Peter Goggins

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Peter Goggins
Born 1894
South Moor, Durham
Died 18 January 1917 (aged c23)
near Arras, France
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Rank Lance Corporal
Unit Durham Light Infantry

First World War

Lance Corporal Peter Goggins (1894 – 18 January 1917) was a British soldier who was executed for desertion during the First World War. His case later became a well publicised example of the perceived injustices of British military discipline during the war, and he was pardoned in 2006.


Born in South Moor, Durham, Goggins was a miner who joined the 19th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry as a volunteer, although his occupation exempted him from conscription.[1]

On 26 November 1916, Goggins was guarding a position near Arras on the Western Front with Corporal John McDonald. Sergeant Joseph Stones, fleeing a German ambush, ran past their position shouting "Run for your lives, the Huns are on top of you!", and Goggins and McDonald retreated to a reserve trench 20 yards (18 m) away. Both men were subsequently charged with deserting their posts, and in spite of Stones' evidence that he had given the order to retreat, they were convicted at court martial on Christmas Eve and sentenced to death.[2][3][4] Stones was sentenced to death at a separate court martial several days later for casting away his rifle in the same incident. The sentences were supported by Brigadier-General H O'Donnell, who wrote that he had doubts about the quality of the evidence, but felt that the executions were necessary to set an example to other men in the battalion.[5][6] All three men were executed on 18 January. The chaplain who prayed with them before their deaths remarked that he had never met three braver men.[7]

Goggins' execution had a devastating effect on his family. His wife of six months disappeared soon afterwards, and his mother had a nervous breakdown.[3] He was seldom mentioned by his family, who saw his conviction as a source of shame, and his niece, Marina Brewis, who had simply been told that he died in the war, only learned his true fate years later from a television documentary.[2] On learning the truth she began a campaign for her uncle to be pardoned.[8]

Peter Goggins' case became well publicised example of the injustices of the First World War due to the efforts of Marina Brewis, the fact that he had apparently been following orders, and the fact that the triple execution was unique.[4] In 2006, Goggins was finally pardoned along with the other 305 British and British Empire soldiers executed for cowardice during the First World War, under the terms of the Armed Forces Act 2006.[9][10] His case had been one of those discussed in Parliament during the passage of the Act.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ellman, Dennis (30 October 2005). "Sacrificed". The Sunday Mirror. Retrieved 20 November 2007. 
  2. ^ a b Jones, Sam (16 August 2006). "Shot at dawn: the soldiers' stories". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 November 2007. 
  3. ^ a b "Sgt Peter Goggins". The Daily Telegraph. 16 August 2006. Retrieved 20 November 2007. 
  4. ^ a b Englebrecht, Gavein (21 June 2006). "'My uncle was shot at dawn for simply following orders'". The Northern Echo. Retrieved 20 November 2007. 
  5. ^ Lloyd, Chris (16 August 2006). "The final victory". Darlington and Stockton Times. Retrieved 20 November 2007. 
  6. ^ O'Donnell's letter is reproduced at by the Shot at Dawn Campaign group.
  7. ^ Elliott, Francis & Stummer, Robin (28 March 2004). "Is a pardon in sight for Billy Nelson, one of 306 soldiers shot by firing squad in WWI?". The Independent. Retrieved 19 November 2007. 
  8. ^ Diffley, Jamie (7 March 2006). "Justice looms at last". The Evening Chronicle (Newcastle). Retrieved 20 November 2007. 
  9. ^ Iggulden, Amy (17 August 2006). "Tears for the families who lived with shame". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 November 2007. 
  10. ^ "300 WWI soldiers receive pardons". BBC News. 16 August 2006. Retrieved 19 November 2007. 
  11. ^ "Armed Forces Bill (Programme) (No. 2)". Hansard. 7 November 2006. Retrieved 20 November 2007.