Shot at Dawn

When I set off to visit The National Memorial Arboretum this morning I didn’t realise that it was Memorial Day in the United States.  It was only later when I got back home and read Ginnie’s post at Vision & Verb that I realised I had picked a perfect day to visit the Arboretum.  The Arboretum is a centre of remembrance to honor the fallen and recognise their service and sacrifice for their country.

The site covers over 150 acres and there are currently around 300 memorials. Far too much to see in one day.  I picked one of the self guided First World War Centenary trails that had been launched earlier this year:

History enthusiasts will enjoy the more detailed Shot at Dawn Trail (2km), created to provide a deeper understanding of many of the trees and memorials connected to WW1 by fascinating stories and symbolism.*

The ‘Shot at Dawn’ memorial is very moving and requires a few minutes silent contemplation.  The memorial is situated on the eastern edge of the arboretum where dawn strikes first.

During World War 1 some 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers were shot 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.

Andy Decomyn’s statue ‘Shot at Dawn’ is modeled on Private Herbert Burden, of the 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, who was shot at Ypres in 1915, aged 17.

The names of Herbert Burden and those others who suffered the fate of being shot at dawn are listed on the stakes arranged in the form of a Greek theatre around the statue, symbolising the tragedy that these events signify. Many of the posts say ‘Age Unknown’ and this is because many young men lied about their age in order to enlist. Some of them had no representation at court-martial because most of the officers had been killed when they went ‘over the top’ first. (The average life expectancy of an officer on the front line was 10 weeks).**

I was sitting on a bench when I took this this photograph. Right behind the bench were six trees placed where the firing squad would have been.

The six trees facing the posts represent the firing squad, all aiming for the medallion around the statues neck and none of them knowing who had the fatal bullet. It must have been very traumatic for them too, having to shoot one of their own.**

The memorial makes you think and amongst other thoughts wonder why…

*From the National Memorial Arboretum website.
**From the National Memorial Arboretum guidebook edition 4

18 Comments CherryPie on May 26th 2014

18 Responses to “Shot at Dawn”

  1. Sean Jeating says:

    When will people start not to use euphemisms like “the fallen” (in German: die Gefallenen). Those people get killed. Cannon fodder of the Blairs, Bushs and Brzezinskis on this planet, of the Cheneys and Camerons, of the Merkels and Putins.
    Imagine such ruthless idiots declare war, and their “cannon fodder” simply says “No.”.

    • CherryPie says:

      It makes no difference whether we say ‘the fallen’ or use your term ‘cannon fodder’.

      The outcome will always be the same. Most people need to be led and they believe what they are told. They don’t think for themselves and do what they are told.

      The question is how do the people who know this educate the people who do not know?

  2. amfortas says:

    Such a sad place. The resting place of the dead was first really brought home to me when I visited the war graves at Kranji in Singapore. Rows of white stones seemingly endless. It was only months after I had been in several ‘fire-fights’ in the jungle in Borneo. I survived. The cemetery allowed me to cry quietly and in good company.

    • CherryPie says:

      Thank you for sharing your personal experiences.

      When I visited Tyne Cot Cemetery, the rows of endless stones affected me greatly. As someone who took part in conflicts, the sight of those stones is bound to have an even greater effect on you.

  3. Astrid says:

    28st of Juli 1914….. almost 100 years.
    Places like this need some contemplation. I visited Arlington Cemetery in Washington. It is impossible to even start thinking what sorrow there is over wars.
    We never learn. I am moved by the words of Amfortas.

  4. Lest we forget.

  5. james higham says:

    Oh my goodness – for a moment, I thought you were in trouble.

  6. ubermouth says:

    Fascinating post and history! I think it horrendous that they could not tell by sight that some of those kids were too young to be there,never mind shot for showing what was,essentially, self-preservation skills.

    The book All Quiet On The Western Front really had an impact on me, as did this post of yours. It’s shocking that the life expectancy on the front was 10 weeks!

  7. liz says:

    Beautiful. I recently watched Crimson Fields and the treatment of some of the soldiers by a few was horrific.

  8. Mandy says:

    Oh my. That is really moving. How sad.