1916: James Crozier, an Irishman in His Majesty’s service

On this date in 1916, a young soldier drugged with rum to the point of stupefaction was dragged to the stake and shot near the western front.

There are hooks on the post; we always do things thoroughly in the Rifles. He is hooked on like dead meat in a butcher’s shop. His eyes are bandaged – not that it really matters, for he is already blind. … A volley rings out — a nervous volley it is true, yet a volley. Before the fatal shots are fired I had called the battalion to attention. There is a pause, I wait. I see the medical officer examining the victim. He makes a sign, the subaltern strides forward, a single shot rings out. Life is now extinct. (quoted in Forgotten Soldiers: The Irishmen Shot at Dawn)

The Belfast youth — who may or may not have been underage; reports appear to vary on this point — enlisted in the 9th Royal Irish Rifles during the initial blush of wartime enthusiasm.

The service of these loyal units from both north and south while Ireland teetered on the brink of of civil war and some of its partisans treated with the Germans was naturally valorized by the crown.

[flv:https://www.executedtoday.com/video/Irish_World_War_I.flv 440 330]

They would experience the full measure of that war’s ample stock of horrors — including numerous executions to enforce military discipline.

Just a few months after 9th was shipped to France, Crozier was found wandering miles behind lines, unarmed and out of uniform, apparently shellshocked.

Events moved quickly from there; Crozier’s lackadaisical service record weighed against him, and it was decided to make an example of him.

Charged with carrying out the sentence* was Frank Crozier (no relation), who would attain some controversial postwar renown. In his memoirs, he recalled the pathos of James Crozier’s fate.

He was no rotter deserving* to die like that. He was merely fragile. He had volunteered to fight for his country … at the dictates of his own young heart. He failed. And for that failure he was condemned to die — and he did at the hands of his friends, his brothers, with the approval of his church.

Eventually, the British government came to agree.

Crozier’s posthumous pardon, from his family genealogy. His Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry is here.

* According to Timothy Bowman, an officer of the 9th Royal Irish Rifles convicted on the same offense received a free pardon days after James Crozier’s conviction, to the consternation of the rank and file.

On this day..

11 thoughts on “1916: James Crozier, an Irishman in His Majesty’s service

  1. I am the great nephew of James Crozier. I had never really heard of James until about 5 years ago. Actually, not until the book, Forgotten Solders, Irishmen Shot at Dawn was brought to my attention. My father recently passed away but before his death, as the oldest mail relative of James, my Dad received the letter of pardon. It meant a great deal to him, his sisters and the rest of our family. I recently had the honor of traveling to the Somme, I visited the cellar were James was reported held and found and paid my respects at his grave.

  2. yes, it is true that “Posthumous pardons are about rebuilding a person’s legacy.” But just as important – and maybe even more important! – it is about authorities recognizing a wrong and, in some respect at least, taking some ownership of that. Of course a wrong done cannot usually be undone, and certainly not a wrong such as this! But at least there is recognition, and perhaps – just maybe – there will be fewer such wrongs committed in the future, at least in the near future, from the time of that recognition.

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  5. I am working on a sympathetic audio visual on the fate of James Crozier following a visit to the Somme and the National Arboretum at Arlewas. For a complete picture I have tried to find a photograph of James but without success. I am prepared to forward a copy of the AV to anybody interested or can supply a photograph.

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  7. Found the original story while searching family name Crozier. I remember how it bothered me for some time after reading such a tragic story. I’m glad to see he was eventually pardoned. It is does help set things right. Poor guy.

  8. Posthumous pardons are about rebuilding a person’s legacy. It’s for that person’s friends and family. That’s why Pvt. Slovik’s wife has lobbied 7 presidents to pardon him. The thing about this story is the brutality with which it was carried out. It’s simply unbelievable what people can be capable of.

  9. I just love retro-active pardons – it must make that young man, Timothy Evans and James Bentley ecstatic with relief…except they are dead 🙁

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