The Court Martial & Sentence of Gunner MacFarland, 139 Field Regiment RA

Discussion in 'General' started by PackRat, Oct 30, 2017.

  1. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    I'm trying to discover what happened to a Gunner MacFarland of 139 Field Regiment Royal Artillery. He was charged with killing Gunner James of the same regiment on 20th April 1940. This is the casualty record for Gnr James.

    Here are the entries in the War Diary that relate to the case:

    Haverskerque, 20th April
    The evening brought the most serious situation yet experienced by the Regiment. At 2130 a Gunner
    was stabbed to death outside one of the cafes. The M.O. was immediately sent for, but was unable to
    do anything as the knife had entered the heart. A muster parade of the Regiment was advised and
    all those present at the stabbing were rounded up. The C.O. held a Court of Enquiry lasting from
    2230 until 0200 next morning. As a result of this, one of the other gunners present was put under
    close arrest.

    Haverskerque, 21st April
    The A.P.M. and military police were here all day interrogating witnesses and the prisoner. At
    1800 the C.O. took a formal summary of the evidence and the prisoner was charged under Section 41
    Army Act.

    Haverskerque, 24th April
    The funeral of Gnr. James took place at Outtersteene Imperial War Cemetery by the padre of 56
    Med Regt RA; the funeral was a military one and was attended by the C.O., Bty. Commanders and
    ā€˜Eā€™ Troop.

    Haverskerque, 30th April
    Staff Captain J.A.G. came to take a further summary of evidence in the MacFarland case.

    Haverskerque, 10th May
    The Court-Martial of Gnr. MacFarland was put forward so as to enable the witnesses to go forward
    with the Regt. The court-martial was held in Bethune... The case for the prosecution lasted until
    2100 hours... The prisoner was handed over to A.P.M. III Corps for safe custody until GHQ
    promulgated the sentence.

    So there was a court-martial on the 10th May 1940, but after that I can find no further reference to him in the diary. Any ideas on how I could find out what might have happened and the fate of Gunner MacFarland? I imagine this must be recorded somewhere, but I have no idea where to look next.
  2. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    For information

    UK, Army Roll of Honour, 1939-1945
    Name: James James
    Given Initials: J
    Rank: Gunner
    Death Date: 20 Apr 1940
    Number: 794889
    Birth Place: Oldham
    Residence: Oldham
    Regiment at Enlistment: Royal Artillery
    Branch at Enlistment: Royal Artillery
    Theatre of War: France and Belgium Campaign, 1939/40
    Regiment at Death: Royal Artillery
    Branch at Death: Royal Artillery

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  3. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    There are Field and Courts Marshall registers for officers and Other Ranks of the British Army at the National Archives but they are hard as hell to try and find an individual in them. The dates given for each register and when the entry was made rather than the offence if I remember correctly so you have to work backwards I think.
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  4. Blutto

    Blutto Plane Mad

    It doesn't directly answer the question, however in this paper: there is the following comment in regards to the difference in the number of executions between WWI and II:

    "In the Great War, 346 British soldiers were executed for a wide range of offences, whereas only two BEF personnel were sentenced to death during the France campaign. The individuals were convicted of separate incidents of murder and both had their sentences commuted to life
    imprisonment by Commander-in-Chief Gort."
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  5. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Thanks all, sounds like this will be a tricky thing to pin down. I do wonder if Gnr. MacFarland was one of the two men mentioned in Blutto's link.

    I'm particularly interested in this as it was my grandfather's regiment, and Gnr. James was in E Troop, which was part of my grandfather's Battery (364 - not sure which Troop he was in). It must have been a significant event in the regiment but, maybe not surprisingly, he never mentioned it to any of us.
  6. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member

    I have searched the Royal Artillery Attestations on Find my past for Gunner MacFarland and found nothing.

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  7. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    Don't know if there's a connection but on another thread I read:
    Field Diary 228 Field Company RE.
    11 May 40. OC returned from Court Martial at Arras.
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  8. jonheyworth

    jonheyworth Senior Member

    I bet they had many other things to think about on 11-5-40
  9. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Thanks very much for looking Gus. Checking back on the original diary pages the name is actually McFarland without the 'a' so I've managed to make a transcription error on the most important point of the whole thing (I think I need new glasses!). Is there any trace of a 'Gunner McFarland'?

    139 Field 10 May 1940.jpg
  10. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

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  11. Blutto

    Blutto Plane Mad

    Might even be worth widening the search to McFarlane?

    There is a potential file at the National Archives that has not yet been digitized:

    Reference: WO 213/35
    Field General Courts Martial (Abroad only)

    Note: Volume Number: 35
    Date: 1939 Oct. 16 - 1942 Apr. 13
    Held by: The National Archives, Kew
    Legal status: Public Record(s)
    Closure status: Open Document, Open Description
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  12. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Great find Rich, thank you! That must be the same chap. From the top of the Diary page:


    Lt.Col.G.Ames, M.C., T.D.

    That medal set looks like it has the Military Cross and the Territorial Decoration too, and the initial 'G' matches, so it's surely him. If he hasn't left a memoir it's a great shame as from the (very thorough) 139 Field War Diaries he sounds like a hell of a commanding officer in all aspects. At Dunkirk he kept the last four field guns of the Regiment in anti-tank action defending the canal with a small group of men until 2nd June and got out on a French trawler.
  13. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    I shall add that to my list for the next trip to Kew, thank you! I was having trouble finding courts martial documents for the right period in the National Archives search engine.

    I've actually managed to (partially) answer my own question with a trip to the archives to view the Regiment's next volume of War Diaries. The Regiment's excellent diary-keeper mentions the following:

    Penmaenmawr, 14th July

    The file on the case of Gnr. McFarland was received, he having been sentenced to 3 years P.S. for manslaughter.

    Penmaenmawr, 15th July
    The C.O. saw Gnr. McFarland at the local Police Station and read his sentence to him. The Prisoner was then handed over to the civil authorities to serve the sentence.

    That doesn't explain the circumstances of the tragedy (possibly there will be more details in that courts martial file), but it does at least describe his sentence and confirms that he wasn't one of the two BEF men sentenced for murder.

    It does seem strange to me that he was at a local police station in North Wales and then handed over to the civil authorities to serve his sentence. I'd assumed that there were military prisons that would have handled this and military justice was kept separate from civil, especially in wartime; can anyone shed any light on the process?
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  14. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Three years for Manslaughter in 1940....I would have asked for it to be doubled if I were him.
  15. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Had a look at the file Blutto mentioned at the National Archive today and found an entry for Gnr McFarland. Looks like he was initially charged with murder, which was dropped to manslaughter for which he got 3 years PS. It does seem a very light sentence, especially for 1940, so there must have been some pretty strong extenuating circumstances (or a cracking defence lawyer...). Unfortunately there's nothing more to that file than a (huge!) log of names and punishments. Any ideas on finding case files or judgements with a bit more detail?

    mcfarland1.jpg mcfarland2.jpg
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  16. Guy Hudson

    Guy Hudson Looker-upper

    He was wounded in action on the 9th October 1944 serving with 67 Anti-tank Regiment

    Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 17.08.31.png
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  17. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Courts martial and desertion in the British Army 17th-20th centuries - The National Archives
    See note under Section 9 which refers back to Section 8:

    "Non-commissioned officers and other ranks could be tried by any of the courts martial, so you may have to look in two sets of records. For the most serious offences tried at general and field general courts martial, the records are as described for officers (see section 8)."

    Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 18.04.49.png

    Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 18.05.04.png
  18. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Great find, Guy! He kept the same service number, so it looks like he came out of a civilian prison and straight back into the ranks a few years after stabbing one of his comrades to death. This is a strange case indeed.

    Ah, that looks hopeful, thank you. Can anyone make an educated guess that would narrow down the appropriate files in those series?
  19. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    You're looking at this series
    Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 23.34.29.png

    I'd hazard a guess they've been filed in year order of some sort. A matter of checking content description out via Discovery and/or in person at Kew.
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  20. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Thank you, I'm still learning my way round Discovery.

    Looking through that series (if I'm doing it right!) they do seem to be in date order. WO71/690 is a case in 1920, WO71/691 is a case in 1939, then there's a few in 1940 and then WO71/699 is a case in 1941.

    It seems that generally the accused's name is on the file and searchable, like this one from 1943 (another murder case) but I can't seem to find a record for McFarland.

    I wonder if the case files for this are still closed for some reason? Although the last in the series (WO 71/1586), for a surprising offence in 1992, is listed as [name withheld] and closed for 88 years but still has a record in the series. Or perhaps they're missing or stored elsewhere?

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