Europe

Call to rethink cases of French WWI 'coward' soldiers

  • 1 October 2013
  • From the section Europe
Tombs at the World War I French military cemetery of Serre-Hebuterne in northern France
The report said many soldiers must have had "a moment of weakness or despair"

A panel of French historians has called for the records of soldiers who were shot for cowardice and desertion in World War I to be rewritten.

The historians' report, commissioned by the government, called for the cases of 650 men shot during the war to be reconsidered.

Many of them are "worthy and deserving of moral, civic and public-spirited rehabilitation", the report says.

Veterans' minister Kader Arif has promised to consider the issue.

The report was sent to him ahead of next year's commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.

It concludes that most of those shot "were not cowards: they were good soldiers, who had done their duty and did not deserve death. The shame which came with their convictions deserves to be lifted."

President Francois Hollande has said that marking the anniversary will be "a major event" in his term of office.

Antoine Prost, the social historian who headed the research, laid out four options for the government and immediately ruled out two: "to do nothing" and to issue a "blanket rehabilitation".

The third option the report put forward was to study "on a case by case basis" the merits of pardoning the soldiers, but this was ruled out as raising too many legal complexities.

The fourth course of action the report outlines was to ask the veterans' minister to recognise within the commemorations that many of those who were executed were shot in "rushed, sometimes arbitrary conditions".

This last option appears to be the one most likely to be taken, the BBC's Christian Fraser in Paris reports.

The historians also mention the possibility of "a place of remembrance or permanent exhibition to answer the families' demands for recognition, and to inform the public".

In 2001, a monument to British troops shot for alleged cowardice or desertion during World War I was unveiled in Staffordshire.

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