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The proud march of Grace for uncle branded coward; Soldiers shot at dawn are remembered at last.


SCOTS great-grandmother Grace Sloan will proudly march past the Cenotaph in London on Sunday and reclaim the hero status that was cruelly stripped from her soldier uncle.

Grace, 71, will join others whose relatives were shot as cowards during World War I.

They will be taking a further step in the long fight to win pardons for the 307 men - many suffering from shell shock - who were executed by firing squads between 1914 and 1918.

It will be the first time the relatives of those shot at dawn have been allowed to join the official parade.

They have been invited to attend after campaigners lobbied organisers.

Grace, from Girvan in Ayrshire, will be accompanied by her husband Rodney, also 71, and their 48-year-old ambulanceman son Richard.

They will honour Bertie McCubbin, who was shot aged just 22.

Grace said: "Being allowed to join the official ranks is another breakthrough in the battle to get the Government to admit mistakes were made during World War I.

"Some of those shot at dawn were just boy soldiers or were suffering from shell shock, although the condition was not recognised till later."

Grace's uncle Bertie, of Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire - son of a Scot from Stranraer - was one of Kitchener's Volunteers.

A private in the Sherwood Foresters, he was shot on July 30, 1916 - in the midst of the Battle of the Somme.

He had written a heartfelt letter to his superiors to plead for leniency but they callously dismissed it.

Grace, who has seen official papers on the case, said: "During the battle, a shell landed close to him and he asked to see a doctor but was refused.

"He was ordered to go to a listening post but he refused, claiming that, if he went, he would give away his comrades' position.

"At his court martial, he had no one to speak for him and was convicted of cowardice and condemned to death."

He did not die instantly and had to be killed by an officer.

Grace added: "I don't believe my uncle was a coward. He was almost certainly suffering from shell shock. I won't be satisfied until the Government says it is sorry for what was done."

John Hipkin, 74, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who has devoted his retirement to organising the pardon campaign, said: "This is the first time relatives of soldiers shot at dawn will be allowed to take part in the Cenotaph parade which is organised by the Royal British Legion.

"For the last two years, they have been allowed to lay wreaths on the day before the official event.'

He added: "Our fight goes on to win pardons for the 307 men who were shot at dawn. The offences for which they were executed were abolished by Parliament in 1929 and it is now recognised that they suffered shell shock and should not have paid the penalty.

"Private McCubbin had been almost two years at the front when he was court-martialled."

He added: "Ninety per cent of those sentenced to death had their sentences commuted. But, if there was a major offensive at the time, they were usually shot 'for the sake of example' - to toughen the sinews of the troops."
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 7, 2000
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