Feature Articles - William Stones - Executed at Dawn
William Joseph Stones was a coal miner who at 23, had enlisted as a volunteer in Crook, near Bishop Auckland in County Durham on 9th March 1915.
Earlier in the War, Stones would have been rejected for his lack of physical stature, but rising casualty lists and the insatiable demand for reinforcements caused the army to relax standards and accept under-aged and men of small stature into bantam regiments.
Stones was 5'2", weighed 128 lbs and had a 35inch chest. He was a married man, with two daughters.
Stones was an exemplary soldier during his nine months of service at home and after the 19 Durham Light Infantry were drafted overseas at the end of January 1916. His record and conduct during six gruelling months of trench warfare in Northern France was recognised in his promotion to Corporal and then after to Lance Sergeant.
Stones, his colleagues in the 19DLI, and all the men in the 35th Division suffered a mauling in July and August on the Somme, and the onset of winter imposed further stress on the survivors.
On the night of 25-26 November 1916, the 19DLI and two other battalions, were holding a section of the Front Line which had been broken up by explosions. It was notoriously insecure and was often raided by parties of either side in order to gather intelligence.
On this night, Stones and Lieutenant Mundy were detailed to raid in the vicinity of the "King's Crater" a huge depression caused by an underground detonation. They were ambushed and Mundy hit by revolver fire, subsequently dying. Stones ran for his life, and was later found, unarmed, by the Battle Police in "a pitiable state of terror".
He was tried by court martial, found guilty of "casting away arms in the presence of the enemy" and executed.
Commentary by Peter Drake
I have written a play (The Prisoner's Friend) based on the events leading up to the death of Stones.
Some of it is drawn from the recorded events of the time - the transcript of his court martial, which makes for grim reading. Only the replies to the interrogators questions are recorded, but it seems clear that the whole proceedings could not have lasted for more than an hour, after which a man was sentenced to death.
It should be noted that the was no possibility of a man being allowed to speak for himself if he wasn't an officer - a "Prisoner's Friend" could speak, if one could be found.
I would be delighted to make contact with any person or organisation interested in this play. My email address is email@example.com.
Biography Reference: Julian Putkowski, King's College.
The USA suffered 57,476 fatal army casualties during the war.
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