Compassion in Conflict
On 7th December 2018 a statue was unveiled at the new Maghull North train station to commemorate the site as being that of the old Ashworth Hospital. Formally known as Mosside Hospital, it welcomed the first 20+ soldiers on the 07th December 1915 to treat what was then undiagnosed as shell shock. During the War, 306 soldiers were executed for cowardice and desertion but what the pioneering hospital was to recognise to be a mental health condition - shell shock or as it is known today - PTSD. The boys were finally given a pardon in 2006, as the statue, named ‘Compassion in Conflict’ by a competition amongst local schools carries in its dedication plaques shows a nurse holding up a wounded soldier. Also inscribed onto the base plinth of the statue are the poem 'Dulce et Decorum Est' by Wilfred Owen, A soldier's statement by the poet Siegfried Sassoon and the story of Private Jimmy Smith here below:
Shot at Dawn;
Jimmy Smith of the Liverpool Pals
Having survived the slaughter of Gallipoli and being wounded during the Battle of the Somme Private Jimmy Smith returned to the front as member of the 17th Battalion of the King’s Regiment (The Liverpool Pals). Jimmy was scarred by what he had seen and was suffering from terrible shellshock and started to go absent without leave.
During late August and early September 1917,the Liverpool Pals had endured some of the most vicious fighting of World War I. Predictably, perhaps, Jimmy deserted again. He would have known very well that if he was caught, he might well face the death sentence, but nothing could make him go into battle again.
Just before midnight on the evening of July 30, 1917, he was arrested in the town of Poperinghe. He was charged with desertion and disobedience, and on August 22, he faced court martial. During the trial, Jimmy did not say a word. Disgracefully, he was not even given someone to act in his defence. The three presiding officers found him guilty. Men from Jimmy’s regiment were selected as the firing squad, most of whom knew he was a brave man who was suffering from shellshock, he had been awarded two good conduct medals. Jimmy’s execution was due to take place at dawn on 5th September.
The following morning, the reluctant executioners found him bound to a chair set up next to the wall of a barn. Private Smith was blindfolded and a white disc had been placed over his heart as a target. One of the members of the firing squad was a friend of Jimmy’s. When the order was given to fire Jimmy was not killed, but he was severely wounded. In such circumstances, it is up to the officer in charge of the squad to draw his side-arm and shoot the soldier in the head, However the officer was incapable of firing.
A senior officer ordered one of the men to take the final shot and kill Jimmy. The duty fell to his friends who was ordered to shoot him in the head. His friend never recovered from the trauma and still desperately upset seven decades after the incident, the dying friend told his son what had happened. It was clear, that as he faced his own death, he had never forgiven himself.
Today, Jimmy lies in Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery. His gravestone bears the inscription ‘Gone, but not forgotten’. This memorial pays respect to Jimmy and the other 305 soldiers of the First World War who were shot for cowardice or desertion.
Click here to listen to "Compassion in Conflict, a narrative essay by Rob Wantling about the statue on Soundcloud