During the so called Great War 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers were exeuted for desertion or cowardice. Most of them were sentenced after a short trial at which no real opportunity for defence was allowed.
Today, it is recognised that several of them were under age when they volunteered and that many of them were suffering from shell shock or post traumatic stress disorder. I cannot conceive the shear terror that the conditions in the trenches at the front must have induced in such young, and not so young, soldiers sent there after minimal training and expected to endure machine gunning, mines containing hundreds of tons of explosives and the barbed wire they had to cross before coming into contact with the enemy.
The statue 'Shot at Dawn' is modelled on Private Herbert Burden, of the 1st Battallion Northumberland Fusiliers, who was shot at Ypres in 1915 aged 17. His name, and the names of those others who suffered the fate of being shot at dawn are listed on the stakes that surround the statue.
After the 75 year Secrecy Act was lifted relatives and comrades started campaigning for pardons and, eventually, in 2006 a mass pardon was granted, 98 years later, but it did take over twenty years for it to happen.
The memorial is located in the most easterly point of the National Memorial Arboretum, at the foot of the National Forest in the centre of England, which means that it is the first place to be touched by the dawn light.
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