Over 300 UK soldiers, 25 Canadian and 5 New Zealand soldiers were sentenced to death and executed by courts-martial during the First World War.
While Australian citizens serving in the Australian Army were sentenced to death, they all had their death sentences commuted.
However, there were two Australians serving in the New Zealand Army and 1 serving in the South African Army who were sentenced to death and were executed.
|THE COURTS-MARTIAL SYSTEM|
|CANADIAN SOLDIERS EXECUTED 1914-1918|
|NEW ZEALAND SOLDIERS EXECUTED 1914-1918|
|UK SOLDIERS EXECUTED 1914-1918|
|SOLDIER||NATIONALITY||ARMY SERVED IN||DIED|
|King J*||Australian||New Zealand||19/08/1917|
|Sweeney JJ*||Australian||New Zealand||02/10/1916|
|Matthews N^||Australian||South Africa||03/04/1916|
AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE ACT
The following information is extracted from an interview published on 6 April 2015 by news.com.au, including an interview with Ashley Ekins, head of the Australian War Memorial’s military history section.
During the First World War, 121 Australians were sentenced to death but the sentence was commuted. The mass commutation didn’t stem from the Morant-Handcock case of 1902, but from a determination by the Australian Government to ensure the primacy of the Australian Defence Act where Australian soldiers served under British Command.
Under the act, a capital sentence was only permitted for a limited range of serious offences such as mutiny and desertion to the enemy. Even then the sentence had to be approved by the governor-general.
In eight months, there were still over 350 courts-martial of Australian troops, for offences including refusing to obey orders, quitting positions and self-inflicted wounds.
Commanding officers stipulated that convicted soldiers would not be sent to prison but given terms of field punishment.
Field Punishment was introduced in 1881 following the abolition of flogging. It was a common punishment during World War I. A commanding officer could award field punishment for up to 28 days, while a court martial could award it for up to 90 days, either as Field Punishment Number One or Field Punishment Number Two.
Field Punishment Number One (FP1) consisted of the convicted man being placed in fetters and handcuffs or similar restraints and attached to a fixed object, such as a gun wheel or a fence post, for up to two hours per day.
In Field Punishment Number Two (FP2), the prisoner was placed in fetters and handcuffs but was not attached to a fixed object and was still able to march with his unit.