DURING World War 1 the British Army shot at least 307 of its own men accused of various infringements against the 1916 Military Act.

These offences included: throwing away a weapon; sleeping on duty; leaving the post; cowardice and desertion. There was a whole lexicon of vernacular words to describe these behaviours, from ‘funk’, ‘lead-swinger’, ‘malingerer’ to ‘skrim-shanker’.

These shootings reportedly caused great bitterness among the ten-man firing squads. Apart from fellow feeling for a comrade about to forfeit his life, there was also an understanding that after the mass slaughters of the first two years of the war and the consequent shortage of fresh recruits, Britain’s military authorities were conscripting men some of whom had been rejected previously on medical grounds. One such was Louis Harris whose family lived in Leeds. His attempt to enlist in 1915 was turned down. Six out of nine would-be volunteers were saved from death on the Western Front, temporarily, by TB, rickets, malnutrition. But after Mons and the Marne, the first battle of Ypres, Arras, Loos, then Field Marshal Haig’s big push on the Somme in July, 1916, the authorities, low on human ammunition, lowered the standard and widened the draft.

Louis Harris, service number 43055, served two years with the 10th West Yorkshire Regiment until November 1918, when he was accused of desertion. In the month of the dead, the week before the Armistice, he was shot. He was 23. Buried at the British Cemetery in Ghissignies, France, he was the last British soldier to be executed in the Great War.

Dr Malcolm Richardson, a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, wrote to us because he thought our readers would be interested in the following story.

He said: “I am 60 years of age now, and some of my earliest memories are of my ‘adoptive grandparents’, Sydney Graham Byard and his wife Selina (known as Lena). They lived on Tyson Street in the centre of Bradford.

“My mother’s parents died long before I was born and Lena and Sid were adopted by her quite informally during WW2 when my mother was in her teens and one of my mother’s lifelong friends, Rona, rented a room at Sid and Lena’s home.

“Lena was born in 1877 and Sid in 1885. They were two of the most remarkable people I have ever been privileged to know. Both were well known to their community, Lena as an activist for worker’s rights and Sid for his work in the printing industry and his expertise in ornithology.

“My parents and my brothers and I were frequent visitors to their home, throughout our childhoods and into our early adult lives – Sid and Lena died in 1973/4, Sid well into his eighties and Lena into her nineties.

“Sid was also a veteran of both wars. Like many of his generation he was a modest and unassuming man, never prone to recount his recollections from the wars. With perhaps one exception.

“My father was in WW2 and one afternoon, sitting around the living room table, he and Sid got to talking. I simply listened.

“Much of thedetails of the story that Sid recounted have not remained with me so much as they horror of what Sidney told us about a young WW1 soldier who had signed up under-age by lying about his age.

“Sid, by then in his thirties, had witnessed this young man being shot for cowardice at the age of about 17. After his army trial he was crucified by being tied to a fence and left there to be humiliated before being taken the next day to be shot by a firing squad.

“The horrors of that war and what happened to this young soldier had clearly remained with Sid. Sid himself was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in WW1.

“I feel sure that his wish would be that we remember WW1 and all wars, for the inhumanity and horrors they inflict upon ordinary soldiers and civilians.

“For the fact that this is a sad story I do not apologise, the horror of what Sidney described happened to that young man has stayed with me too, for 56 years.”

lLow Moor Local History Group is launching its book Iron Poppies this weekend. Compiled and written by Barbara Reardon and Lucy Ives, the book recalls the lives of the109 men whose names appear on the war memorials in Low Moor. The book, £7, goes on sale on Friday at the next meeting of the group at Aldersgate Methodist Church, Common Road, Low Moor, from 2.30pm.

It will then be available after the Remembrance services on Sunday at Holy Trinity Church from 10.50am, the Guide Post from 12.30pm and Harold Park from 2pm. Copies can then be obtained from the group c/o 13 St Abbs Fold, Odsal, BD6 1EL (01274-673274).