Part one: The truth behind the Irish soldiers shot at dawn The Forgotten
By Stephen Walker October 25 2007
Outside the winter snow lined the ground. James Crozier’s guards wanted him to walk the short distance to a small garden where the firing party was waiting. The young rifleman was too drunk to move, and he had to be carried out into the open space. By now he was practically unconscious. Bound with ropes, he was attached to the execution post. His battalion formed up on the open road close to the garden. Screened by a wall, they wouldn’t see the execution but would hear the shots.
Crozier’s namesake Frank Percy Crozier, the man who recruited him and promised his mother he’d watch out for her son, was now preparing to watch him die. Crozier later recalled how he was secured to a stake 10 yards from the firing squad. “There are hooks on the post; we always do things thoroughly in the Rifles. He is hooked on like dead meat in a butcher’s shop. His eyes are bandaged – not that it really matters, for he is already blind.”
Then James Crozier was shot.
“A volley rings out – a nervous volley it is true, yet a volley. Before the fatal shots are fired I had called the battalion to attention. There is a pause, I wait. I see the medical officer examining the victim. He makes a sign, the subaltern strides forward, a single shot rings out. Life is now extinct.” The firing squad, made up of men from his own regiment, shot wide, so James Crozier was killed by a bullet fired by a junior officer. After the shooting, as Frank Crozier recalled, life resumed as normal. ” We march back to breakfast while the men of a certain company pay the last tribute at the graveside of an unfortunate comrade. This is war.”
Frank Crozier didn’t want James’ family to discover how he had died. He tried but failed to pass off his death as ‘killed in action’. Details of the manner of Crozier’s death leaked out – though the facts weren’t made public at the time. Weeks later one of Frank Crozier’s officers was tackled about the shooting while on leave. He was asked by a civilian about the Crozier execution, and it was suggested that it had brought shame on the battalion and on the city of Belfast.
Crozier’s colleague angrily replied: “He tried and failed. He died for such as you! Isn’t it time you had a shot at dying for your country?”
When James Crozier was shot he became the youngest Irish deserter to face a firing squad; but Frank Percy Crozier’s career blossomed. He saw action at the Battle of the Somme and rose up the ranks to eventually become a brigadier-general. After the war his life took a number of unexpected and controversial twists. In 1919 he was promoted to general and appointed military adviser to the newly established Lithuanian army; but his new job was not a success, and within months he resigned. He then returned to Ireland and became the commander of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and, as ever, controversy followed his every footstep. When he died, in 1937, the newspapers were full of details of his past exploits on the battlefield and his later days as an author and peace campaigner. His death received much national attention, in contrast with the secret demise of his namesake two decades earlier.