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Soldier executed for not wearing cap

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  • Soldier executed for not wearing cap

    Soldier executed for not wearing cap

    11th November 2004
    (© Independent News Service)
    Cahal Milmo

    FOR Christie Walsh, there is one aspect of the death of his great-uncle Patrick that sums up his family's 89-year search for justice.

    "He was shot for not putting on his hat," Mr Walsh said. "How ludicrous and cruel is that?"

    At 8am, on 27 December 1915, a firing squad lined up near the Greek port of Salonika and took aim at Private Patrick Downey (19), from Limerick.

    One witness said that when Pte Downey heard his death sentence, he laughed and said: "That is a good joke. You let me enlist and then bring me out here and shoot me."

    This weekend, relatives of Pte Downey and 25 other Irish soldiers who were executed while serving in the British Army during World War One, hope to revive their memory in a final attempt to secure them a pardon with the help of the Irish Government.

    The families of the soldiers will present a petition at Downing Street before Remembrance Sunday. Mr Walsh (61), a Dublin taxi driver, who will be in the Irish delegation, said: "Of course, I never met my great-uncle Patrick but the sense of injustice in our family at his death has never gone away. The tale was that he had been court-martialled for refusing an officer's order to put on his cap. As far as my mother was concerned, he was murdered."

    Although the relatives of the 26 Irish soldiers have made such demands before, they are making their initiative for the first time supported by the full diplomatic and political weight of the Irish Government.

    Officials at the British Ministry of Defence are considering a report from Dublin which, in stark language, demands pardons for each soldier because the British Army had ignored "clear evidence" that should have saved each one from death.

    The contents of the confidential report, suggest the Irish soldiers were shot on the orders of senior officers paranoid about discipline.

    Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said: "The files make heartbreaking reading. They refer to medical conditions, personal problems, deaths of family members and other extenuating circumstances that are simply not taken into account. In most cases, there are written notes from superior officers that bluntly call for an example to be made. Guilt or innocence was secondary."

    The Irish Government has also pointed to new evidence of anti-Irish sentiment among British officers that shows a disproportionate number of Irish troops were executed. The Irish represented 8pc of those condemned to death, but were just 2pc of the Army.

    The campaigners, led by the pressure group Shot At Dawn, say many of the soldiers were unrepresented at their hearings and not allowed to make defence statements. For Pte Downey, who lied about his age to join the Leinster Regiment, the only record of his trial is three pages of handwritten notes.

    They show that while fighting a winter campaign in the Balkans against Bulgarian troops, Pte Downey was arrested for disobeying an officer three times, the last of which was refusing to put on his cap.