A soldier shot for desertion during the First World War despite suffering from shell shock will have his name added to Bolton’s roll of honour.
At a full council meeting in March, Bolton Council agreed that Private James Smith will finally receive recognition 92 years after he was executed, by the adding of his name to the list of Bolton heroes sacrificed in the conflict.
His name will be added to Bolton’s roll of honour in a private ceremony on Armed Forces Day (Saturday 27 June), which will be held in the Council’s Hall of Memory. The Vicar of Bolton, Reverend Matt Thomson will lead the service, which will include a one minute silence and will be attended by Private Smith’s descendants.
Private Smith, of the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, was shot at dawn in 1917 by a 12-man firing squad for disobeying a direct order. Many of the soldiers deliberately missed their target. The execution took place a year after Private Smith was nearly killed at the Somme when a German artillery attack nearly buried him alive. The incident left him in a poor physical and mental state and he later suffered a breakdown, resulting in three courts martial — the last one of which led to his execution.
More than 300 soldiers, including Private Smith, were pardoned by the Government in November, 2006, but their names were not automatically added to honour rolls.
Mayor of Bolton, Councillor Norman Critchley commented: “Many brave soldiers who took part in World War I were mentally scarred by their experiences of living and fighting in the trenches, but there was little understanding of their condition and at the time, they were regarded as cowards and executed as traitors for being unable to go back into battle.
Today, we recognise Private Smith for what he was — not a coward, but a brave soldier who was made seriously ill by his traumatic experiences in several battles in that war. We are delighted to add his name to Bolton’s roll of honour and recognise his sacrifice for his country.”