The Wound Of “Toughness”

Some two years ago Sky News reported that 306 soldiers from World War 1 who were court-martialed for cowardice and executed, had been pardoned by the British Government. The cemetery where these men were buried was also shown. Isolated rustic looking poles, each with a plaque with the man’s name, protruded out of the ground. There was something rather tragic about this cemetery with its statue of a young soldier standing blindfolded waiting to be shot.

There was an interview with the daughter of a man, Private Harry Farr who was sentenced and shot for cowardice. It was desperately sad to watch the pain of this woman as she told the story. During a particular battle Harry Farr began to experience a bad attack of what was then called shell-shock. He was hospitalized for a period of six weeks. When the doctors diagnosed him as being well enough, he was sent back to the front straight in to the battle of the Somme. In the engagement he once again had an attack and refused to go over the top. He was court-martialed for cowardice and sentenced to be shot.

The execution was carried out and his parents received notification that on such and such a date he had been shot at dawn for cowardice. His father, an ex – military man and his brothers, who had also fought in the war, never spoke about him. The daughter telling the story shared how difficult this was and also spoke about the shame and abuse that was heaped on them as a family. His name was not placed on the roll of honour and his military pension was cut off, leaving his family destitute having to eke out an existence through all sorts of menial and degrading ways.

The last ten years had been spent by the daughter trying to get him a pardon, which finally came through together with 305 others. One could see the relief and joy of her success. It was extremely touching. Let it also be said that there were three seventeen-year-olds among those who were shot. When you think of your own son at age seventeen it boggles the mind.

What kind of structure and perception did this to that man and the others and their families? It was a structure permeated with unredeemed masculine energy, which firstly, believed the lie that war is the only means of negotiation, and secondly, that when the true humanity of one of its own revolts against the insanity, you destroy it because it wasn’t “brave” or “tough” enough.

It’s striking to note that it was a woman, positive female energy, who finally restored sanity, stability and compassion to a situation and a memory that was totally warped and unbalanced.

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About Don

I love life. Sometimes it makes sense, other times not. Discerning its underlying patterns and beauty always provides great reward and meaning and is a passion I ineptly follow. I feel deeply attached to nature and love the sea with its distinct moods and colour and find walking along its beaches wonderfully inspiring. Writing, sketching and photography is a sheer joy for me and the blog is one of the places I am able to express these pursuits.
This entry was posted in Differences between men and women, Family, history, inspiration, Life, Male and Female responses, Men and Women, Warfare and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to The Wound Of “Toughness”

  1. I was completely oblivious to this. Thank you deeply for bringing it to my awareness. Desperately tragic despite the late redemption.

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  2. Hariod Brawn says:

    Thank you Don; I thought this might be of interest to some of your readers:

    In an interview he gave shortly before his death in 1978, world famous dance orchestra leader Victor Silvester (born 1900) told how, as a boy soldier, he was ordered to participate in the execution of five fellow soldiers during his service in WW1. Here, he reveals the circumstances under which he was ordered to execute the first of those men:

    “The victim was brought out from a shed and led struggling to a chair to which he was then bound, and a white handkerchief placed over his heart as our target area. He was said to have fled in the face of the enemy. The tears were rolling down my cheeks as he tried to free himself from the ropes. I aimed blindly and when the gun smoke had cleared away we were further horrified to see that, although wounded, the man was still alive. Still blindfolded, he was attempting to make a run for it still strapped to the chair. An officer in charge stepped forward to put the finishing touch with a revolver held to the poor man’s temple. He had only once cried out and that was when he shouted the one word ‘mother’. He could not have been much older than me. We were told later that he had in fact been suffering from shell-shock, a condition not recognised by the army at the time. Later I took part in four more such executions.”

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    • Don says:

      Thank you Hariod. I so appreciate what you have written here. I can’t even begin to tell you what this kind of thing does to me. I wonder how Victor Silvester managed to live with this all those years. I just can’t imagine what it did to him. His description of that poor soldier is so tragic and heart- wrenching. Deeply, deeply saddening.

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  3. Don, I had not heard of this and it seems so outrageous to me! Wow is all I can say – I have no words, shaking my head in disbelief. I am glad the woman fought for her dad and the others. I think the families should also be compensated for lost pensions. My heart breaks knowing this story. (War is bad enough but shooting your own is disgraceful.) ❤
    Diana xo

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  4. Val Boyko says:

    This is horrific … yet it is a part of war. As long as there are wars there will be “cannon fodder” and the belief that to disobey an order has to have swift punishment so that others don’t think or act in the same way.
    Soldiers do their duty for their country, not for their own survival.
    Wars are to be won. There are always casualties.
    It turns my stomach to acknowledge this lack of humanity in the name of patriotism and the greater “good”.

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    • Don says:

      Thanks Val. It also turns mine, but I suppose we also have to look at it within the context of the time. That’s not to offer an excuse, but just one example was their total ignorance of the whole nature of what they termed shell-shock. They just never had any kind of understanding of what that meant. Still, to do what they did was completely unacceptable.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dan Antion says:

    I had never heard of this but it doesn’t surprise me. I commend her for working so long and so hard to correct the record.

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  6. calvin says:

    There is little I can added that has not been expressed in the comments of others. I would differ, no not differ but rather enhance your last line, by adding the following. I hope for a day when compassion is independent an not dependent on gender.

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    • Don says:

      I think in spite of that last line there are many, many compassionate men. I suppose one has to be extremely careful of stereotyping. Hope it didn’t come across that way Calvin. 🙂

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  7. This is such a tragedy of the past. What really stood out for me with this story was the denial his family had for him and his death. “The shame and abuse that was heaped on them as a family.” This pain and their belief system can be passed on for many generations without healing.

    Let’s hope that as we become more aware of these stories, we can offer hope to those who are still trapped in their pain. Thankyou for sharing Don.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don says:

      Thank you Karen. What you say is so true. I suppose to a large extent that woman through her commitment and compassion has broken the cycle of generational pain. I think when people do the kind of thing she did that’s precisely what happens. Not only does it bring the bizarre behaviour in to the light, but also goes a long way in healing the pain.

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  8. This is appallingly sad, Don. So many people had to suffer even more than they would have had they lost their man/boy in combat. At least then, society would have lauded his actions. Kudos to the daughter who worked so hard to take away that stigma.
    The worst part of that whole WWI (apart from the fact of its happening at all) is the way millions of men were sent out to die, when it was so obvious that they would be killed and nothing gained by the sacrifice. When any of them objected, refused to throw away their life, or broke down in the face of the horror, their life was taken from them anyway.
    We understand much more nowadays about PTSD, but where is the support for servicemen and women returning from today’s war zones? Governments still take lives; not by shooting them, but by ignoring the effects of war on its front line troops.

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    • Don says:

      I couldn’t agree more with you Linda. Your second paragraph is so poignant for me Such a tragic state of affairs, but I do believe, as I said else where, there is a need to bring this in to the light of our consciousness, both individual and collective in order for people to see it for what it really is and never to accept or tolerate that kind of thing again. In view of your last sentence, I think our consciousness has been enlightened to the effects of war on front line troops, but not nearly enough, certainly far more so than WW1 and 2. Thank you for your thoughts Linda.

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  9. davecenker says:

    We need, in my opinion, to stop being a man or a woman – and simply be a human being. There is no need for one ubiquitous representation of one gender or another. We need to openly accept inputs from all sources and work together to help our species evolve instead of devolve. Although this story is certainly heart-wrenching, it is also heart-warming to know there are people in this world who stand tall for what they believe in and help others to see the same light. Thanks for sharing Don, and best wishes for an inspired day.

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  10. ladyfi says:

    What a deeply tragic story.

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