Hidden Truth: Executions of Caribbean Soldiers in WWI, by Peter Polack

Herbert Morris, 17, a Jamaican from Riversdale in the parish of Saint Catherine was executed on September 20, 1917 behind a church in Poperinge, Belgium. He was one of thousands of West Indian volunteers who traveled thousands of miles to wage war in a foreign country only to die in court martial for essentially shell shock, now known as PTSD. His death was personally approved by British Commander Douglas Haig, a member of the “lions led by donkeys” management team.

The tragic story of Herbert Morris from the Trench Brothers Project resonated with visiting children:

Herbert was only 16 when he volunteered for war service. He was recruited in Jamaica for the 6e Battalion of the British West Indies Regiment (6BWIR) and, as he wished, he was sent to the trenches of Flanders where his superiors noted in their files that he “behaved well”.

“Some members of 6BWIR were afraid of weapons and often showed signs of disorientation during the bombardment. Eventually Herbert’s nerves gave way and the shocked youth fled from the trenches. He was absent without permission and was reportedly on the run for two days before being captured and arrested.

“His capture was inevitable because it was almost impossible for the deserters to remain free in France and find their way back to England.

“Herbert was recovered in Boulogne and was punished with fourteen days in the field. On August 20, after seeing seven of his comrades become victims, Herbert fled again by jumping from the truck that took him to his battery. He was arrested, once again in Boulogne, as he entered a rest camp without a permit. Morris had obvious symptoms of combat fatigue or “gunshot”.

He pleaded in court: “I have head problems and I can’t stand the sound of guns. I reported to Dr. [sic] and he didn’t give me any medicine or anything. ”

The court did not attempt to adjourn the case for medical reports. As for the British Army, desertion lowered morale and the punishments were severe, especially in wartime. Herbert was court martialed and sentenced to be shot for deserting active service. His death sentence was confirmed by Field Marshal Douglas Haig. Herbert paraded in front of 6BWIR as an example. In the early hours of September 20, 1917, Herbert Morris dictated a letter to Padre Horner for his parents in Jamaica, and was executed at dawn by a firing squad that included seven West Indian and three White soldiers. He had just had his 17e birthday.’

Herbert wasn’t the only teenager shot dead at dawn in the same place. Frederick Gore, 19, of the East Kent Regiment, was gunned down less than a month later on October 16, 1917. They joined many others, also executed behind the church in Poperinge as the war bogged down in trenches, full frontal charges and massive losses.

Another teenager to suffer this fate was Seventeen-year-old Abraham Bevistein of an immigrant family who was executed on March 20, 2016, one of an estimated two hundred and fifty thousand underage boys who served in the British Army. during the World War One. name to Harris’ more English name upon enlistment, but that did not save him.

Between 1914 and 1920, twenty thousand soldiers were sentenced by a court martial to a potential death sentence. Three thousand British soldiers were sentenced to death during the Great War not only for cowardice and desertion, but for crimes such as murder. A little over three hundred were actually executed.

The youngest execution of a British miner was that of sixteen-year-old Herbert Burden, who claimed to be eighteen so he could join in the excitement the Great War brought to communities with a profusion of bored young men .

The mindset had to be that it was a farce or a taboo, like drinking or driving a minor until the reality of thousands of corpses on a battlefield set in. It was the most popular and macabre sport of the time, the enlistment of minors, a plot of fools and greedy ears.

Urban hometown of Burden, the London Borough of Lewisham was one planet from the peaceful rural community of Riversdale in Jamaica where her teenage companion, Herbert Morris, lived. Burden’s parents joined the grieving William and Ophelia Morris, five thousand miles away. Herbert Burden was executed on July 21, 1915, ten months after enlisting in the British Army. Subsequently, he became the figurehead of the Shot at Dawn memorial created after the 2007 British government pardon for the executions of three hundred and six soldiers convicted of desertion.

British publisher Lime Tree Press has acquired the rights to Only the Young Shall Die from Peter Polack and Jack McCain on the Rising Age of Military Enlistment. The owners of Lime Tree Press had previously acquired the South African rights to The Last Burning Battle of the Cold War: South Africa vs. Cuba in the Angolan Civil War (2013) by Peter Polack.

The book offers the opportunity to reflect on the youth of the soldiers killed in action since the War of Independence in 1776 and recently by decision-makers who felt neither the heat of the battle nor the melancholy of the losses on the ground. This effort consists of statistics, images and more revealing, the accounts of several soldiers on the ground through numerous conflicts from diaries and other sources.

The average age of young men who died in combat has declined significantly compared to previous wars, from their mid-twenties to their late teens. One estimate puts the average age of Union soldiers during the Civil War at just under twenty-six.

A report on enlisted men from North West England during the Great War puts the average age of dead soldiers at twenty-seven, but more than nineteen have died than any other age group. In World War 11, the average age of American combatants was still twenty-six. During the Vietnam War, the average age of soldiers killed in action had dropped to 23, and twenty percent of those killed were under twenty. 61% of those killed in Vietnam were under the legal drinking age in the United States, which is twenty-one. A useful snapshot of this evolving paradigm came on July 10, 2009, when five British servicemen were killed in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in an incident with an average age of twenty. Three of the dead soldiers were only eighteen years old.


Peter Polack has been a former Cayman Islands criminal lawyer for several decades. His books are The Last Burning Battle of the Cold War: South Africa vs. Cuba in the Angolan Civil War (2013), Jamaica, the land of cinema (2017) and Guerilla Warfare: Kings of the Revolution(2019). He helped Encyclopedia of War (2013). Polack worked as a part-time reporter for the Reuters news agency in the Cayman Islands in 2014-2016. His article Syria: the evolutionary revolution was published in the U.S. Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center magazine in June 2014. In October 2018, Defense Procurement International published an article on the book Guerrilla Warfare titled What do today’s jihadists have in common with famous guerrillas of the past?The magazine Defense Procurement International Winter 2018 presented its article Brief history of MRAP Vehicles. In September 2019, an excerpt from George Washington’s chapter of Guerrilla Warfare Kings of Revolution appeared in the American Intelligence Journal, Vol 36, No. 1. His last article Soviet Spy Masters: The Limits of Democracy and Navalny was published in Foreign Policy News on March 7, 2021. McFarland publishers have acquired his latest book titled Soviet spies around the world: country by country, 1940-1988 to be published in 2022. The Encyclopedia is a collection of Russian espionage activities with nearly five hundred Soviet spies expelled from nearly 100 countries around the world. In April 2021, UK publisher Lime Tree Press acquired the rights toOnly the young will die by Peter Polack and Jack McCain on The Rising Age of Military Enlistment. He is currently researching an organized collection titled The war in pictures of nearly 1000 images across several conflicts over several centuries.

Image: Private Burden Stake: by Steve Bowen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https: //commons.wikimedia.org / …

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