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