Soldiers were required to understand the seriousness of desertion, a criminal act that had legal consequences. Soldiers who deserted to the enemy were punished by death by firing squad. The alternative was to be exiled abroad for the rest of their life with no subsidy paid to their family. In addition, the name of the deserter was displayed in public.
That every man must avoid being taken prisoner was emphasised by reminding them imprisonment could bring more misery and hardship than conflict. Ill-treatment or disease made for a miserable end. People unfortunate enough to be imprisoned had to remember that any information given to the enemy about their own troops could seriously damage their colleagues still fighting. Not only was it treason to share information, but it probably wouldn’t have made any difference as it would have been met with contempt from the enemy. Soldiers who were taken prisoner were told not to give information even to someone wearing the same uniform, as it could be an enemy in disguise.
Even the threat of being shot should not make a soldier betray his army. And he should always have respect for his superiors and be obedient to them.
Every man was expected to know that after his imprisonment he would have to answer for his actions. If the explanation for his capture wasn’t convincing, he would be considered a deserter.
- Article by:
- Gary Sheffield
- The war machine
Professor Gary Sheffield discusses conformity and rebellion of World War One troops within the frame of military discipline and punishment.