Author spotlight - Julian Putkowski and Mark Dunning

Posted on Wednesday 26th September 2012


Military historian, college lecturer and broadcaster Julian Putkowski actively supported the 'Shot at Dawn' war pardons campaign which, in 2006, secured the unconditional pardon of all the soldiers executed by the British Army during the First World War. He also co-authored the book Shot at Dawn, which first identified them. Julian has now teamed up with Mark Dunning, a lawyer with a 20 year long research interest in British Army capital courts martial cases, to produce Murderous Tommies. Murderous Tommies provides a full account of 13 cases who committed homicide in France and Flanders during the First World War.
Below, Mark and Julian discuss the book and the research behind it:

Your new book has now been published, tell us a bit about it, what is it about and how did your interest in this area come about?
The book is entitled Murderous Tommies. It chronicles the courts martial of thirteen British soldiers executed for murder during the First World War', which explores themes such as battle stress, masculinity, indiscipline, punishment and retribution. The book looks at the individual cases of British military personnel who murdered fellow soldiers or (in one case) a civilian in France during the First World War. The initial research was stimulated by our shared interest in the execution of British soldiers under the provisions of the British Army Act: Julian has an established interest in the use of executions to intimidate the British Tommies and the associated 'Shot at Dawn' campaign to secure their posthumous pardons. In addition to his professional career as a lawyer, Mark has devoted a decade (latterly as a post-graduate History student) researching individual cases and critically analysing the written proceedings of wartime and post-war British Army capital courts-martial. Both authors share a common desire to promote better-informed debate about the standards and quality of military-legal proceedings.
How did the idea for the book come about, what prompted you to write it?
We've been friends since 1996 but idea of producing a book emerged, rather like Topsy after 2006, when conditional pardons were granted to men who had been executed for military offences. Mark took the initiative and after time off in which he secured a History MA at York University, we both invested a couple of years' of evening work and long weekends researching and refining our understanding of the case studies and standards of contemporary civil and military jurisprudence. The topic appears a bit dry and unromantically morbid but we reckoned readers would be attracted by intrigue, the air of mystery, and a few provocative observations about military retribution.

How did you go about conducting your research for this project, did you come across anything surprising or unexpected?
Mark did cases; Julian did context. Of course, it wasn't such a simple a process because both of us had to earn our daily crust. Research had to be conducted in what may laughably be regarded as our free time, so there were sometimes weeks and even months when nothing much was advanced. Although some archival research needed to be conducted, we'd both amassed a stock of materials, correspondence and contacts on which we could draw and discuss via e-mail and phone calls. And it was pretty much production by proxy because we didn't actually meet face-to-face until a few days before the final manuscript was despatched to Pen and Sword Books. Surprises? There were a few disinterred from old notebooks and a good many derived from hitherto ill-examined details in the courts-martial proceedings, assorted marginalia as well as notes by the proverbial 'red- tabbed butchers' who confirmed the death sentences. Private correspondence provided by one of the convicted murderer's families and a letter entreating clemency for one of the murderers from a French military governor were most unexpected and certainly challenged notions about a murderer being universally reviled by their victim's comrades or military officers.

What sets your book apart from other accounts in the same subject area?
It explores the deeds and deaths of the damned who were disregarded by the 'Shot at Dawn' campaign and vilified by ill-informed military historians. Unencumbered by the controversies that tended to wither after 2006, Murderous Tommies is the first book to systematically explore and detail the wartime murder cases and draw critical attention to inexcusable breaches of legal due process.

This is not your first military history book, what have you written in the past, tell us about some of your other projects?
Though he's written two substantial academic theses about capital courts martial, this is Mark's first military history book; Julian has spent most of the past 30 years researching, writing and lecturing about military discipline and dissent in the British Army during the First World War. The partnership worked well – unmarred by hissy-fits or ego-flouncing and with mutual regard for our respective strengths and tolerance of one another's weaknesses.
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Mark Dunning.

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Julian Putkowski.

Are you currently working on any new projects?
Yes – our collective interest in military homicide continues but will not mature in the form of a further book on the subject for at least a couple of years.

What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book?
Directly, we hope that they will recognise that the issues we've addressed are still important and that there's always something new to relate. We also seek to draw attention to a critically informed approach to the study of British military-judicial history that advances an alternative to prevailing conservative orthodoxies about murderous Tommies.

Further Reading


Murderous Tommies
(Hardback - 224 pages)
ISBN: 9781848846265

by Julian Putkowski
Only £19.99

Much has been written about the soldiers executed during WW1 for military offences, all of whom were conditionally pardoned in 2006. However, until now very little attention has been paid to the cases of men who were tried under the Army Act and executed for murder.

The British Army has always been reticent about publicising courts martial and eighty years elapsed before the government was compelled to prematurely declassify the written proceedings of First World War capital courts martial. Even then, public attention tended to concentrate…
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