(page updated 4 January 2017)
Edwin Dyett was one of only three officers shot in The Great War. His story is a tragedy.
I first became interested after reading For God’s Sake Shoot Straight by Leonard Sellers, which questioned the justice Dyett’s case. I then followed Dyett’s footsteps on the Somme, from the begriming of his action in November at Beaucourt, to the farm where he was shot in December.
Outline of his action Nov 13/14/15 1916
• 13/11/16 – at Hédauville, Lt-Commander E.W.Nelson ordered Dyett & Lt. C.A.Truscott to Brigade HQ. A car took them. Bde. HQ was in a trench called Charles Street, off a communication trench, between Mesnil & Hamel, half a mile south west of Hamel. On arrival at about 1.30pm, Truscott went in, Dyett stayed outside. Truscott received orders from Brig-General L.F.Phillips to join Battalion which was last heard of in Green line, a trench on Beaucourt side of Station Rd.
• Truscott & Dyett made their way forward. By about 4.30/5pm they arrived at Beaucourt Station where they met Sub-Lt. J.L.Herring and some stray men, about 200 according to Herring. Herring & Dyett argue. Herring ordered Dyett to front. Truscott found about 25 of his own men and took them to the Green Line (the majority of the 200 according to Herring??). Truscott left Dyett at about 5.45pm. Herring ordered Dyett to follow Truscott. Herring went to Hamel Dump, Dyett followed. Herring wrote message to Staff Captain reporting Dyett. Dyett left Herring saying he was going to report to Bde. HQ for fresh orders.
• Sub-Lt. E.V.Gardner (Nelson Bat.) said: At about noon on 13th he moved forward from the Green Line to a trench about 150 yards S/W of Beaucourt. There the Battalion remained until about 4pm, when battalion moved via redoubt Alley to right of Green Line and dug in, about 300 yards east of Green Line. Reported to Col. Freyberg at about 5pm, instructed to dig in extending left flank. At about 6pm Truscott joined Battalion with about 40/50 men from Nelson. Truscott took command. The Battalion remained in this position until 5pm on 14th Nov when it moved to a position about 50 yards to the rear. Left this position at about 2am on 15th Nov, when Battalion was relieved. retired to original German front line until 10.15am then marched to Englebelmer arriving between 1 & 2pm. Gardner never saw Dyett throughout Battalion’s action. Saw him in evening of 15th Nov at Hédauville.
• Lt B.Dangerfield (Nelson Bat.) said: On 15th Nov at about 1am he met Battalion coming down from German front line, and placed them in dug-outs. At about 10.20am in charge of half Battalion marched from trenches to Englebelmer. Saw Dyett at gate of No 79 Billet, Battalion HQ. About an hour later saw Truscott with rest of Battalion.
• Dyett’s events from letters (which do not tie up neatly):
Letter one 13th Dec – He said he crossed no-man’s land but could not find a man from his unit. His companion (Truscott) went off with a crowd. Dyett rambled about and lost touch with everybody. Came across an Officer (Herring) who ordered him to join with the party, but Dyett went looking for own unit
Letter two 24th Dec – We (+Truscott) could not find units so rambled about. Met an Officer (Herring, Dyett’s ‘one and only enemy’) with a body of men wanted by Freyberg. His companion had gone off somewhere. Ignored the other Officer and went to find BHQ, but became lost for the second time. Dyett found an NCO from ‘A’ Company and rambled about. Later Dyett’s voice was recognised by more men from ‘A’ Company who attached themselves to Dyett saying they were lost, looking for BHQ. Not found. They came across a ‘funk hole’ and stayed. Dyett said he was arrested on 14/11/16. (one day later according to other sources.)
• Sub-Lt J.H.Bentham of Hood Battalion said – at 6.15am (on 13th presumably) wounded by a shell. reinforcements passed by. Art 10am a medical officer passed by (McCraken). Afternoon, night passed and no stretcher-bearers. Dawn then day on 14th when Dyett came a long asking for front line. Dyett has deserted support troops who never reached front line. At 2pm German prisoner stretcher-bearers arrived.
• Dyett was seen at Battalion HQ at Englebelmer (Billet No 79) by Captain A.R.Bare between 10 & 11am on 15/11/16 when Nelson were still in line. Bare ordered him to report to Bde. HQ.
• Nelson Batt. march into Englebelmer between 1 & 2pm on 15/11/16, led by Gardner.
• Tried 10am 26/11/16, at Ferme du Champs Neuf, St Firmin
• Sentenced 4/1/17. Sentence reached Dyett evening on same day. Padre spent an hour with him. Dyett wrote one last letter to his Mother.
• Shot 7.45am 5/1/17 at St Firmin. Padre goes with body to cemetery. Buried at Le Crotoy
On 4 January 1917, Dyett discovered that he was to be shot at dawn. He was playing cards when the contents of a blue envelope – his Death Warrant – was read to him. He spent an hour with a Padre and found the strength to write this one last letter:
France, January 4, 1917
Dearest Mother Mine,
I hope by now that you will have had the news. Dearest, I am leaving now because He has willed it. My sorrow tonight is for the trouble I have caused you and dad.
Please excuse any mistakes, but if it were not for the kind support of the Rev. W.C. _____ who is with me tonight, I should not be able to write myself. I should like you to write to him, as he has been my friend.
I am leaving all my effects to you, dearest; will you give my little _____ half the sum you have of mine?
Give dear dad my love and wish him luck. I feel for you so much and I am sorry for bringing dishonour upon you all. Give _____ my love. She will, I expect, understand – and give her back the presents, photos, cards, etc., she has sent me, poor girl.
So now my dearest Mother, I must close. May God bless and protect you all and for evermore. Amen
He was shot at 7.30am 5/1/17 at St Firmin. It is reported that his final words were: “For God’s sake shoot straight.”
It is moving story and I have been moved revisiting it today. Many years ago I followed Dyett’s footsteps as closely as possible from desertion to death. For the full story I recommend Leonard Sellers’ book also called “For God’s sake shoot straight.” by the same name.
Battle of Ancre – 13/14/15th Nov 1916
• 188th Bde. – Howe, Anson, 1st & 2nd RML. 189th Bde. – Hood, Hawke, Drake, Nelso. 190th Bde. – 1st Bat. Hon. Artil. Company, 4th Bedford, 7th R. Fusiliers, 10th Dublin Fusiliers. Nelson part of 63rd Naval Div.
• Start positions – Order 50 stated: two battalions in front line, two following. Hawke on left, Hood on right by river. Nelson rear of Hawke, Drake rear of Hood. To the left 188th Div. Howe next to Hawke. Anson next to Nelson. Nelson formed in 4 waves under and close up to Roberts Trench, left flank on Louvercy Street Trench. Each wave had 4 platoons, one from each company. Left to right: B D C A.
• By 8pm 250 Hoods, 115 Drakes, 15 Nelson, 50 from 188th (Anson) were consolidating Green Line. During night reinforced by 111 Bde. 7.45am on 14th Freyberg led attack on Beaucourt.
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