Shot at dawn

As we mark 100 years since the First World War, communities across Islwyn will come together to remember all of those that lost their lives in this terrible conflict.

When commemorating the Great War, we rightly think of those who made the ultimate sacrifice whilst fighting for our freedom. However, there are others whose roles are not widely remembered by history.

During the First World War some 306 British soldiers were shot at dawn for cowardice and desertion, most of who were suffering from shell shock and undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorders.

The names of many of these men are not included on war memorials and their families lived with the burden of having their loved ones unfairly labelled as traitors and cowards.

For those shot at dawn there was no glory associated with their memory and their role in the war had been consigned to the fringes of history.

Earlier this month, I spoke to students from Blackwood, Oakdale and Pontllanfraith at Blackwood Library as Blackwood Heritage Association marked the centenary of the First World War.

During the commemoration, I spoke about the importance of remembering all of those who lost their lives, from soldiers killed during conflict, to those shot at dawn.

I also paid tribute to the work of my predecessor Lord Touhig, whose diligent and tireless campaigning resulted in the 306 men being granted posthumous pardons in August 2006.

The families of those killed will forever be grateful to Don who, as Veterans’ Minister, moved the Bill which ensured that the sacrifices of those shot at dawn will be remembered by future generations.

I have long said that we owe a debt of gratitude to our veterans which we can never repay; we are free today because of our war dead.

Over the coming months, many of us will take part in the memorial services and commemorations planned in our towns and villages.

It is my hope that we will commemorate the lives not only of those killed in battle, but also the men whose trauma as a result of fighting in such a bloody and brutal war was misinterpreted as cowardice.

Whether they were shot by their enemy or shot by their own side, all those who lost their lives during the First World War were victims of a terrible conflict.