Archive for Desertion

18 October 1917 – William Alexander

Posted in Death penalty, Firing squad with tags , , , on October 18 by Last Writes

NOTE Before we get started, yesterday a notable execution slipped through the noose, so we’ve posted a belated homage to a killer Cambodian cow.

On a more serious note, the First World War claimed many lives on the battlefields, and for that their memories are held dear. But what of the men who died in cagier circumstances?

We are, of course, talking about those soldiers who were executed for desertion.

One such person was William Alexander, who had been a British soldier, before he emigrated to Canada. There he joined their army where he became a sergeant and his troops were drawn into the battlegrounds in France.

There, the horrors of war were all too evident and his regiment were tasked with being a diversion to ease the pressure on the beleaguered forces in Passchendaele, according to Stephen Stratford. And diversion was hardly the greatest of motivators…


Already many members of the battalion had been injured, so when it came to leading his troops out into the thick of it, Alexander suddenly went AWOL.

But he hadn’t gone missing in action, he’d missed out on the action altogether, as it turned out he’d sought sanctuary in a safe village they’d camped at en route.

Of course his motive may well have been self-preservation, because of the soldiers who’d faced the Germans from his regiment, a stonking 400 of them were taken casualty, Stratford says.

Alexander was finally unearthed and whisked off to face a court martial. There he was found guilty of desertion and executed by a volley of shots in front of a firing squad right there in France.

His body was laid to rest in Boulogne and he remains one of 25 Canadian soldiers who all met a similar fate during World War II.

Also on this day

18 October 1800 – Mary Lloyd
Boughton lass Mary Lloyd didn’t get very far with her forgeries.

She was found guilty of the pretence and was hanged for her crime in 1800.

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3 July 1917 – Gustav Comte

Posted in Death penalty, Firing squad with tags , , , , on July 3 by Old Sparky

Facing a life of death day in day out, it’s no surprise Gustav Comte went AWOL during the First World War.

Comte was a Canadian soldier born in Montreal in 1895. He enlisted in the army during the First World War and was posted to France.

While on the way to the trenches in early April 1917, Private Comte went missing and his fellow soldiers went onto attack Vimy Ridge without him.


He was eventually arrested six weeks later at the base port of La Havre, where Comte was accused of trying to leave the country and court-martialled.

The Canadian was found guilty of desertion and sentenced to death by firing squad, one of 23 Canadian soldiers shot at dawn during WW1, aged roughly 22.

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