NZ Executed WWI

While just over 300 British soldiers were executed for capital offences during the First World War, 5 New Zealand soldiers were executed: four for desertion and one for mutiny.


The service papers for New Zealand soldiers can be view at Archives New Zealand.

A book which includes the cases of these executed soldiers is “Shot at Dawn” by Julian Putkowski and Julian Sykes, Leo Cooper Pen and Sword Books Ltd, ISBN: 0-85052-295-1.

24/1521Braithwaite JPteMutiny29/10/1916
24/2008Hughes FPteDesertion25/08/1916
6/1598King JPteDesertion19/08/1917
8/2733Spencer VMPteDesertion24/02/1918
8/1384Sweeney JJPteDesertion02/10/1916
New Zealand soldiers executed during the First World War.

All the service papers for these five soldiers include a note, dated 2005, that states “Medals issued to the family”.


Field Punishment was introduced in 1881 following the abolition of flogging. It was a common punishment during World War I. A commanding officer could award field punishment for up to 28 days, while a court martial could award it for up to 90 days, either as Field Punishment Number One or Field Punishment Number Two.

Field Punishment Number One (FP1) consisted of the convicted man being placed in fetters and handcuffs or similar restraints and attached to a fixed object, such as a gun wheel or a fence post, for up to two hours per day.

In Field Punishment Number Two (FP2), the prisoner was placed in fetters and handcuffs but was not attached to a fixed object and was still able to march with his unit.


Jack Braithwaite was born on 3 January 1882 in Dunedin.

On 29 May 1915, Braithwaite enlisted at Trentham into the New Zealand Army. Braithwaite’s nominated next-of-kin was his mother at Hepburn Street, Ponsonby, Auckland.

HEIGHT5 feet 8 inches
CHEST35 inches
RELIGIONChurch of England
Statistics from Enlistment Papers (Archives New Zealand).

On 8 February 1916, Braithwaite embarked on the “Tahiti” for the voyage to Suez. A month later, Braithwaite was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, the Otago Regiment.

On 1 April 1914, as well as being promoted Lance-Corporal, Braithwaite was admitted to No. 1 NZ Hospital, Moascar (Egypt) with measles. He was discharged back to his unit on 5 April 1916.

On 9 April 1916, at Alexandria, Braithwaite embarked on the “Llandovery Castle” for the journey to France.

On the 3 May 1916, after a spell of absent without leave, Lance-Corporal Braithwaite was reduced in rank to Private and forfeited two days pay.

13/06/19161) Absent from 30/05/16 till 31/05/1916.
2) Stated falsehood to an officer.
3) In possession of a document purporting to be genuine pass.
Total of 60 days FP2 & Forfeit 60 days pay
07/07/1916Absent when in confinement2 years hard labour (concurrent with 19/07/1916)
19/07/1916Escaping confinement2 years hard labour (concurrent with 07/07/1916)
Conduct entries for Jack Braithwaite (Archives New Zealand).

On 28 August 1916, while lodged in Blargies North Prison, Braithwaite was a member of a party, with some Australian prisoners, under the command of Provost Staff Sergeant F. E. Shearing, working outside the prison compound.

One member of the working party, Private Little, had been insubordinate and Shearing was ordered to confine him. Shearing stated that when he and the prisoner reached the compound gate, Private Little refused to go through the gate and made a great deal of noise. At this moment, the rest of the section rushed over including the four accused. Braithwaite then took Little into his tent and the other three had been part of a mob that overpowered Shearing.

On 11 October 1916, Braithwaite and three Australians were tried by Field General Courts Martial (FGCM) with

At Blargies, near Abancourt, on 28 August 1916, joining in a mutiny in forces to which the Army Act is applied, as if they were regular forces.

Braithwaite’s service papers (Archives New Zealand).

All the prisoners were found guilty and sentenced to death by shooting. The three Australians had their death sentences commuted.

At 6am on 29 October 1916, at Rouen, Braithwaite was executed. His remains are buried in St. Sever Cemetery Extension, Block O, Plot I, Row K, Grave 10.


Frank Hughes was born on 11 June 1888, in Grafton, Auckland.

On 15 November 1915, at Trentham, Frank Hughes enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade. His nominated next-of-kin was his mother Mrs. M. A. Hughes, 8 Peter Street, Wellington.

HEIGHT5 feet 4 inches
CHEST38 inches
RELIGIONRoman Catholic
Statistics from Enlistment Papers (Archives New Zealand).

Hughes arrived at Suez on 10 April 1916.

Hughes board the ship “Kinfauns Castle”, at Port Said, on 13/04/1916 for the journey to France.

On 26 May 1916, Hughes was transferred to the 2nd Canterbury Battalion.

01/06/1916Absent from 3.30pm parade after being warmed for sameForfeit 7 days pay
04/06/19161) Gross neglect of duty on 01/06/1916.
2) Drunk & unfit for duty.
3) Causing a disturbance after “Lights Out” on 01/06/1916
4) Being absent from his Billet from 6am until 3.30pm 02/06/1916
28 days FP2 & forfeit 28 days pay
27/07/1916Absent from 6.30pm to 9pm1 year hard labour (suspended)
Conduct entries for Frank Hughes (Archives New Zealand).

On 12 August 1916, Hughes was tried by Field General Courts Martial (FGCM) on the following charge.

When on active service deserting His Majesty’s Service, in that he in the field, between 3.30pm and 9.30am on 29 July 1916 did absent himself without leave from his unit in the front line trenches and was about until apprehended by the Military Police at 6am on 9 August 1916.

Frank Hughes service papers (Archives New Zealand).

The three officers who were trying Hughes all serving in Hughes’ battalion at the time of the trial.

Hughes was found guilty and sentenced to death by shooting.

At 5.30am on 20 August 1916, Hughes was executed by firing squad at the small village of Hallencourt.

Hughes’ remains are buried in Hallencourt Communal Cemetery, south side, near south-west corner.


John King was born on 18 June 1895 in Victoria, Australia. King’s Attestation Sheet has been signed with a “X”, which could indicate that King was illiterate. King’s nominated next-of-kin was his sister Mrs. Maud Humphries, Randrick, New South Wales.

King enlisted at Trentham on 20 December 1914.

HEIGHT5 feet 6 inches
CHEST33 inches
RELIGIONChurch of England
Statistics from Enlistment Papers (Archives New Zealand).

On 9 May 1915, King joined the 2nd Battalion, Canterbury Infantry Regiment at Gallipoli.

On 2 August 1915, King was then admitted to a field hospital with a crushed finger. While being treated for his finger, King was transferred to a Cairo hospital with haemorrhoids. He was finally discharged from hospital on 15 November 1915.

On 10 July 1916, King embarked at Alexandria for the journey to Marseilles.

On 21 July 1916, King was admitted to No. 24 General Hospital with dysentery. King was discharged to the Base Depot on 17 September 1916.

12/10/1916Absent from 6pm 07/10/1916 to 11am 10/10/191628 days FP2 & forfeit 28 days pay
01/11/1916Absent from 9.45am until arrested at 10.20am 29/10/1916 outside billet area28 days FP2
16/01/1917Absent 10am 23/11/1915 to 9am 31/12/19163 months FP2 & forfeit 9 days pay
Conduct entries for John King (Archives New Zealand).

At 9pm 30 May 1917, King was found missing. This time a Court of Inquiry named King as a deserter. At the inquiry, Sergeant Thompson of King’s Company had testified that he had ordered searches made for King and had passed King’s description to the military police.

The second witness, Corporal Smart, stated

I am in the same platoon as Private King and he was absent from roundabout 9pm on 30 May 1917. About two weeks later, I met two men who said they had seen King in Steenwerck. About a week later Private Wells of our company told me he had seen King near Nieppe. I reported the facts to Mr. Barton, and a search party was sent to look for King. King is an Australian and associates with Australian troops a great deal.

Corporal J.A. Smart, John King’s service papers (Archives New Zealand).

Another witness, Private G. Boswell stated

I knew Private King well by sight and about 8.15pm on 4 June 1917, I saw King entering the Church Army hut. I spoke to him, but as I was in a hurry I did not say much to him. He said he was well, and having a good time. He was wearing a steel helmet and his ordinary New Zealand uniform. I did not notice and badges, he was with Australians.

Private G. Boswell, John King’s service papers (Archives New Zealand).

The court of Inquiry reached the decision that Private King was a deserter.

King was finally arrested by the New Zealand Military Police at 10pm on 23 July 1917. King testified that, during his absences, he had been drinking all the time.

The Field General Court Martial found King guilty of desertion and he was sentenced to death by shooting.

At 5.30am on 19 August 1917, King was executed by a firing squad drawn from his own battalion. King’s remains are in Trois Arbres (Three Trees) Cemetery, Steenwerck, Plot I, Row Z, Grave 23.


Victor Manson Spencer was born on 1 November 1891 at Otautau.

Spencer had previous service with the 8th (South Canterbury) Mounted Rifles. On 18 April 1915, Spencer enlisted, at Trentham.

HEIGHT5 feet 4 inches
CHEST36 inches
RELIGIONChurch of England
Statistics from Enlistment Papers (Archives New Zealand).

On 1 October, at Sofri Camp on the Island of Mudros, Spencer was posted to the 14th Company.

On 27 December 1915, Spencer sailed on the ship “Huntsgreen” to Alexandria. Then on 6 April 1916, Spencer left Alexandria for France.

After arriving in France, Spencer’s conduct sheet begins to show various periods of absence.

06/06/19161) Failing to answer defaulters’ roll call.
2) Absent from parade roll call.
7 days FP2 & forfeit 21 days pay
26/08/1916Absent 29/07/1916 to 12/08/191618 months hard labour & forfeit 15 days pay
Conduct entries for Victor Manson Spencer (Archives New Zealand).

However, on 10 July 1916, Spencer was wounded in the fighting and spent sometime in hospital before re-joining his unit on 29 July 1916. On the day Spencer was discharged from hospital and re-joined his unit, he went absent again.

On 19 June 1917, Spencer was released from custody and re-joined his unit; the rest of his 18 month term was suspended.

On 3 January 1918, Spencer was returned to prison to resume his sentence after being absent from 13 August 1917 to 2 January 1918.

While Spencer was in a military prison, a Court of Inquiry decided that Spencer’s was the much more serious crime of desertion.

Spencer was tried by a Field General Court Martial (FGCM) with

When on active service, deserting His Majesty’s Service, in that he, in the field on 13 August 1917 absented himself from his battalion and remained absent until apprehended by the military police on 2 January 1918.

FGCM charge from Spencer’s service papers (Archives New Zealand).

Spencer was found guilty and sentence to suffer death by shooting. The sentence was confirmed by Field-Marshall Haig, and at 6.40am on 24 February 1918, Spencer was executed by firing squad.

Spencer’s remains now rest in The Huts Cemetery, Belgium, Plot XV, Row B, Grave 10.


John Joseph Sweeney was born on 2 April 1879 in Tasmania, Australia.

On 21 October 1914, Sweeney enlisted in the New Zealand Army. His nominated next-of-kin was his father Bernard Sweeney, Rheims, Tamarama Street, Bondi, Sydney, New South Wales.

HEIGHT5 feet 10 inches
CHEST35 inches
RELIGIONRoman Catholic
Statistics from Enlistment Papers (Archives New Zealand).

On 9 May 1915, Sweeney and his unit, 1st Battalion Otago Regiment, arrived at Cape Helles.

On 30 August 1915, Sweeny was admitted to No. 2 General Hospital, at Cairo, with colitis. On 10 September 1915, Sweeney was discharged from hospital and assigned to light duties.

At Alexandria, on 19 October 1915, on board the ship “Franconia”, Sweeny sailed for Dardanelles, where he re-joined his unit. However, two days later, Sweeney was admitted to a hospital on the Greek island of Lemnos.

On 11 November 1915, Sweeney was added to the strength of the ANZAC Advance Base. On 6 December 1915, Sweeney left Lemnos for Alexandria and re-joined his unit.

On 15 September 1916, Sweeney was tried by a Field General Courts Martial with

When on active service deserting His Majesty’s Service in that he, in the field, on 25 July 1916 absented himself from his unit without leave until appended on 3 September 1916.

FGCM charge from Sweeney’s service papers (Archive New Zealand).

Sweeney was found guilty and sentence to death by shooting. On 29 September 1916, the sentence was confirmed. At 5.44am on 2 October 1916 Sweeney was executed by firing squad.

Sweeney’s remains are located in Dartmoor Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, France, Plot II, Row B, Grave 1.