WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed

France May Pardon Executed WW1 Poilus


French Executions Memorial, Suippes (©Paul Reed)

During the Great War France is reported to have executed more than 600 soldiers for military crimes on and off the battlefield. A number were shot in response to the French Army Mutinies in 1917. France 24 reports a move to have these men pardoned:

A report delivered to France’s Ministry of Veteran Affairs on Tuesday has suggested the country officially review the history of First World War soldiers who refused to fight and were executed by the hundreds as an example for other troops.

As France prepares to mark the 100th anniversary of the “Great War” next year, the new text highlights the double injustice suffered by many soldiers who were killed by firing squad and went down in history books as “cowards”.

One century after the start of the bloody conflict, “there is a large consensus in our society that the majority of them were not cowards, but decent soldiers, who performed their duties and did not deserve to die,” the report read.

It said that between 600 and 650 French soldiers were executed by their own side after disobeying orders from commanding officers, while around 100 others were put to death for espionage and other crimes.

It said that with 100 years of hindsight about the “dreadful circumstances” at the frontline, it was understandable that some men “broke down”.

The report discourages case-by-case probes to uncover the guilt or innocence of each executed WWI soldier, a process it said would have “disproportionate costs” and produce uncertain results.

Rather, it recommended a “formal declaration” by the state with perhaps a subsequent educational programme meant to clear the soldiers of dishonour.

“To declare that these soldiers also, in a certain way, ‘died protecting France’, would serve a sort of moral and civic pardon,” the report concluded.


Author: ww1centenary

Military Historian & author who works in Television: visiting & interpreting battlefields all over the world. Currently working on WW1 projects for 2014-18.

3 thoughts on “France May Pardon Executed WW1 Poilus

  1. The mutinies were quite understandable . When generals comfortably in the backlines ordered day after day that men jump out the trenches and run under machine-guns fire, half of them being killed each time, to perhaps gain 100 meters that would be lost one month later, I can eassily understand you want to kill your generals . Let’s not forget either that from 1916 a lot of enlightened Frenchmen realized that the war was a big profit for the ” Guns sellers” in their luxurious villas in Paris, London, Berlin or Washington . Then the Russian revolution bursted, and more and more men were more keen of a revolution than a war .

  2. Were is this French shot at dawn memorial anyone help me I would be most grateful as would like to visit. Thanks

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