List of Canadian soldiers executed for military offences
First World War
First World War, members of the Canadian Expeditionary Forcewere subject to British military discipline, which allowed execution by firing squadfor crimes such as desertionor cowardice. During the war, 25 Canadian soldiers were executed for purely military offences. Excluding the two who were found guilty of murder, Veteran Affairs Minister Ron Duhamelannounced on December 11, 2001 that executed soldiers would have their names added to Canada's Books of Remembrancehoused in Parliament Hill.
Executed for Desertion
Sgt. William Alexander
William Alexander was born in the UK during 1880, and served for 8 years in the British Army before emigrating to Canada. When the First World War started in August 1914, Alexander volunteered for service in the Canadian Army. Due to his previous military service, Alexander was made a Sergeant in the 10th Battalion. After arriving in France during 1915, Sergeant Alexander fought with the battalion at the 2nd Battle of Ypres (April 1915), Festubert (May 1915) and Mount Sorrel (1916).
Following his recovery from an inflamed knee, Alexander rejoined his battalion in time for its involvement in the attack on Hill 70, which started at 04:25 on 15 August 1917. This attack was intended to act as a diversion and draw some of the German forces from the ongoing battles at Passchendaele. Due to the severe casualties suffered by the 10th Battalion, CQMS Alexander was ordered forward to take over as Platoon Sergeant of D Company; in readiness for this platoon to take part in a further attack. However, Alexander was nowhere to be found and a Corporal had to lead the Company.
Two days later, on 17 August 1917, the 10th Battalion was pulled out of the front line. It had suffered some 400 casualties.
It was not until the 19 August 1917 that CQMS Alexander was located in the village used by the 10th Battalion as a billet prior to the attack on Hill 70. After admitting that he had gone sick, but not reported it to an officer, and the absence of any marks on his person, Alexander was arrested and charged with desertion.
Following his trial on 29 September 1917, Alexander (age 37) was executed by firing squad on 18 October 1917. His remains are located in Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension (Pas de Calais), Plot II, Row D, Grave 43.
Lance-Bombardier Frederick Arnold
Cleveland, Ohioon 25 April1890, Frederick Stanley Arnold initially served in the US Armybefore enlisting in the Canadian Field Artillery in September 1914.
Once stationed in France, Arnold fought at the
Battle of Festubertand the Battle of Givenchy, twice being admitted to hospital, once for simple illness, and then to be treated for shell shock. After his discharge, Arnold disappeared on 5 June1916, and was arrested at a nearby port dressed in civilian clothes. He was court-martialled on 5 July1916, and executed at 04:37 on 25 July1916. He is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Plot VIII, Row A, Grave 137.
Pte. Fortunat Auger
Montrealin December 1890, Fortunat Auger joined the CEF's 14th Battalion in September 1914.
Auger was present during both the
Battle of Ypresand the Battle of Festubertin 1915. After the 14th Battalion was transferred Following his battalion's move to Ploegsteert Woodthat summer, Auger's conduct became increasingly belligerent.
He was twice charged with going
AWOL, before disappearing for two days in December and returning to find himself charged with desertion. His charge was lessened to AWOL once again, but he was sentenced to serve 12 months hard labour. His sentence was suspended a month later, and he was returned to his battalion, from which he immediately left. He was arrested three days later, on January 11, and sentenced to death for desertion.
The 25-year old Private was executed by
firing squadat 05:43 on 26 March1916, and his remains were buried in Trois Arbres Cemetery, Plot III, Row H, Grave 5.
Pte. Harold Carter
26 March1894 in Toronto, Ontario, Harold George Carter enlisted in the 59th Battalion in March 1915. In January 1916, he was charged with going AWOL
The Battalion was disbanded upon reaching England at the end of 1916, and its troops were used to re-man other units who had taken high casualty rates during the war. Carter was transferred to the 73rd Battalion, part of the 4th Canadian Division.
He was again found
AWOL, during the September Battle of Flers-Courcelette, and was found guilty of desertion and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to 10 years' imprisonment. After serving six months, his sentence was suspended, and he was re-attached to his unit on March 161917.
Within three weeks, Carter once again went
AWOL, this time just before the Battle of Vimy Ridge, eluding military policefor five days before being re-captured. He was court-martialled and found guilty of desertion. Sentenced to death, Carter was executed by firing squad on 20 April1917.
Carter's remains are today located in
Villers Station Cemetery, Plot X, Row A, Grave 7.
Pte. Gustave Comté
24 February1895 in Montreal, Gustave Comté enlisted in the 57th Battalion in September 1915. Comte travelled with the battalion to France, but was transferred to the 22nd Battalion (aka "Van Doo", then part of the 5th Canadian Brigade CEF) due to their recent loss of infantry.
Private Comté went missing just before the attack on Vimy Ridge began, on
April 41917, as the 22nd began moving to the front lines through Gouy-Servins. He was found in Le Havreon 18 May, and a court martial sentenced him to death for desertion.
At 04:45 on
3 July1917, Comté was executed by firing squad. His remains are now located in Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery Extension, Plot I, Row F, Grave 20.
Pte. Arthur Dagesse
Arthur Charles Dagesse was born in New Bedford MA in 1886. One month after the outbreak of war, Dagesse enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) on 23 September 1914 under the name Dagasse. His conduct as a soldier started badly and continued in poor fashion; he had no fewer than 13 convictions for absence and 2 for drunkenness.
On 4 April 1917, just prior to his units participation in the Vimy Ridge attack, Dagesse went absent until he was arrested in Paris on 29 April 1917. While awaiting his trial for this offence, Dagesse escaped and remained absent for 5 months before being rearrested in Paris on 4 October 1917. When he was arrested for this second time, Dagesse was wearing the uniform of a Sergeant in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC).
Following his court-martial on 26 February 1918, Dagasse was found guilty of desertion and sentenced to death.
At 06:37 on 15 March 1918, Dagesse (aged 33) was executed by firing squad. His remains are now located in Lapugnoy Military Cemetery, Plot VIII, Row B, Grave 8.
Pte. Léopold Delisle
Léopold Delisle was born in Montreal during 1893. Following the outbreak of war, Delisle tried to enlist 3 times before he was finally accepted for overseas service in April 1915. One month later, Delisle sailed with the 22nd (French-Canadian) Battalion.
However, Delisle rapidly accumilated offences on his conduct sheet.
After the battalion had arrived in England, Kerr was punished for 3 more periods of AWOL on 27 November 1915, 3 December 1915 and 3 January 1916.
After entering France and joining the 7th (British Columbia) Battalion, Kerr's conduct continued to decline. After several more warnings about his conduct, Kerr rejoined his unit in October 1916 as it prepared to attack Regina Trench as part of the Somme Offensive. However, Kerr went absent after being warned for duty in the front line. 24 hours later, Kerr was arrested when he was discovered in some billets located some miles behind the front lines.
On 7 November 1916, Kerr was charged with desertion. His court-martial found him guilty and sentenced him to death by shooting. At 06:45 on 21 November 1916, Kerr was executed by firing squad. Private Kerr's remains are now located in Quatre-Vents Military Cemetery, Plot III, Row A, Grave 9.
Pte. Joseph LaLancette
Joseph LaLancette was born on
1 September1895 in London. After enlisting in Quebec City, LaLancette arrived in France as part of a reinforcement of the 22nd Battalion.
On 6 April 1917, just prior to the attack on Vimy Ridge, LaLancette went absent and was shortly arrested together with Gustave Comté. Both soldiers faced separate courts-martial, charged with desertion. Both LaLancette and Comté were found guilty and sentenced to death.
At 04:45 on 3 July 1917, LaLancette and Comté were executed by firing squad. LaLancette's remains are now located in Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery Extension, Plot I, Row F, Grave 21.
Pte. Côme Laliberté
Côme Laliberté was born on 24 March 1893 in Lotbinière (Quebec). During March 1915 he enlisted in the 41st Battalion, travelling with them to England in June 1915. Before the end of 1915, Laliberté already had several entries on his conduct sheet.
He also had several convictions for drunkenness.
During October 1917, Moles was ordered to rejoin his company which was about to go into action. Instead of going forward, Moles went to a village in the rear areas. He was eventually arrested 3 weeks later, and charged with desertion.
At his court-martial Moles was found guilty and sentenced to death. At 05:30 on 22 October 1917, Moles was executed by firing squad. His remains are located in Ypres Reservoir Cemetery, Plot I, Row H, Grave 76.
Pte. Eugene Perry
April 1, 1896 in Bouctouche, New Brunswick, Pte. Eugene Perry enlisted in the 41st Battalion in October 1915. He was stationed in Belgiumas part of the 22nd Battalion, and later fought at the Battle of the Sommebefore moving with the unit to the Vimy area.
April 2, 1917, Perry was given a warning for missing duty on the front line, and disappeared shortly afterwards.
He was arrested approximately 7 hours later at a nearby village. His court-martial found him guilty of desertion and sentenced him to death by firing squad. His remains are located in Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Plot VI, Row C, Grave 7.
Pte. Edward James Reynolds
Edward James Reynolds was born on 2 January 1896 in Toronto. During April 1915, Reynolds enlisted in the 35th Battalion. By November 1915, Reynolds was a member of the 3rd Battalion in the line near Ploegsteert.
On 25 July 1916, the Germans exploded a mine under a portion of the front line called "The Bluff". The 3rd Battalion was ordered forward to plug the resulting gap in the front line. However, Reynolds fell out from his platoon only to be found 2 days later at his battalion's transport lines. Reynolds claimed that he had been ordered back and got lost. This excuse was accepted.
During the following night (26 July 1916), Reynolds was ordered to accompany a ration party up to the front line. Again Reynolds fell out and went back to his battalion's transport lines. This time Reynolds was arrested and charged with desertion. He was found guilty by his court-martial and sentenced to death.
At 05:27 on 23 August 1916, Reynolds was executed by firing squad. His remains are now located in Longuenesse Souvenir Cemetery, Plot IV, Row A, Grave 39.
Pte. John William Roberts
Born in Newfoundland on
5 August1895, John William Roberts served in the Royal Navy Reservefor four years, before enlisting in the 2nd Canadian Mounted Riflesin May 1915. At some point during this time he was imprisoned for 28 days, as punishment for going AWOLwhile still in Canada.
Four months later his unit was deployed to France. In January 1916 he was sent to a medical camp, and upon being released the following month, once again disappeared. He wasn't found until June, when
military policefound him in civilian clothes.
His court-martial occurred in July, and Roberts was found guilty of desertion. He was executed by firing squad at 04:36 on
30 July1916, and his body is now interred in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Plot VIII, Row A, Grave 154.
Pte. Charles Welsh
3 June1887 in Chester, England, Charles Welsh was an immigrant to Canada. In February 1915, he enlisted in the 52nd Battalion, which departed to England that summer. By the end of the year, he had been transferred to reinforce the 8th Battalion, battling in Belgium.
Over the next two months, the 8th Battalion was involved in a number of bloody skirmishes surrounding
Passchendaele, and at some point during this fighting - Welsh went missing for a third time. He was found 8 weeks later, living in a cottage near Poperinghe, charged, and sentenced once again to death by firing squad. He was executed at 06:00 on 6 March1918, and buried in the Mazingarbe Communal CememteryExtension, Plot III, Row B, Grave 12.
Pte. James Wilson
Limerick, Irelandin June 1879, James H. Wilson spent nine years serving in the Connaught Rangersbefore emigrating to Canada prior to the war.
Wilson enlisted at the start of the war in August 1914, but was discharged the following
February 3after a series of infractions left him "undesirable for military service". He was re-instated a month later on 13 March.
AWOLagain on 25 February1916, and was not seen again until he turned himself into the army nearly three months later. He was court-martialled and charged with desertion. He was sentenced to death, and at 04:20 on 9 July, was executed by firing squad. His remains are today located in Poperinghe New Military Cemetery, Plot II, Row H, Grave 2.
Pte. Elsworth Young
2 June1895 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Elsworth Young enlisted in the 25th Battalion during November 1914 at the age of 19. He was stationed in France in September 1915, serving as a batman.
In September 1916, Young was ordered to report back to his company's Sergeant-Major, in order to be transferred to replace troops lost during the
Battle of Flers-Courcelette. He failed to report on time, though he arrived in time for the evening's rollcall.
Several days later however, Young was arrested after being found miles behind the front lines, dressed in a
Corporal's uniform. He initially gave a false name and rank to the Military Policewho arrested him. He was charged with desertion, court-martialled and sentenced to death. He was executed by firing squad at 06:26 on 29 October1916. His remains are today located in Bully-Grenay Communal Cemetery, Plot II, Row B, Grave 14.
Executed for Cowardice
Pte. Dimitro Sinizki
Kiev, Ukrainein 1895, Dimitro Sinizki (#830020) emigrated to Canada.
He enlisted in Winnipeg's 144th Canadian Infantry during December 1915, and after shipping out to England, was one of a handful of troops used to reinforce the Ontarian 52nd Battalion after its losses at the
Battle of Vimy Ridge.
In August 1917, Sinizki was part of a trench-raiding team when he refused to participate in a raid. The following night he was forcibly brought along on the raid, but he simply sat down and refused to help the others. He was arrested, court-martialled and charged with
cowardice. Sentenced to death by firing squad, Sinizki was executed at 06:11 on 9 October.
His remains are today located in
Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Plot VI, Row K, Grave 19.
Executed for Murder
Trooper Alexander Butler
London, Englandon 11 June1888, Alexander Butler served in the 7th Queen's Own Hussars for nearly seven years, before emigrating to Canada.
Following the outbreak of the war, Butler enlisted in the
Royal Canadian Dragoons, and was dispatched to France in May 1915, where he participated in dismounted service at the Battle of Festubert, Battle of Givenchyand the Battle of Messines. Butler fell off his horse twice, once resulting in a head injury, which led to increasingly belligerent behaviour. The RCDs then saw mounted service in the forthcoming June 1916 Somme Offensive.
8 June1916, while stationed behind the front lines of Hesdin, Butler took his rifle and opened fire, shooting Trooper Mickleburgh dead with five shots in the chest before he was overpowered and arrested.
He was court-martialled 16 days later, and while the courts made mention of his mental instability, several doctors testified that the claims were exaggerated and he was competent to stand trial. He was sentenced to death, and at 04:00 on
2 July1916, was executed by firing squad. His remains are today located in Ribemont Communal CemeteryExtension, Plot IV, Row M, Grave 5.
Benjamin De Fehr
29 March1888 in Winkler, Manitoba, Benjamin De Fehr enlisted as a driver in the Canadian Army Service Corpsfollowing the outbreak of war, and was duly transferred to England in 1916.
He had no incidents of poor conduct, until
19 August1916, while serving in France with the 1st Canadian Reserve Parkin the rear areas near Hazebrouck. He used his rifle to shoot 43-year-old Regimental Sergeant-Major J.R. Scott in the back, killing him instantly. De Fehr was overpowered and arrested immediately.
He was officially court-martialled on
22 August, and while he maintained that he had been drunk during the incident, several witnesses testified that he had been sober. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by firing squad.
De Fehr was executed three days later, and his remains are today located in Hazebrouck Communal Cemetery, Plot I, Row A, Grave 13, only three graves away from his victim, RSM Scott.
econd World War
Only one soldier was executed for committing a military offence duriung the Second World War, Private
Harold Joseph Pringleof The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment. He was executed after VE-Day in Italy in 1945 for the crimes of desertion and accomplice to murder.
* Godefroy, Andrew, "
For Freedom and Honour?"
* [http://www.stephen-stratford.co.uk/canadians.htm Canadians Executed During WWI]
* fr Soldat fusillé pour l'exemple
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