Archive for Soldier

8 September 1914 – Thomas Highgate

Posted in Death penalty, Shot with tags , , , , on September 8 by Old Sparky

Thomas Highgate

Thomas Highgate

Thomas Highgate was just a fearful teenager when he served in the First World War, and poignantly became the first soldier to be executed for being a deserter.

The Royal West Kent Regiment soldier was shot at dawn for ‘cowardice’ a mere 35 days into the war, aged 19. Highgate and the other 305 soldiers have since been exonerated in 2006 by the Ministry of Defence.

War wounds

However it has opened new wounds according to the ‘Daily Telegraph’. Apparently parish councillors had previously voted to keep Pte Highgate’s name off their war memorial, despite the fact that nearly 80% of parishioners had voted that his name should be added.

Indeed the parish priest who’d spearheaded the campaign gave up his tenure and had gone with God to Gloucestershire in defiance of the bureaucrats’ refusal to buckle. Instead the councillors decided to leave a space in case he was ever pardoned.

This pardon came through in the shape of the MoD’s list of exonerated men in August 2006, yet, apparently, despite this declaration, Pte Highgate’s name still hadn’t made it onto the memorial as of 2006.

Some 300-odd soldiers were finally freed from the shackles of unfounded shame as a result of the same posthumous pardon, including some familiar names who we’ve already covered in previous months: namely Joseph Stones, Peter Goggins and John McDonald.

Also on this day

8 September 1999 – Mark Gardner
8 September 1999 – Alan Willett

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20 August 1901 – John Joyce

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , , on August 20 by Old Sparky

An ex-soldier pleaded sunstroke in his defence after he drunkenly stabbed an 84-year-old drinking buddy.

Having served in India, John Joyce pleaded insanity brought on from sunstroke in defence of the murder of John Nugent.

Binge drinking

On 10 June 1901, following a drinking binge, the two men went back to Nugent’s house where Joyce knocked over a paraffin lamp. Nugent went to call the police. Panicked, an inebriated Joyce fatally plunged a knife into the elderly man’s heart.

Of course the desperate defence was rejected and Joyce was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged. The 36-year-old’s executioners were James and William Billington and his hanging took place in Birmingham.

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5 July 1945 – Harold Joseph Pringle

Posted in Death penalty, Firing squad with tags , , , , on July 5 by Old Sparky

Harold Joseph PringleThe only Canadian to be executed for military crimes during WW2 died on this day 1945.

Private Harold Pringle was a good soldier who served in the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment of the Canadian Army. Shortly after his battalion broke through a series of fortifications in Italy known as the Hitler Line, Pringle, bitter at having seen so many of his friends die, decided to desert.

When in Rome

He wound up joining the Sailor Gang in Rome and enjoyed a good life for a time. However, his newfound friends were always drunk and fighting and during one such fracas one of their number was shot.

Although they tried to take their injured cohort to hospital he died on the way and, in an attempt to avoid blame and make it look like a mafia execution, Pringle dumped him in a ditch and riddled the lifeless corpse with bullets.

The plan failed and he was convicted of the murder, along with the other gang members, and the 23-year-old was shot by a firing squad made up of members of the Canadian Army in Italy.

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3 July 1936 – Saburo Aizawa

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

From ‘you’re fired’ to the firing squad in less than a year.

When General Tetsuzan Nagata dismissed Japanese soldier Saburo Aizawa from active duty in August 1935 the disgruntled Lieutenant Colonel took the ultimate revenge on the boss who’d sacked him.

Blade of glory

Aizawa, the son of a Samurai warrior and a champion fencer himself, followed Nagata back into his office and assassinated the then Director of Military Affairs with his sword.

During his high-profile trial, Aizawa claimed his former superior had become enamoured of everything the army despised and he was following his father’s teachings to revere the Emperor by killing him.

Hailed a hero in Japan the 46-year-old was executed by firing squad in 1936.

Also on this day

3 July 1917 – Gustav Comte
3 July 1909 – John Edmunds

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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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4 May 1999 – Manny Babbitt

Posted in Death penalty, Lethal injection with tags , , , , , on May 4 by Last Writes

Manny BabbittMixed sentiments seem to surround one of today’s subjects for execution.

US citizen Manny Babbit was both hero and villain and as such people were divided by his behaviour.

On the one hand, he was heroic in his service during the Vietnam War, where his actions as a Marine earned him a Purple Heart. On the other hand, his villainy emerged after he was caught having raped and assaulted a 78-year-old grandmother.

Babbit was found guilty and sentenced to death after his crimes led to the death of Leah Schendel, who had a heart attack brought on by the assault.

The perpetrator didn’t once deny the offence, instead he vowed that he couldn’t remember anything about it. It was put down to post-traumatic stress brought on by his active service. Indeed his defence was pinned on the idea that he disassociated himself from his act in what could have been a flashback to his days in Vietnam.

Death row

As in life his actions were mixed, so in death he was both hero and villain too. He died a criminal via a lethal injection in San Quentin Prison, on the day he turned 50. But he was buried a hero with full army honours, which of course was a further kick in the teeth to Leah Schendel’s loved ones. This row over whether a convicted death row criminal should have been honoured in such a way, led Schendel’s relatives to lobby the authorities to block any such occurrence again.

They won, but it was a hollow victory as their relative’s murderer had been hailed a hero. The flip side was that a man who had risked his life in defence of his country may have paid the ultimate price for his uncontrollable actions, brought on by the fallout of a destructive war.

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25 April 1921 – Thomas Traynor

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , , , on April 25 by Old Sparky

Thomas TraynorIRA soldier Thomas Traynor was hanged today in 1921 for murder. He was found guilty of killing a police cadet in Dublin.

He was damningly caught in the area with a gun and live ammunition. Traynor tried to blag that he was on his way to deliver the firearm to someone, but that didn’t wash as a defence at his court martial.

The bootmaker was sentenced to the gallows for shooting James Farrell and he was strung up aged 39 at Mountjoy Prison. He left behind 10 children and a wife who fainted when she found out about his demise when the notice was posted up outside the jail.

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