Shame and secrecy still surrounds those who deserted in World War One. Gerry van Tonder uncovers some of their stories

,,Mywife was 19 whenmarried her. She had one brother in France and no other relations. I tried to get her a situation in Sunderland but failed. I could not leave her friendless and homeless. I took off my uniform on April 25th just before starting to Scotland to get work. I have left my young wife in Scotland... she is all alone and friendless.”

Despite this pitifully compassionate and naïve honesty with his military accusers, at 4am on July 19, 1918, Private Arthur Briggs of the 9th Sherwood Foresters was executed by firing squad, after having been found guilty of desertion by a field general court martial (FGCM).

The execution of the 26-year-old ‘Tommy’ from Brimington, Chesterfield, took place in the French village of Bracquemont. He was buried to one side in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Hersin Communal Cemetery Extension in France. A simple but poignant epitaph on his headstone reads, ‘Gone but not forgotten’.

Want to read more?

This is a premium article and requires an active subscription.

Existing subscriber? Sign in now

No subscription?

Pick one of our introductory offers