Monday, August 4, 2014

Solicitors in The Great War

For a fascinating and, in view of the centennial of the start of The Great War, timely read, see Record of Service from the August 4, 2014 Law Society Gazette, concerning the experience of solicitors in World War I. It is part of The Law Society's excellent web page devoted entirely to the subject. You can find it here. An anecdote from another contribution on the site:
Henry Lawson, who later went on to a distinguished career including presidency of the Law Society in 1962, but in 1917 he was utterly unprepared to be called as one of three officers trying a case. He recalled: 'I had never attended a court martial, let alone sat as a member of the court. I suppose in my examinations I may have read something about the subject, but I knew virtually nothing.'
The defendant, 'a charming boy of 19 or so with pink cheeks and blue eyes' who admitted the charge of sleeping at his post. 'This did not surprise me because one or twice on my night rounds I had found a sentry asleep, absolutely worn out, whom I dealt with in my own manner.' This apparently involved firing a rifle six inches from the sleeper's ear and shouting 'They're coming!'.
As junior member of the court, Lawson had to give his verdict first and he recommended a reprimand, saying he held the platoon commander in part responsible. 'Silence reigned until the Colonel told me that if I found the boy guilty there was only one sentence I could pass... the death penalty.'
Lawson responded that he would 'be prepared to be taken out and shot, which the enemy would probably do to me anyway before the end of the war, but in no circumstances whatever would I pass the death sentence upon that boy with whom I sympathised.'
In the end the court agreed on 40 days 'confined to barracks... whatever that meant in the line'.
The prisoner 'showed no emotion, no relief, thus confirming [m]y belief that he had no idea that his life had been at stake.'

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