THE EXECUTION OF GEORGE ERNEST ROE (1896 1915)

The following information was obtained from the web-site of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The first table gives the bare details of George's military career and his place of burial

Nationality:

United Kingdom

Rank:

Private

Regiment:

King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Unit Text:

2nd Battalion.

Age:

19

Date of Death:

11/06/1915

Service No:

3/1433

Additional information:

Son of  Mrs. Mary Roe, of 24, Brough Street, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Casualty Type:

Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference:

 V1 K 20

Cemetery:

PERTH CEMETERY (CHINA WALL)        

Perth Cemetery (China Wall) is located 3 Kms east of Ieper town centre, on the Maaldestedestraat, a road leading from the Meenseweg (N8), connecting Ieper to Menen. From Ieper town centre the Meenseweg is located via Torhoutstraat and right onto Basculestraat. Basculestraat ends at a main cross roads, directly over which begins the Meenseweg. 1.7 Kms along the Meenseweg at a major roundabout lies the right hand turning onto the Maaldestedestraat. The cemetery itself is located 1 Km along the Maaldestedestraat on the left hand side of the road.

I did not know about this particular execution until I received the following e-mail in July 2007

"I work in Sheffield Local Studies Library and came across your fabulous site while researching a local man who was executed for desertion in the First World War. He is not named in your list of Sheffielders but in the report mentioned on p44 of Shot at Dawn there is no indication that he was local apart from he was in the KOYLIs.

George Ernest Roe of the 2nd Bn, 3/1433 was shot on 11 June 1915 aged 19. This makes him the first, unless there are others yet to uncover. His next of kin was Mrs Mary Roe, mother of 24 Brough Street and I have found that although not named on the city's Role of Honour his name is listed on the one for the nearest parish church St Bartholomew's, off Langsett Road. This was put on at the time so it seems people were again unaware of true circumstances.

Hope this gives you further material for research, by far the best information I gathered on the subject and will be recommending it to our users".

Information on George in the interim has been difficult to obtain but in March 2011 I obtained access to the UK 1911 Census and found the following entry

Name George E Roe
Relationship to Head of Household Son
Condition Single Gender Male
Age 17 Estimated Year of Birth 1894
Occupation Labourer
Employed Yes Working at Home No
Industry Steel Works
Place of Birth Sheffield
Enumerator Information
Address 16 C 1 H Alfred Road Sheffield Parish Sheffield
Town Sheffield Type of Building Private House Number of Rooms 2 Rooms Inhabited Yes
Reference RG14PN27976 RG78PN1599 RD510 SD6 ED17 SN119 Administrative County Yorkshire (West Riding)
Registration District Sheffield Registration Sub District East Brightside Enumeration District 17

George's family is listed as follows

SURNAME Age Rel Occupation Place of Birth
Mary Roe 48 Widow Housework Doncaster, England, Yorkshire
George E 17 Son - Single Labourer - Steelworks Sheffield, England, Yorkshire
Henry A 13 Son - Single School Sheffield, England, Yorkshire
Violet L 8 Daughter -Single   Sheffield, England, Yorkshire
Eveline M 18 Daughter - Single Servant Sheffield, England, Yorkshire

This information allowed me to find George's birth details on the FREE BMD website

Births March 1894 Roe George Ernest Ecclesall Bierlow. Volume9c Page 434

I was then able to find George and his family in the 1901 census

Name George E Roe
Relation to Head of Family Son
Age Last Birthday 7
Sex Male
Profession or Occupation Juvenile
Where Born Yorkshire Sheffield
Address 4 Ct 4 Ho Solfernio Street
Civil Parish Ecclesall Bierlow
Town or Village or Hamlet Sheffield
Ecclesiastical Parish St Matthias Parliamentary Borough or Division Ecclesall Division
County Borough, Municipal Borough or Urban District Sheffield County Borough
Administrative County Yorkshire Ward of Municipal Borough or Urban District Ecclesall

SURNAME Age Rel Occupation Place of Birth

John L Roe

39 Head Engineering Machinist Ripley Derbyshire
Mary Roe 37 Wife   Doncaster, England, Yorkshire
John W Roe 14 Son   Sheffield, England, Yorkshire
Annie E Roe 11 Daughter   Sheffield, England, Yorkshire
George E Roe 7 Son - Single   Sheffield, England, Yorkshire
Henry A 3 Son - Single   Sheffield, England, Yorkshire
Eveline M 8 Daughter - Single   Sheffield, England, Yorkshire

An interesting discrepancy is the age of George. When he was executed he was clearly 21 years of age, but the information from the CWGC states that he was 19. Young soldiers did lie about their age in order to join the Army but this entailed adding years onto their age, not deducting them. It is also worth noting that he was in the regular army at the time of his death.

He was executed for desertion. His battalion - 2nd King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was heavily engaged in the spring of 1915 in what was known as the Second Battle of Ypres. More specifically their involvement was in the storming of Hill 60 which resulted in heavy fighting and high casualty rates. Was it the ferocity of the fighting that led to George deserting?

The entry in the War Diary of 2/KOYLI 10th June 1915 is chilling

"Quiet Day ... Pvt Roe 2/KOYLI was shot for desertion by firing squad of Royal West Kents at 5am"

But what is even more macabre is that George was posthumously awarded a medal  - the 1914 Star - by the British government. His medal card shown below also mentions that George was "shot for desertion"

In November 2012 I received the following information from a person who had come across this article

"I was searching the internet to help me with research into my Grandfather's service in the Great War when I came across your website. I have read 'Shot at Dawn', but I'd never realised that Sheffield men had been shot for desertion during the war.

I feel pretty sure that my Grandad would have known George Ernest Roe. He was also serving in the 2nd KOYLI during 1915. He died in 1967, when I was only 3, but my Mother used to tell a tale about a soldier who was late coming back from leave who was shot. Whether the details had got confused in the telling and remembering I don't know. Grandad was appalled by it all.

My Grandad, Ben Smith was a member of the 3rd Special Reserve Battalion before the war. His number was 3/1137. As George's was 3/1433 he will also have been a member of this Battalion. Apparently, men joined the Special Reserve for six months full time training at full pay. After that they trained a few times a year. They would be sent as reinforcements to the regular Battalions when war came. My Grandad joined the 2nd KOYLI in Belgium in November 1914. I'm sure George would have joined the Battalion about the same time.

Ben lived at Walkley before the war, so I am certain he would have known George.

What a terrible tragedy and injustice. Thanks for your work"

It seems as though the family continued to live at 24 Brough Street Sheffield after the war - I found these two records of school admissions - they are the sons of George's elder brother John William who is mentioned in the 1901 Census.

Roe, Eric Arthur (Student, dob 14 Mar 1928).
Parent or guardian name(s): Jno Wm (~), of 24 Brough St.
Admitted to Langsett Road Infants School, Hillsborough, as of 27 Feb 1933, until 23 Jul 1936, reason for leaving: To Boys& Jun B. Previously attended None.
Roe, Jno Herbert (Student, dob 29 May 1924).
Parent or guardian name(s): ~ (~), of 24 Brough St.
Admitted to Langsett Road Infants School, Hillsborough, as of 08 Apr 1929, until 24 Nov 1933, reason for leaving: Boys Depart. Previously attended None. 

Did they know about their Uncle George?

 

Notes

1. Piece details WO 71/417
WO Records created or inherited by the War Office, Armed Forces, Judge Advocate General, and related bodies
Division within WO Records of the Judge Advocate General
WO 71 Judge Advocate General's Office: Courts Martial Proceedings and Board of General Officers' Minutes
Subseries within WO 71 HOME AND OVERSEAS
Subsubseries within WO 71 FIELD GENERAL COURTS MARTIAL

Record Summary
Scope and content
Roe, G. Offence: Desertion
Covering dates 1915
Availability Open Document, Open Description, Closed For 75 years
Further information about access conditions is available

2. From Wikipedia

Six other soldiers who were executed by the British Army are also buried in Perth Cemetery (China Wall)

Private Thomas Harris, Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment). He was executed for desertion in June 1915, aged 21.
Private Thomas Docherty, King's Own Scottish Borderers. He was executed for desertion in July 1915.
Corporal Frederick Ives, Worcestershire Regiment. He was executed for desertion in July 1915,aged 30.
Private Ernest Fellows, Worcestershire Regiment, from Birmingham. He was executed for desertion in July 1915, aged 29,leaving a wife, Annie, and his parents James and Emma.
Private Louis Phillips, Somerset Light Infantry. He was executed for desertion in August 1915,aged 23.
Private Evan Fraser, Royal Scots. He was executed for desertion in August 1915,aged 19. He is commemorated on a special memorial, his original grave having been lost. Fraser absconded from his regiment at 4pm on 24 May 1915. He was arrested the next day at a local railway station in possession of a forged pass and handed back to the British. Whilst in British custody he escaped, but again was caught after little more than 24 hours. Two weeks later, he escaped custody for a second time and again was arrested within a day. On 13 July he was charged with having deserted on three occasions and of conduct to the prejudice of good order (having a forged pass). He was undefended at his trial. He pleaded guilty to the forgery, but not guilty to the counts of desertion. His battalion adjutant gave evidence, saying that Fraser was "a continual source of annoyance", a shirker and a continual deserter. He was shot at 4am on 2 August 1915.

3. Shot at Dawn - Julian Putkowski and Julian Sykes - The standard reference work about soldiers executed under the British Army Act in the First World War (1989).

4. Commonwealth War Graves Commission

5. 1901 UK Census and 1911 Census

6.Free BMD

7. Sheffield Indexers

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This page was last updated on 19/01/15 16:31