Canadian-born Eric Poole's grave at Poperinghe New Military Cemetery in Belgium (Photo: Centenary News)

Execution of first British officer in WW1 - December 10 1916

Posted on on 10 December 2016
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Second lieutenant Eric Poole, shot by firing squad on 10 December 1916, was the first British army officer to be executed in the Great War.

Despite of evidence of shell shock, he was condemned to death by a court martial for desertion during the Battle of the Somme.

An army medical board concluded that Canadian-born Poole was 'of sound mind and capable of appreciating the nature and quality of his actions'.

The verdict was confirmed by Britain's Commander-in-Chief on the Western Front, Sir Douglas Haig.

Eric Poole was executed at Poperinge, near Ypres, in Belgium. He was 31. Original records state only that he 'died of wounds'.


Born in Nova Scotia, Poole moved to Britain as a boy, joining the army soon after the outbreak of the First World War.

He was injured by a shell explosion in the opening days of the Somme offensive in July 1916 but returned to duty in August after treatment.

In October he disappeared from his unit during a move to the front line at Flers, was arrested several days later, and put on trial in November.

According to Poole's own evidence, the shell shock injury he'd suffered in the summer caused him to 'at times get confused and….have great difficulty in making up my mind.'

In 2006, ninety years after Eric Poole faced a firing squad, the UK Government announced pardons for all 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers executed for desertion or cowardice during WW1.

Today, the execution site and death cells at Poperinge town hall are preserved as a focus for commemoration. In the UK itself, the 'Shot at Dawn' memorial was dedicated at the National Memorial Arboretum, near Lichfield in Staffordshire, in 2001. 

More information about Eric Poole's life and death can be found at the UK National Archives.

Sources: National Archives, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, National Memorial Arboretum, Wikipedia

Images: Centenary News

Posted by: CN Editorial Team