Shot at dawn: the First World War soldiers executed for desertion and cowardice

The sites at which British, French and Belgian troops were executed for desertion and cowardice during the First World War have been captured on film.

Trees and snow. Photo taken by British photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews as part of her series focussing on the locations at which individuals were shot during the First World War.

About the images

In a series of haunting images, British photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews focuses on the locations at which individuals were shot or held in the period leading up to their execution, between 1914 and 1918.

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The photographs, which feature in a photobook Shot at Dawn, were taken as close as possible to the precise time at which the executions took place. The titles of the photographs feature the names of the soldiers who were executed, alongside the dates, times and locations of their executions.

The book also features essays by historians Hew Strachan and Helen McCartney on cowardice, desertion and psychological trauma brought on by military service.

Paul Bonaventura from the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at the University of Oxford, which commissioned the book, said: “To ensure obedience on the battlefield, the armies of nearly all the combatant states felt obliged to make an example of troops who disobeyed orders. Men were brought before courts-martial, sentenced to death and shot for a range of offences, including cowardice and desertion. Most of these executions took place at daybreak.”

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All images © Chloe Dewe Mathews, courtesy of Ivorypress.

A tree in a field.
Private Joseph Byers and Private Andrew Evans (06 February 1915, time unknown); Private George E Collins (15 February 1915 at 7.30am).
A field surrounded by trees.
Soldat Eugène Bouret; Soldat Francisque Jean Aimé Ducarré; Soldat Ernest; François Macken; Soldat Benoît Manillier; Soldat Francisque Pitiot; Soldat Claudius Urbain (7 September 1914 at 6.30am).
A building.
Private John Jones (21 December 1915 at 7.22am); Private Arthur Dale (24 February 1916, time unknown); Private C Lewis (3 March 1916, time unknown); Private Anthony O’Neill (11 March 1916, time unknown); Private John William Hasemore (30 April 1916, time unknown); Private J Thomas (12 May 1916 at 4.24am); Private William Henry Burrell (20 May 1916, time unknown); Private Edward A Card (22 May 1916, time unknown); Private C Welsh (22 September 1916; time unknown).
Trees and snow.
Soldat Ali ben Ahmed ben Frej ben Khelil; Soldat Hassen ben Ali ben Guerra el Amolani; Soldat Ahmed ben Mohammed el Yadjizy; Soldat Mohammed Ould Mohammed ben Ahmed (15 December 1914 at 5pm).
Building exterior.
Soldaat Jean Raes and Soldaat Alphonse Verdickt (21 September 1914, time unknown).
Brick wall.
Private Herbert Chase (11 June 1915 at 4.30am).
Stream and fields.
Private Henry Hughes (10 April 1918 at 5.50am).
Scratched wall.
Second Lieutenant Eric Skeffington Poole (10 December 1916 at 7.25am).