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Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 08:54 GMT
Shot soldier 'must be remembered'
Pte Bateman's name added to Wordsley War Memorial
Pte Bateman's name was added to the war memorial last year
In the early hours of Monday, 3 December 1917, Pte Joseph Bateman was shot and killed in the French village of Ytres at the height of World War I.

But the rifle shots were not enemy fire - they belonged to his fellow servicemen.

Pte Bateman, of Wordsley, in the Black Country, was one of 306 British soldiers shot by a firing squad during that war after being found guilty of desertion.

Now, 90 years later, local historian Graham Hodgson is trying to track down the soldier's relatives to tell them they should be proud of him.

The soldier, who was part of the 2/5th South Staffordshire Regiment, had been one of the first to sign up to the Army in November 1914 when the call came for volunteers.

Graham Hodgson
I think (his family) should be proud of him - he still served for his country and he would not have died had the war not taken place
Graham Hodgson, local historian

The records show he signed up on the first anniversary of his wedding to Florence Rudge.

However, less than six weeks into his service, Pte Bateman went missing.

He was put into detention, but the day after he was released he went absent again for two more days.

Mystery still surrounds his reasons for disappearing on and off over the next few years.

Eventually Pte Bateman was charged with desertion at a court martial and sentenced to face the firing squad.

Mr Hodgson, whose day job is a primary school teacher, heard about Pte Bateman's case and started researching it further.

He researched local war memorials and found that, like other deserters, Pte Bateman's name did not appear on any.

Two years later he convinced Dudley Council to add the soldier's name to the war memorial in Wordsley, after the government decided to grant pardons to those soldiers shot by firing squads during the war.

'Exposed to danger'

He said: "His story was very unusual. I became fascinated by the idea of a local man being involved in this aspect of Great War history.

"His colleagues would have seen him as having let the side down and having exposed them to more danger.

Pte Bateman's court martial death sentence
Pte Bateman was sentenced to face the firing squad

"But there was more to it than that, and there are still so many unanswered questions about what happened."

He said he was now keen to trace any of the soldier's relatives.

Pte Bateman was married and had a daughter born in 1915, who he may never have met as he joined up to serve before she was born.

Mr Hodgson said it was believed his wife remarried in 1921 and moved to the Worcester area.

"If I could meet any of them I would say that their relative died as a victim of an awful war," Mr Hodgson said.

"He needs to be remembered like all the other victims in that war.

"Whatever he did needs to be forgotten and forgiven. For 90 years he has been a skeleton in their cupboard, hopefully it's not a skeleton that they want to keep hidden.

"I think they should be proud of him - he still served for his country and he would not have died had the war not taken place."

SEE ALSO
Children of the Great War
09 Nov 07 |  Magazine

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