UK House of Lords backs pardons for WWI soldiers executed for desertion

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The government's plans to give posthumous pardons to soldiers executed during World War I advanced when they were backed by parliament's upper house.

Families of 306 men from Britain and the Commonwealth have been campaigning for years to clear the names of their relatives executed during the 1914-1918 conflict.

Members of the unelected House of Lords backed the plans contained in an amendment to the Armed Forces bill as it passed through the committee stage of the parliamentary process on Thursday.

Junior defence minister Lord Paul Drayson stressed that the amendment did not "seek to re-write history" by quashing sentences or convictions and would not give rise to any right, entitlement or liability.

Defence Secretary Des Browne said in August that the government would seek parliamentary approval to pardon the soldiers, who were executed for offences including cowardice, sleeping while on duty, striking a superior officer, disobedience and desertion.

In many cases the executed soldiers were later found to have been unjustly tried.

Drayson said: "Having reviewed the situation again, we should, we believe, act now to remove the dishonour that still taints the memory of these servicemen and is still felt all too heavily by their families.

"It is to recognise that execution was not a fate that they deserved but one that resulted from the form of discipline believed to be necessary at the time for the prosecution of the war.

"It is not the government's intention to call into question the actions of the officers responsible for discipline.

"We plan to place a formal record of the pardon alongside the relevant court martial files, where we hold these."

It is now thought that many of those shot for cowardice were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after enduring months of artillery bombardment in the trenches.

Their relatives have been attempting to obtain pardons since 1990 when Public Record Office files were declassified and outlined the cases against the men.

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