List of New Zealand soldiers executed during World War I

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The following soldiers serving on the Western Front with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force were executed for military offences during World War I. The executions, carried out by firing squad, were not made public at the time. All five were posthumously pardoned on 14 September 2000, when New Zealand's Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act became law. The bill was presented by Mark Peck, Member of Parliament for Invercargill. The vote was 112 for the motion and five against.


Name Age Unit Executed Offence Notes
Frank Hughes 28 2nd Bn,
Canterbury Regt
25 Aug 1916 Desertion Poor military and disciplinary record, deserted en route to the front.[1][2]
John Sweeney 37 1st Bn,
Otago Regt
2 Oct 1916 Desertion An Australian, born in Tasmania. His brother died on the Western Front in 1918, while his father committed suicide in 1925, just before details of his execution were made public.[3][4]
John Braithwaite 31 2nd Bn,
Otago Regt
29 Oct 1916 Mutiny Prior to the war, he had worked as a journalist in Australia. After being incarcerated for repeatedly being AWOL, he was accused of instigating a prison riot, although he claimed that he only involved himself to assist in break it up.[5][6]
John King 32 1st Bn,
Canterbury Regt
19 Aug 1917 Desertion Had a long record of going absent, desertion and illness; possibly an alcoholic.[7]
Victor Spencer 23 1st Bn,
Otago Regt
24 Feb 1918 Desertion Deserted from near the front line. A Maori engineer in a non-Maori pioneer unit, shell-shocked in July 1915.[8]


  1. ^ Pugsley, pp 104–121; Putkowski, pp 104–105; PRO: WO 213/10
  2. ^ First New Zealand Soldier Executed
  3. ^ Pugsley, pp 122–135; Putkowski, p. 117; PRO: WO 213/11
  4. ^ Tale of Tunneler Sweeney
  5. ^ Pugsley, pp 136–146; Putkowski, pp 126–127; PRO: WO 90/6; Personal service record, Jack Braithwaite
  6. ^ John Braithwaite Biography
  7. ^ Pugsley, pp 167–184; Putkowski, pp 184–186; PRO: WO 213/16
  8. ^ Pugsley, pp 185–205; Putkowski, pp 53–54; PRO: WO 213/20


  • Pugsley, Christopher (1991). On the Fringe of Hell. Auckland: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-53321-5
  • Putkowski, Julian & Sykes, Julian (1966). Shot at Dawn: Executions in World War One by Authority of the British Army Act. Barnsley: Pen & Sword ISBN 978-0-85052-613-4
  • Public Record Office, London, Judge Advocate General's Register.
  • Archives New Zealand, BRAITHWAITE, Jack - WW1 24/1521 - Army, Ref: AABK 18805 W5520/110.
  • New Zealand Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act 2000
  • The executed five Great War Story from video
  • The executed five Great War Story from newshub video

External links[edit]