Today I remember Private Ernest Jackson of the 24th (2nd Sportsmen’s) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers (the City of London Regiment), the last man from the battalion to be killed in the Great War, aged thirty-two.
Ernest Jackson was born in Covent Garden in central London in 1886, the son of Edward William Jackson and his wife Mary Anne Jackson, nee Hill. He was 5’7” tall, with brown hair and green eyes. Before the war, he had been employed as an errand-boy. He had also spent two years in H.M. Prison Wandsworth for larceny.
He was conscripted into the Army in July, 1916, and sent to the Western Front in the November of that year. He had later gone Absent Without Official Leave in 1917, for which he had been sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. Upon his early release, he had gone A.W.O.L. again in September, 1918, near Flesquieres, and yet again in October, 1918, near Noyelles.
On October 8th, 1918, Jackson was court-martialled on the capital charges of desertion and “shamefully casting away his arms, ammunition and equipment in the presence of the enemy” on the second of these occasions. He argued in his defence that he suffered from “mental disease caused by worries”, and added that both his parents died in an asylum. But he was shown no mercy, and indeed not even given a psychiatric evaluation. Rather, he was summarily convicted, and sentenced to death, his own Commanding Officer insisting that “cowardly action of this kind should be made an example of”.
Private Ernest Jackson was shot at dawn only four days before the end of the Great War, on November 7th, 1918. He is buried in Romeries Communal Cemetery Extension, with nothing on his headstone to indicate his fate. He is not mentioned either in the “Battalion War Diary”, or in the volume of “Soldiers Died in the Great War … ” pertaining to the Royal Fusiliers.
Incidentally, over the course of the Great War, 346 British and Empire soldiers – and others subject to the Army Act – were executed, following capital courts-martial that, in many cases, as in Private Jackson’s, essentially ignored mitigating evidence offered on their behalf. Nearly a century later, on November 7th, 2006, the British Government issued posthumous pardons to the 306 who had been executed for offences other than murder or mutiny, including the 284 who had been executed for desertion or cowardice. These men are also commemorated on the “Shot at Dawn” Memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas in Staffordshire.