, after tireless campaigning from newer members of the family, these three men plus others were reprieved and granted pardons posthumously. Their names now take pride of place alongside other men’s names who died for their country.

Also on this day

18 January 1803 – George Foster

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4 Responses to “18 January 1917 – Joseph Stones, Peter Goggins and John McDonald”

  1. Arno Groesbeek Says:


    In chaos, we often mistake facts, and want to believe those facts so dearly then. I always say: “it’s best to start with doubt when deciding something important.” This morning, before I woke, I had a dream: I saw a date, 18 January 1917. It meant nothing to my mother or my father, so I decided I would search the vast cyberspace to see what I would find on this date; this website stood out quite prominently. On what rests man’s certainty? We so dearly cling to our senses and reason, yet more often than not, these cherished gifts of logic deceive us, sometimes, in the simplest ways.

    I have found my logic to be tainted many times by bias, ignorance, callousness, and all other flaws one can think of. Though I am a good man, it seems that my goodness disappears when I’m indignant, envious, or ambitious, but what can I really do; I don’t even know how to shoot straight, many of the people I get cross with, I’ll never even meet; I have no power. Power, law; claims it serves us, but does it always serve us? Law can be the most dangerous weapon one can think of. In the hands of the biased, in the hands of the malevolent, but nowhere is it a greater threat than when it is in the hands of the ignorant, therefore, I will always assume I’m ignorant, because when I’m ignorant, I am timid, and I must ask; and so the mute can speak, and we can hear.

  2. I have recently done our Family Tree, and Peter Goggins was my Nannas(Elizabeth Gingle) uncle! When I found his name and records, I also came across his story in a book, I told our Family, my mam can’t remember any info about Peter, just knew he died in the war… taboo subject probably. But, now I do tell his story and I am proud of my relative.

  3. Ashley Says:

    Hello Amanda, I have recently researched our family tree and Peter Goggins is my great grand mother’s brother. I am hoping to find relatives who may have pictures of the “goggins family”, Peter’s parents were Bridget & Peter.

    • Hello Ashley 🙂 I have a face book page for our business (Selkie Sailing, we are based over in Ireland) if you are on again give me a shout. They are based in the North East England, it must have been a cousin of me Nanas who fought his (Peter Goggins) case in the houses of parliament. I know its took me an age to look this up again, but ya never know. Stay well Amanda

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