Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1916, Private Bertie McCubbin, 17th Battalion, the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment), was shot at dawn, one of the three hundred and six British and Commonwealth soldiers executed after courts-martial during the Great War.
Earlier that month he had refused to go out into No Man's Land to occupy a listening post some forty yards in front of the British parapet. It was an isolated location, and an army doctor had commented on the extreme stress of manning such a position. Private McCubbin had appealed for clemency, explaining that he stayed in his trench immobilized from shell-shock.
He wrote: "Dear Sirs, During my stay in the Annequin Trenches I had my nerves shattered by a shell which burst three yards away. I have never been right since my nerves are completely ruined. I put the plea forward that my case not a blank refusal to an officer but as nervousness on my part being made worse by the incessant bombardment which has been going on here lately. I have never been up before my commanding officer or colonel before until now and I have always tried to play my part in the army. I have also a father somewhere in France leaving my mother at home with six brothers and sisters and always thinking if anything had to happen to us two what would become of them which does not help me to get on a deal. If you deal leniently with me in this case I will try and do my bit and keep up a good reputation."
This was his only defence at the court marital, where he was considered to be unrepresented. Private McCubbin’s company commander described him as a good soldier who had recently shown signs of stress. The court martial president imposed the death sentence but recommended mercy in recognition of his character and disturbed state of mind. Brigade and Division commanders agreed commutation to imprisonment would be appropriate but First Army commander Charles Mayo insisted on the death sentence, and his fate was confirmed by Sir Douglas Haig.
The circumstances of his death were withheld from his mother - she was told he had been shot by gunfire. She tried in vain to find the truth, even writing to the King. It wasn't until the end of the war, when a soldier who knew her son visited her, that she learned the truth. Private McCubbin's niece, who fought for years for his name to be cleared, said: "She was completely devastated to be told he had been shot for being a coward. It was a terrible shock. She become insane and locked herself in her bedroom and refused to come out. All she knew was that she had been told he was a coward. She never got to know that he was simply ill." Sadly Private McCubbin's father William was gassed serving with the Labour Corps and died in Britain on the 17th of November, 1918.
Bertie, from Sutton-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, was 22 years old.