Thomas Highgate
Private Thomas James Highgate (13 May 1895 - 8 September 1914) was a British
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

A soldier is a member of the land component of national armed forces; whereas a soldier hired for service in a foreign army would be termed a mercenary...

 during the early days of the First World War, and the first British soldier to be convicted of desertion
In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a "duty" or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning...

 and executed
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 during that war. Posthumous pardon
Clemency means the forgiveness of a crime or the cancellation of the penalty associated with it. It is a general concept that encompasses several related procedures: pardoning, commutation, remission and reprieves...

s for over 300 such soldiers were announced in August 2006, including Highgate.


Born the only son of a farm labourer at Oxbourne Farm in the Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

 village of Shoreham
Shoreham, Kent
Shoreham is a village and civil parish in the valley of the River Darent six miles north of Sevenoaks in Kent: it is in the District of Sevenoaks. The parish includes the settlements of Badgers Mount and Well Hill....

, Highgate was himself a farm labourer before joining the 1st Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment on 4 February 1913, aged 17 years and nine months. Before mobilisation, his battalion was based in Dublin's Richmond Barracks. The regiment saw action at the Battle of Mons
Battle of Mons
The Battle of Mons was the first major action of the British Expeditionary Force in the First World War. It was a subsidiary action of the Battle of the Frontiers, in which the Allies clashed with Germany on the French borders. At Mons, the British army attempted to hold the line of the...


Trial and execution

His alleged offence, trial by court martial (convened at Chateau Combreaux, near Tournan-en-Brie
Tournan-en-Brie, or simply Tournan, is a commune in the Seine-et-Marne department in the Île-de-France region in north-central France. It is located in the Paris metropolitan area.-Transportation:Tournan is the terminus...

 in northern France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

) and confirmation of death sentence all took place on 6 September 1914. Highgate was undefended and called no witnesses in his defence as all his comrades had been shot and killed, but claimed that he was a 'straggler' trying to find his way back to rejoin his regiment having got separated from his comrades.

Highgate's execution was almost as hasty as his trial, as senior officers insisted that he be executed "At once, as publicly as possible." Highgate was informed of his fate at 6.22am on 8 September in the presence of a Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 clergyman. An officer then ordered a burial party and a firing squad
Execution by firing squad
Execution by firing squad, sometimes called fusillading , is a method of capital punishment, particularly common in the military and in times of war.Execution by shooting is a fairly old practice...

 to prepare, and Highgate was shot, aged 19, at 7.07am in front of men from the First Battalion Dorset Regiment
Dorset Regiment
The Dorset Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army from 1881 to 1958, the county regiment of Dorset. Until 1951 it was formally called The Dorsetshire Regiment, although usually known as "The Dorsets".-History:...

 and First Battalion Cheshire Regiment
Cheshire Regiment
The Cheshire Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Prince of Wales' Division.The regiment was created in 1881 as part of the Childers reforms by the linking of the 22nd Regiment of Foot and the militia and rifle volunteers of Cheshire...

. News of his fate was also distributed to the remainder of the British Expeditionary Force via Army Routine Orders.


No grave is known for Private Highgate, though his name is shown on the British military memorial at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre
La Ferté-sous-Jouarre
La Ferté-sous-Jouarre is a commune in the Seine-et-Marne département in the Île-de-France region in north-central France.It is located at a crossing point over the River Marne between Meaux and Château-Thierry.-History:...

, Seine-et-Marne
Seine-et-Marne is a French department, named after the Seine and Marne rivers, and located in the Île-de-France region.- History:Seine-et-Marne is one of the original 83 departments, created on March 4, 1790 during the French Revolution in application of the law of December 22, 1789...


In 2000, Shoreham Parish Council voted not to include his name on its war memorial. However, after a posthumous pardon, it was considered that his name might be added. The mass pardon of 306 British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 soldiers executed for certain offences during the Great War was enacted in section 359 of the Armed Forces Act 2006
Armed Forces Act 2006
The Armed Forces Act 2006 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.It came into force on 31 October 2009. It replaces the three separate Service Discipline Acts as the system of military law under which the British Armed Forces operate...

, which came into effect on royal assent on 8 November 2006.
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