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  • Christina Drummond

Private Harry Farr, 1st Battalion, the West Yorkshire Regiment

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1916, Private Harry Farr. 1st Battalion, the West Yorkshire Regiment, was executed for cowardice at Carnoy on the Somme. He was pardoned in 2006 along with over three hundred other soldiers who had been executed during the Great War, and is commemorated at the Shot At Dawn memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Private Farr had previously served with the British Army, from 1908 to 1912, when he began working as a scaffolder. At the outbreak of the Great War he immediately volunteered for service, and was sent to the Western Front as part of the British Expeditionary Force.

Private Farr saw action in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle and the Battle of the Somme. Over the first two years of the war he had reported sick four times, one of those times (May, 1915) resulting in him spending five months in hospital, with symptoms consistent with shell-shock. He had collapsed in convulsions, and during his hospital stay his hands shook so badly he asked someone else to write his letters home. After being discharged from hospital he continued to report to the medical station, but was invariably refused help as he was not physically wounded, there being far too many battle casualties needing help. It is now considered that he may have been suffering from hyperacusis, basically meaning that sounds are neither softened nor filtered, so noise such as gunfire would be physically unbearable.

On the 17th of September, 1916, he had asked to be relieved from duty, but was yet again refused. He was ordered to the trenches but said he “could not stand it”, and went missing; when found at 11 p.m. he refused to return to the front line. He was arrested for disobeying orders and court-martialed, accused of “misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice”. He had to defend himself in a trial which lasted twenty minutes. The medical officer who could have spoken up for him had been wounded and could not attend. Found guilty, Private Farr was sentenced to death by firing squad. He was shot at 6 a.m. on the 18th October, refusing to wear a blindfold as he wanted to look the firing squad in the eye. The army chaplain later told Private Farr’s widow that “a finer soldier never lived”. His widow had originally been informed that her husband had been killed in action, and it was when her pension ceased to be paid that she discovered the truth.

Harry, from Kensington, was 25 years old and married with a daughter, who lived to see her father pardoned in 2006.

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