Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1916

British soldier Henry Farr executed for cowardice

At dawn on October 16, 1916, Private Henry Farr of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) is executed for cowardice after he refused to go forward into the front-line trenches on the Western Front during World War I.

After joining the BEF in 1914, Farr was sent to the front in France; the following May, he collapsed, shaking, and was sent to a hospital for treatment. He returned to the battlefield and participated in the Somme Offensive. In mid-September 1916, however, Farr refused to go ahead into the trenches with the rest of his squadron; after being dragged forward, struggling, he broke away and ran back. He was subsequently court-martialed for cowardice and given a death sentence, which was carried out on October 16.

Farr was one of 306 soldiers from Britain and the Commonwealth who were executed for cowardice during the Great War. According to his descendants, who have fought a long battle to clear his name, Farr suffered from severe shell-shock, a condition that was just being recognized at the time, and had been damaged both physically and psychologically by his experience of combat, especially the repeated heavy bombardments to which he and his comrades at the front had been subjected. The symptoms of “shell-shock”—a term first used in 1917 by a medical officer named Charles Myers—included debilitating anxiety, persistent nightmares and physical afflictions ranging from diarrhea to loss of sight. By the end of World War I, the British army had been forced to deal with 80,000 cases of this affliction, including among soldiers who had never experienced a direct bombardment. Despite undergoing treatment, only one-fifth of the men affected ever resumed military duty.

Several successive governments rejected pleas from Farr’s family and others for their loved ones to be pardoned and honored alongside the rest of those soldiers killed in World War I. Finally, in August 2006, after a 14-year struggle, the British High Court granted a pardon to Farr; hours after informing Farr’s family of its verdict, the government announced it would seek Parliament’s approval to pardon all 306 soldiers executed for cowardice during World War I.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Nazi war criminals executed

At Nuremberg, Germany, 10 high-ranking Nazi officials are executed by hanging for their crimes against humanity, crimes against peace, and war crimes during World War II. Two weeks earlier, the 10 were found guilty by the International War Crimes Tribunal and sentenced to death ...read more

Marie-Antoinette is beheaded

Nine months after the execution of her husband, the former King Louis XVI of France, Marie-Antoinette follows him to the guillotine. The daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, she married Louis in 1770 to strengthen the French-Austrian alliance. At a time of economic ...read more

The Long March

The embattled Chinese Communists break through Nationalist enemy lines and begin an epic flight from their encircled headquarters in southwest China. Known as Ch’ang Cheng—the “Long March”—the retreat lasted 368 days and covered 6,000 miles, nearly twice the distance from New ...read more

Lincoln speaks out against slavery

On this day in 1854, an obscure lawyer and Congressional hopeful from the state of Illinois named Abraham Lincoln delivers a speech regarding the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which Congress had passed five months earlier. In his speech, the future president denounced the act and outlined ...read more

Oscar Wilde’s birthday

Oscar Wilde is born on this day in Dublin, Ireland. He grew up in Ireland and went to England to attend Oxford, where he graduated with honors in 1878. A popular society figure known for his wit and flamboyant style, he published his own book of poems in 1881. He spent a year ...read more

Jane Eyre is published

On this day in 1847, Jane Eyre is published by Smith, Elder and Co. Charlotte BrontË, the book’s author, used the pseudonym Currer Bell. The book, about the struggles of an orphan girl who grows up to become a governess, was an immediate popular success. Brontë was born in 1816, ...read more

China joins A-bomb club

The People’s Republic of China joins the rank of nations with atomic bomb capability, after a successful nuclear test on this day in 1964. China is the fifth member of this exclusive club, joining the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France. U.S. officials ...read more

Chevrolet introduces the El Camino

On October 16, 1958, Chevrolet begins to sell a car-truck hybrid that it calls the El Camino. Inspired by the Ford Ranchero, which had already been on the market for two years, the El Camino was a combination sedan-pickup truck built on the Impala body, with the same “cat’s eye” ...read more

Alfred Rosenberg is executed

On this day in 1946, Alfred Rosenberg, the primary fabricator and disseminator of Nazi ideology, is hanged as a war criminal. Born in Estonia in 1893, Rosenberg studied architecture at the University of Moscow. After receiving his degree, he stayed in Russia through the early ...read more