George Povey first appeared on a census in 1901. He was with his family at 2, Davies Cottages,Shotton. Robert, father and head of the family was 43 and an Iron Sheet Packer (Pudd) who had been born in Oldford. His wife Dinah 42 had been born in Kelsall, Cheshire. The children were Thomas 18, an Iron Sheet Packer (Pudd), Mary was 21 and married. Elizabeth 20, Richard 11, George 9, Robert 7, Annie 6 and John 4. George Broster 20, Son-in-Law who was a Steel Sheet Packer (Pudd) was also there.
There is an index card for George Povey in The Flintshire Roll of Honour at the County Record office in Hawarden. (Flintshire WW1 Index Cards Connah’s Quay F51:- Povey, George). It confirms the regimental details above and gives the address, 51, Primrose Street, Connah’s Quay, Flintshire. It says he served from the 4th Aug 1914 and that he was ‘Killed in France on 11th February 1915’. The card was signed on the 22nd September 1919 by Mrs. Povey
(Three of George’s brothers were also in the conflict, John was in the Brecknock Regimental No. 3640 ,Private. Period of Service:- 19th May 1916 – 15th November 1916. Robert, 11412 2nd R.W.F. Private Period of Service:- 15th August 1914 – 31st March 1919. Robert signed his Flintshire card the same day that Mrs Povey signed George’s card. Richard was also in the war as can be seen on the Absent Voter’s List for 1918 and 1919. Richard’s entry was Primrose street 468 Povey Richard, 51 Primrose Street, R.A.F., Cranwell. His entry number on the 1918 Absent Voter’s List was 7488).
The 1911 census shows us that George was living with his brother, Thomas and family at 19 Primrose Hill, Connah’s Quay, Flintshire. Thomas was 28 and a Bar Cutter in the Iron Works His wife of 4 years, Minnie was 28 she too had been born in Chester. Their children were Catherine Dinah 3 and Albert 1. George Povey was a Boarder, single and 19 years old.
According to the 1911 census, his mother Dinah, then a widow, had given birth to 5 children who were still living in 1911. (This was not strictly true, however, as I found a listed burial of one of her & Robert’s children, a son William who had died age 9 months in July 1899).
Forces Genealogy lists G H Povey It gives his regimental details and says he was 23 years old and was ‘Shot at Dawn’ for ‘Quitting his post’. It says he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres.
There is a medal card for George Povey accessible on www.ancestry.co.uk. It confirms the regimental details above and lists his three medals. It tells us that the first Theatre of War he served in was France and that he entered it on the 18th December 1914. It says his rank of Corporal was reduced for misconduct and that he was ‘shot for deserting his post’ on the 11th February 1915. It seems ironic that the army awarded him his medals anyway.
George Povey in the UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929 tells us that he was “Shot After FGCM” and George’s mother Dinah was named to receive his effects of £2. 15s 3d. The date of authorisation was 31st December 1915. However, by the side was written “For distribution CCCCLXXXIX” so did this mean that Dinah didn’t receive it? Also written in red ink (which was the normal colour for the War Gratuity ) was “Inadmissable. Shot for desertion of Post.”
I often wonder how she managed without her son’s contribution to the household.
A summary of Cpl George Povey’s Court Martial as reported on the website of The SAD Campaign for justice which finally succeeded in pardons being granted in 2006 to George and 305 other soldiers who were shot at dawn. ( ref http://www.shotatdawn.info)
Cpl George Povey was accused with four other men (Privates) for quitting their posts in the early hours of the morning on the 28th January 1915. The weather at the time was changeable with a good deal of freezing rain and fog restricting visibility although this fact was never referred to in the trials.
An initial enquiry took place on the 29th January – the day after the incident, (which was essentially a case of a false alarm). Second lieutenant A.W.Rhodes, 1 Bn East Yorkshtre Regiment, set down his understanding of the incident via a summary of evidence –
“On the morning of 28th January 1915 in the field at about 2.30 a.m. there was an alarm that the Germans were in our trench, this alarm proved to be false and appeared to have been caused by a German taking a man’s rifle out of a loophole in the trench, a panic was caused.” He continued, “When things had quietened down a roll of the men in the trench was called and the accused Corporal Povey was absent. Corporal Povey was present when the panic began. During the panic, I saw several of my men making off in the distance. Corporal Povey was sent back to my trench by the officer i/c the support point about 3.15 a.m. During the panic the Germans did not open any regular fire on my trench.”
Two sergeants serving with 1st Bn. Cheshire regiment corroborated Rhodes’ statement.
When invited to quiz Rhodes and then the two sergeants about their statements, Povey declined to say anything.
Rhodes and Cooke also went on to identify four other soldiers.(Privates Hennerley, Devine, Ormonde and Cotgrave)
On 31 January, Povey and the four soldiers, were separately charged with;
‘When on Active Service, leaving his post 6(1) without orders from his superior officer’
They were tried separately by a Field General Court Martial that was convened at Bailleul on 3 February 1915
The President of the court was Major HR Done, 1 Bn. Norfolk Regiment and the two members were: Captain C.A. Ogden 4 (Reserve) Bn. Durham Light Infantry and Captain R.E. Partridge, 1 Bn.Dorsetshire Regiment. The prosecution was conducted by the Adjutant of the 1 Bn. Cheshire Regiment and as was customary, none of the defendants enjoyed the assistance of a defending officer, even though they were charged with a capital offence.
The cases against the four privates were all very similar and each lasted about ten minutes. The case for the prosecution with the supporting evidence of witnesses was that there had been a panic in the trench and that that immediately after the panic was over, each man had been absent . Sergeant Parker had been back from the line in the supporting point about 3.00 a.m. on 28th January. Each of the accused had came running back . He had told them to go back to the trench. There had been no firing going on at the time.”
Each of the four was found guilty and sentenced to ten years penal servitude but with the court’s recommendation to mercy.
The case against Corporal Povey was a similarly brief affair. Verbatim, the Written Proceedings read as follows:
1st Witness: 2/Lt. A.W. Rhodes, 1st East Yorkshire Regiment. duly sworn states: ‘On 28th Jan. 1915 about 2.30 a.m. there was an alarm in my trench, and a panic ensued. After the panic the accused was absent, he was present before the panic’.
2nd Witness: No. 6023 Sgt. T. Cooke, 1st Cheshire Regiment being duly sworn states: ‘On 28th Jan. 1915 there was an alarm in my trench and a panic. The accused was absent when the roll was called – he was present before the panic’.
3rd Witness: NO.6481 Sergeant J.Parker, 1st Cheshire Regiment, being duly sworn states: ‘I was in the supporting point on 28th Jan. 1915 about 3 a.m. when I saw the accused running, I called him in – he was fully armed. I ordered him to go back to his trench.’
The Written Proceedings make no reference to Povey having been invited to cross-examine his accusers nor does he appear to have made any further statement, either in his own defence or in mitigation of the offence.
However, the court sentenced George Povey to death.
The Written Proceedings were forwarded to a succession of ever more senior offficers for their comments. The sentences of some of the other men were remitted by a number of years depending on each circumstance. These remittals were undoubtedly influenced by the ‘recommendation to mercy’ by the court.
Corporal Povey’s case was viewed more seriously. His more senior rank meant that he was treated more harshly. The death penalty was confirmed on 8th February 1915.
Corporal Povey was executed at St Jans Cappel in the Ypres Salient at 7.45 am on 11th February 1915. The location of his burial is not known. He is remembered on The Menin Gate Memorial.
He had volunteered for the army in August 1914.
He had entered his first Theatre of War in France on the 18th December 1914.
The ‘offence’ was committed on the 28th January 1915. He had been in France for less than 6 weeks.
Samuel Welch who is also named on the Connah’s Quay/Shotton Memorial and who has his own page on this website wrote a letter home to his wife and baby. It included this reference to George Povey,
“We heard all about Povey it is only right to do what they have done. I hope it will never come to my lot it is a bad mark on his family for life but hes not the first one to have that”
George Povey was not allowed a “Soldiers Friend” nor anyone to speak on his behalf. He did not say anything in his own defence, he never spoke. As the highest ranking soldier in the group before the court martial for the same offence, he was the only man sentenced to death. Another world, another time, that we have difficulty understanding today, with our knowledge of shell-shock and Post Traumatic Stress disorder
George was also named on St. Mark’s Church Connah’s Quay. Roll of Honour
This year, (2016), Viv and Eif Williams from flintshirewarmemorials.com arranged another wonderful visit to Flanders and also took us, in Popoeringe, to a condemned cell and the place of execution similar to what George would have suffered, which we all found very sad and really heartbreaking. We saw one cell with graffiti written by some poor soul and in the other one, we looked through the small window in the door and there was a hologram of a soldier, sitting and standing by the window, giving us a little insight into how it was, which of course we can never really understand. We then went into the courtyard where there is a replica of the post that the soldier would have been tied to and the sandbags behind. Our hearts went out to all the soldiers who had found themselves in this position, really horrendous. What was really telling were chicken’s feet marks embedded in the cobbles leading to the quadrangle of Poperinge Town Hall where they were executed, which the men would have seen as they walked out to be executed. Many thanks to David Rowe for the haunting photograph below.
The National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire includes a memorial to 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were shot at dawn for desertion or cowardice in WW1. The plot was chosen because it is the first place at the Arboretum where the sun falls at dawn (see photos below)
Many thanks to Derek and Jennifer Walters who visited the Arboretum in the autumn of 2014 and paid homage to George and took the photographs.
George is mentioned in the book “Blindfold and Alone,” British Military Executions in the Great War by Cathryn Corns and John Hughes-Wilson, Chapter 12, page 139, where he is said to have been the first man executed for ‘quitting his post’. The first man to be found guilty of the same offence was a Pte. Cunningham of the Essex Regiment and he was sentenced to death on the 1st January 1915 for quitting his post on two occasions. His sentence, however, was commuted to ten years’ penal servitude. The book also adds that at the end of 1914 several men had been sentenced to death for quitting their posts, but none had been executed.
Note. 19 year old Thomas Highgate was the first soldier in the war to be executed by a firing squad. His offence was ‘deserting His Majesty’s service’ while on active service. He was shot on 8 September 1914. He first enlisted in the army reserve in the 3rd Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment on 4 October 1912.