April 11, 2006
We should not pass judgment
Sir, Trevor Harvey (letter, Apr 7) is right to infer that we should not attempt to pass judgment on events in our distant past, such as the execution of Harry Farr. Already the case has taken up valuable judicial resources, as indeed have other recent reviews of long ago cases such as those of Derek Bentley, Ruth Ellis and James Hanratty. In all of these cases judicial proceedings only came about because the deceased had living relatives. We should not expend public resources on cases which turn on that happenstance.
Debating whether the likes of Private Farr suffered shell-shock is a matter of interest for medical historians, but we should hesitate before proposing to pass judgment on events as far removed as the Great War. It is fashionable to dismiss the generals of the day as “donkeys” and to rail against the supposed brutality of shooting for deserters. But it should also be recalled that of all the armies involved in the war from the outset, only the British did not suffer a collapse of morale at any point, as well, of course, as emerging victorious.