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Serial desertion

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Serial desertion

Postby catherine757 » Wed Dec 10, 2014 9:41 am

Hello! I'm trying to make sense of the first world war records of my GG Uncle.

He enlisted three times during WW1, from what I can make out, in three different Regiments, once under a false name. He was also a serial absentee and deserter.
He served from November 1914 - May 1917, but only served at the front for a few months during 1916. The rest of the time he was nominally posted in the UK, but between Nov 1914 and Feb 1916 he was absent many times (sometimes just for a day, sometimes for a few days), deserted twice, and was twice punished (forfeited pay / detained) for fraudulent enlistment.

I was wondering, with such a horrendous record of absenteeism and desertion and fraud, why they were so lenient with him - he didn't even serve the whole of his allotted detentions...I thought they shot deserters at dawn? Why was he given so many second and third chances?

Also, why would he have fraudulently enlisted twice? The first time he seems to have just wanted to join a regiment closer to home (he left the Yorkshire Regiment on 15th Jan and joined the Sherwood Foresters on the 16th), but he also at some point enlisted in the Kings Own Scottish Borders under a false name.

Any wisdom would be gratefully received!
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Serial desertion

Postby brunes08 » Wed Dec 10, 2014 1:22 pm

An interesting puzzle. All I can offer at this stage is that deserters were listed in, I think it was, the Police Gazette so you may be able to trace reports in newspapers etc. Why he seems to have got away so lightly is hard to say but 'shot at dawn' was for desertion from the battlefield and not on home soil. Others were imprisoned. Many went into hiding but why he kept re-enlisting is curious. Those who were able-bodied and not in a reserved occupation were 'encouraged' to enlist. So perhaps he felt obliged to do so.
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Re: Serial desertion

Postby catherine757 » Wed Dec 10, 2014 8:24 pm

Thank you for your reply!

I think he sounds like he just didn't want to be in the army at all - he was constantly breaking out of camp and being forfeited a few days' wages.

One of the desertions co-incided with the birth of his daughter (who must have been conceived during an earlier period of absenteeism :D).

Maybe he didn't serve out the full detention periods because he was more use in active service (when they finally got him there...?)

Did they get paid a joining fee or anything does anyone know? Maybe he was trying to cash in on double wages or something? One of the other things he was 'done' for was 'losing' what looks like his entire kit and supplied clothing during one period of absenteeism, so maybe money was very tight...although they did at that point 'only' have one child.

I'm mystified. He seems like a total wrong 'un and they should have thrown the book at him, but other than losing a lot of days' wages / pension pay and a few weeks' detention he got away fairly scott free.
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Re: Serial desertion

Postby junkers » Wed Dec 10, 2014 10:53 pm

It may help if you let us know his name as that might be useful. Ancestors did use aliases and in this case it may be that he wanted to serve in battle rather than in the UK. I have one ancestor who joined the Royal Navy then joined the Liverpool Regiment under an alias and then returned to the Royal Navy.

It is likely that he might have been shot for 'cowardice in the field' outside of the UK but as he was in the UK it is unlikely that would not happen. The Army were desperate for men so they may have overlooked his absent periods.You used to at one point get the King's Shilling for joining the Regular Army but he would be paid according to his rank and service and that the cost of his kit would be deducted when he left.
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Re: Serial desertion

Postby junkers » Wed Dec 10, 2014 10:54 pm

I should have said that he would not be shot for cowardice if he was in the UK.
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