'Shot at Dawn' Cells and Memorial, Poperinge
A stark reminder of unwanted events of World War One
In many ways, the Cells and Execution Pole where men were executed during WW1 in Poperinge is a sombre and emotional place to visit, but to understand and respect more the history of those tormented times, it has to be visited.
The Cells are situated in the main Town Hall and can be reached by going through a small side gate. There are two cells, both kept bare and in context with what went on there. Each are about 8 feet square and one has a view to the Courtyard where the executions took place.
On the walls you will see some graffiti, but not all go back to those times; but you can soon identify those drawn by the Prisoners by their age and composition.
Whilst you are there, a recording plays every half an hour or so in which information about procedures are given and there's also a dramatic re-inactment of the 'Ceremony'.
The Execution Pole is in the Courtyard and the thing which immediately strikes is that they have built an extension to the Town Hall around it, thus ensuring this reminder will be there forever
Altogether, there were over 300 British Servicemen shot during WW1. It is not known exactly how many were guilty of their crimes, some saying they were simply shot as an example. Without doubt though, some shot for cowardice were suffering from Shell Shock and it wasn't until nearly 100 years later that the British Government completed the pardoning of those concerned - a little late.
There was of course some crime amongst the ranks, but if those crimes warranted death by firing squad, who will ever really know.
It's also interesting to note that these were carried out in the Town Hall, in the middle of the Town where thousands of men would spend some days leave, so they would have been very aware of the events taking place.
Poperinge is a town of many stories, some good, some bad and some extremely ugly, but that's how it was then and by visiting the actual site and getting a feel of the place, will bring you closer to understanding the cruelness of War.
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