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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Activist's joy at WWI pardon bid
John Hipkin
Mr Hipkin organises a march to the Cenotaph each year
A former prisoner of war has welcomed news that the Ministry of Defence is to seek pardons for more than 300 soldiers shot during World War I.

John Hipkin, 80, a retired Newcastle schoolteacher, organised the Shot at Dawn campaign after reading about a 17-year-old executed for desertion.

Mr Hipkin was taken prisoner by the Germans in WWII, aged just 14, when he was a cabin boy in the merchant navy.

He said he is delighted that his 15-year campaign could soon bear fruit.

On Wednesday, Defence Secretary Des Browne said he would be seeking a group pardon, approved by Parliament, for the men.

It is thought 306 British soldiers were shot for cowardice, desertion or other offences in the 1914-1918 war.

Mr Hipkin founded Shot at Dawn after reading about 17-year-old Northumberland Fusilier Herbert Burden, who left his post in 1915 to comfort a recently bereaved friend stationed nearby.

Post-traumatic stress

He was court-martialled for desertion, sentenced to death, and shot at dawn.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Hipkin said: "I couldn't believe it was true, but when I looked into it there were others, and this really angered me. So that's when I started to campaign.

"Every year I organise a march to the Cenotaph with relatives of those who were executed, to campaign for them to be pardoned.

"With today's news, maybe we won't have to do that again."

It is now thought that many of those shot for cowardice during WWI 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 outlining the cases against the men were declassified.




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