Sunday, January 12, 2014

Private Thomas Highgate - the First to be Shot at Dawn

I think people know that on the 28 July this year it will be the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Not many will know that within a few weeks the first British soldier had been shot by firing squad for desertion.

This morning I was looking for a Sunday walk in the country and picked this 7 mile circular route starting in Shoreham, Kent.

Before I left I checked google for Shoreham and on Wikipedia found this "Shoreham was the birthplace and home of Private Thomas Highgate, who was the first British soldier to be shot for desertion during the First World War on 8 September 1914, following the Battle of and Retreat from Mons. In 2000, Shoreham Parish Council voted not to include his name on its war memorial. However, after a posthumous pardon in 2006, it was considered that his name might be added.[1]"#

I wondered if 19 year old Thomas's (see picture above) name had indeed been added to the War memorial and decided at the end of the walk to have a look.

The walk itself was wonderful (click for photos) and I would recommend it. Lots of up and down hills with great views and different scenery. You go past the historic Roman villa and Castle at Lullingstone. The only significant downside being some noise from nearby (but very largely unseen) motorway.

At the War Memorial near the old village bridge there was no sign of his name on it. I have since found out via the Internet that the issue has been hugely controversial in the village. It appears that 2 (or 3) of his brothers were later killed in the War but also that Thomas had deserted once before while in the (peace time) Army and had been imprisoned for 42 days.  It is reported also that Thomas had no witnesses for his defence at his trial for desertion since the rest of his unit were killed in the Battle.

I think that this is at the end of the day a matter for the local community and no-one else.

I will say that on the way out of the village I noticed 3 local teenage boys sitting on a wall near the village shop, probably aged about 15, looking bored and fed up as only adolescent boys can be. They were only a couple of years younger at most than Thomas was when he joined the Army at 17. I do wonder how they would have dealt with the aftermath following the carnage at the Battle of Mons?

UPDATE: BBC report 31 May 2014
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