When Did 'AWOL' Become 'Desertion'?

Discussion in 'Prewar' started by At Home Dad (Returning), May 3, 2011.

  1. At Home Dad (Returning)

    At Home Dad (Returning) Well-Known Member

    Hallo all

    Can anyone explain the WW1 difference between
    awol and desertion? Was awol if you were, for example,
    late back from leave, but desertion was legging it?

    Cheers for any help
  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Not WW1, but American take on it:
    AWOL and Desertion

    They suggest intention/circumstances and I suppose it was up to the man charged to prove the difference ... I've def. seen AWL for periods of hours, days, weeks, months on records, the latter during training.

    Dad wrote a letter on request for 2 Yanks who got separated from their unit during airborne drop; by chance they hooked up with the Micks. They were arrested by US MP and charged with desertion, having only been away for 2 weeks tops. Their defence in C-M stated that had it not been for Dad's Section's testimony about the Yanks fighting alongside their section - and well - they would have got the death penalty. As it stood, they apparently got DDs and time in US prison. Harsh, he thought.
  3. Tab

    Tab Senior Member

    AWOL happens when you are not in the front line or have not been away to long, in the trenches it can become desertion once you have left your unit with out permission.
  4. Alan Allport

    Alan Allport Senior Member

    Can anyone explain the WW1 difference between awol and desertion?


    Intention was the key under British military law; an absentee was someone temporarily missing from duty without permission but who intended to return sooner or later, whereas a deserter was someone who had gone missing without any intention to ever return. Needless to say, the distinction between these two offences (one far more serious in its repercussions) was a subtle and subjective one.

    Best, Alan
  5. At Home Dad (Returning)

    At Home Dad (Returning) Well-Known Member

  6. chick42-46

    chick42-46 Senior Member

    Just to follow up what Alan has said, I’ve got this from chapter 3 of the Manual of Military Law (1914, but the underlying law didn’t change until 1956):

    “13. Desertion, fraudulent enlistment, and absence without leave.
    A distinction is made by the Act between desertion and fraudulent enlistment. The latter, which is constituted a separate offence by section 13, is dealt with hereafter.

    The criterion between desertion and absence without leave is intention. The offence of desertion – that is to say, of deserting or attempting to desert His Majesty’s service – implies an intention on the part of the offender either not to return to His Majesty’s service at all, or to escape some particular important service as mentioned in para. 16; and a soldier must not be charged with desertion, unless it appears that some such intention existed. Further, even assuming that he is charged with desertion, the court that tries him should not find him guilty of desertion, unless fully satisfied on the evidence that he has been guilty of desertion as above defined. On the other hand, absence without leave may be described as such short absence, unaccompanied by disguise, concealment, or other suspicious circumstances, as occurs when a soldier does not return to his corps or duty at the proper time, but on returning is able to show that he did not intend to quit the service, or to evade the performance of some service so important as to render the offence desertion.

    14. It is obvious that the evidence of intention to quit the service altogether may be so strong as to be irresistible, as, for instance, if a soldier is found in plain clothes on board a steamer starting for America, or is found crossing a river to the enemy; while, on the other hand, the evidence is frequently such as to leave it extremely doubtful what the real intention of the man was. Mere length of absence is, by itself, inconclusive as a test, for a soldier who has been entrapped into bad company through drink, or other causes, may be absent some time without any thought of becoming a deserter; but in the case above put, of a soldier found on board a steamer starting for America, there can be no doubt of the intention, though he might only have been absent a few hours.

    15. Nor can desertion invariably be judged by distance, for a soldier may absent himself without leave and depart to a very considerable distance, and yet the evidence of an intention to return may be clear; whereas he may scarcely quit the camp or barrack yard, and the evidence of intention not to return (by the assumption of a disguise, for example, and other circumstances) may be complete.

    16. A man who absents himself in a deliberate or clandestine manner with the view of shirking some important service though he may intend to return when the evasion of the service is accomplished, is liable to be convicted of desertion just as if an intention never to return had been proved against him. Thus if a man on the eve of the embarkation of his regiment for service abroad, or when called out to aid the civil power, conceals himself in barracks, the court will be quite justified in presuming an intention to escape the important service on which he was ordered and in convicting him of desertion.”

    The manual doesn’t treat absence without leave separately – only by comparing it with desertion, presumably because what constitutes being absent without leave will be obvious.


  7. At Home Dad (Returning)

    At Home Dad (Returning) Well-Known Member

    fantastic thank you
  8. Drayton

    Drayton Senior Member

    For the avoidance of doubt, as the lawyers say, I would add two points:

    1) The position as set out in the cited Manual of Military Law is still the position today.

    2) For any conviction by court-martial, as in a criminal court, the charge has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. In the case of desertion, the intention to quit permanently has to be proved. In the case of AWOL, only the fact of being absent without permission has to be proved. So, in cases of doubt it was, and is, simpler to charge AWOL, or to reduce an original charge of desertion to AWOL.
  9. chrisgrove

    chrisgrove Senior Member

    About thirty years ago, two of our soldiers were picked up by emigration officers at Dover. They were on leave, therefore not AWOL, but maintained they were off to join the French Foreign Legion. Since enlistment into another army was deemed to be evidence of an intention not to return, they were charged and, as far as I know, convicted (since they stuck to the story) of desertion - without ever being AWOL!

    My father, during the war, was faced with an Irish soldier who had been absent for six months after going home on leave. On being questioned, his excuse was that he had had to serve his sentence for deserting from the Irish Army before he could come back and rejoin ours!

  10. At Home Dad (Returning)

    At Home Dad (Returning) Well-Known Member

    Thank you both.

    The question relates to the forfeiture of medals
    "due to desertion", sadly the MIC's in question
    dont give detail of the courts martial, so that's
    another number hunt I'll have to prep for
  11. Cobber

    Cobber Senior Member

    My father, during the war, was faced with an Irish soldier who had been absent for six months after going home on leave. On being questioned, his excuse was that he had had to serve his sentence for deserting from the Irish Army before he could come back and rejoin ours!

    What a great litle story, Do you know of what happened to the man in quetsion?

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