Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1916, Private Abraham Bevistein, 11th Battalion, the Middlesex Regiment, was executed by firing-squad for desertion on the Western Front. In 2006, along with three hundred and five other executed soldiers, he was pardoned and is commemorated at the Shot At Dawn memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire.
Born in Warsaw, Poland, within the infamous Pale of Settlement (beyond which Jews were not allowed residency), he moved to England with his family when he was three years old. The son of a tailor, he worked as an apprentice leather case maker after leaving school. In September of 1914 he joined the army, giving his surname as Harris – he also lied about his age, being only sixteen at the time.
Private Bevistein saw action at the Battle of Loos and also endured what were considered to be among the worst conditions of the war. He was injured at the end of 1915, but soon returned to the trenches. In February of 1916 his trench came under heavy bombardment; he became deafened by the German grenades and suffered from shell-shock as he narrowly escaped being killed in the heavy bombardment. He went to the medical officer who pronounced him fit and sent him back to the trenches.
Private Bevistein was still deaf and disoriented and wandered towards a nearby farmhouse. He was arrested and charged with desertion. He wrote to his mother saying, “We were in the trenches and I was ill so I went out. They’ve take me to prison and I’m in a bit of trouble now. But don’t worry. I will be all right.” He defended himself at his court martial, pleading not guilty. However, the woman at the farmhouse informed the court that he had told her he was going back to England, and so he was given the death sentence. He is buried in the Labourse Communal Cemetery at Pas-de-Calais in France.
Abraham, from Warsaw via the East End of London, was 17 years old.