SHOT AT DAWN 26th June 1918
Walter DOSSETT was born in Sheffield in 1896. Son of William and Lily DOSSETT. One of 3 brothers and 5 sisters. The census shows us that Walters family were living at 3 Court 14 Edward Street, Sheffield in 1901 but by 1911 they had moved to 44 Martin Street in the Upperthorpe area of Sheffield.
At the age of 15 Walter was working as a chair maker at a local furniture manufacturer. From his early service number, 5848, we can surmise that he was a volunteer serving with the York and Lancaster Territorials.
On the 9th December 1915 he enlisted at Sheffield aged 19. He now gives his occupation as builders labourer. He was placed with the reserves until he was embodied on 24th October 1916 when he was then transferred to the Hallamshire Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment as Private 5848 DOSSETT.
On the 9th January 1917 he is transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and given service number 83195. He would serve with a number of companies in the MGC entering France on 15th april 1917. Walter was not to make an efficient soldier as the following list of transgressions would indicate:-
20.12.16 Absent without leave – 14 days confined to barracks and 10 days pay.
13.01.17 Absent without leave, defacing regimental kit and wearing false decorations – 28 days detention.
10.03.17 Absent from parade – 14 days confined to barracks and 2 days pay.
26.03.17 Absent from parade – 5 days confined to barracks.
04.04.17 Absent from parade – 28 days field punishment number 2.
05.05.17 Dirty mess tins – 4 days field punishment number 2.
14.05.17 Lost his helmet – 4 days extra parades.
17.09.17 Falling out of working party without permission – 15 days field punishment number 1.
The Machine Gun Corps had obviously reached a point where they were not going to tolerate Walters behaviour any more and had him transferred back to the 1/4th York and Lancaster Regiment on 12th February 1918 when he was allocated service number 45980.
The incident recorded of 13.01.1917 occurred at Clipstone Camp. Walter had gone missing and was declared absent without leave. An officer of the civil police, D.C. John BOWER would detain him at an address of 11 Bolsover Road, Sheffield on 3rd February 1917. Unfortunately for Walter he was found wearing his military tunic sporting 2 gold wound stripes which he was not entitled to. He excused himself from the officers to go to the lavatory. When he returned the stripes were gone. When asked by the officer what he had done he stated that he had cut them off and handed them to the officer. This would account for the entry of defacing military equipment and wearing false decorations.
Having been returned to his unit since February 1918 we next see that he is held in custody awaiting trial for desertion. No specific account is given but I think we have to assume that Walter deserted his post in some way during the German Michael Offensive which began on the 21st March 1918.
On the 15th April 1918 the army received a letter from his mother enquiring as to Walters whereabouts as she had not heard from him for several weeks and he was a regular writer, she say’s as such she fears the worst. She had no idea that he was awaiting trial for desertion.
On the 8th June 1918 the Field General Court Martial convened whereupon Walter was found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentence was conferred upon him by presiding Brigadier General RENNIE and was later confirmed by Field Marshall HAIGH.
There is no evidence of any correspondence existing between Walter and his family since he was first detained for the offence and it appears that the sentence was carried out without his family being notified.
On the 26th June 1918 the sentence was carried out. The very excellent book by, SHOT AT DAWN, by Julian PUTKOWSKI and Julian SYKES records an account of the execution as follows:-
‘ In the last week of June an ex-machine gunner who had served with a number of different units was shot by his comrades. Private Walter DOSSETT from Sheffield may well have been a volunteer, although he did not serve abroad until 1916. Once on the Western Front the soldier served in three different Machine Gun Companies, 143rd part of 48 Div, 118th part of 39 Div and 63rd part of 21 Div before being transferred to the 1/4th battalion York and Lancaster Regiment. Private DOSSETT had gone missing from his battalion during the Ludendorff offensive in 1918 and had been sentenced to death. Following the usual procedure, arrangements were made to carry out the sentence. A soldier from 49 Division Ammunition Column recorded the events in his diary. Private SCULLIN had not been a witness to the execution, but the details noted in his diary, based on the recollection of a colleague, are consistent with other accounts of such a scene. ‘ An ambulance drew upend Private DOSSETT was brought out under escort. The prisoner was then taken to a nearby rifle range where he was bound in a chair. The blindfold was then applied and a piece of white paper pinned over DOSSETT’S heart. The firing squad had been selected from machine gunners in 21 Division ‘. The events took place near Vlamertinghe in the Ypres salient on 25th June and SCULLIN speculated as to whether the soldiers next of kin would be notified that their relative was ‘MISSING’. This was apparently not the case because the grave was identified and an inscription recorded ‘ UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN ‘.
Walter was stripped of his entitlement to his medals and he does not appear on any local memorial.
Walter now lies in the Hagle Dump Military Cemetery near Ypres.
Walter was one of 306 men executed for cowardice or desertion. The extreme conditions that took their toll on these men and many others has now been recognised and they have all been officially pardoned.
The descendants of Walters family have been traced and in February of 2015 Walters memorial went home. Below picture shows Barbara FOWLER Nee DOSSETT, daughter of Walters brother Albert DOSSETT , Kirsty, Gordon and Dean FOWLER.