Edwin L. A. Dyett

Edwin Dyett was born in 1895 at Cardiff, his father would later become Chief Naval Transport Officer at Liverpool Naval Base. He was enrolled in the Royal Naval Division on 24th June '15 and given the rank of Temp. Sub-Lieutenant. Edwin spent the next few months in training with the reserve battalions before being drafted to Nelson in February the following year. Later that month he disembarked at Mudros and was attached to the Depot on the island. In April Edwin was appointed to Second-in-Command of "D" company and transferred back to the Battalion from the Depot. The following month the Nelson Battalion was transferred to France aboard HMT Ionian and would undergo an initial period of training before moving into the trenches at Bully Grenay and then on to the Somme.

On November 15th Brigadier-General Phillips returned to Englebelmer following the Royal Naval Division's action on the Ancre and he sent for Sub-Lieutenant Dyett to question him regarding his whereabouts during the battle. Unsatisfied by his answers Brigadier-General Phillips ordered Dyett's arrest.
Royal Naval Division .info Edwin L. A. Dyett
On December 19th Lt-Commander Nelson signed a court martial charge sheet
First Charge AAs. 12[I][a]   The accused, Temporary Sub-Lieutenant Edwin Leopold Arthur Dyett RNVR, an officer of the Nelson Battalion, 63rd Division, is charged when on active service deserting His Majesty's Service

         in that he

in the field on the 13th November 1916, when it was his duty to join his battalion, which was engaged in operations against the Enemy, did not do so, and remained absent from his battalion until placed under arrest at Englebelmer on 15th November 1916.
Alternative Charge AA.S.40. Conduct to the prejudice of good order and Military discipline

         in that he

in the field on the 13th November 1916 did not go up to the front line when it was his duty to do so.

The trial date was set for the 26th. The prosecution was led by Sub-Lieutenant Herbert Slade Strickland, with Sub-Lieutenant Cecil Cameron Trevanion defending. Members of the court martial included Major L. W. Miller, 2nd RMLI, and Acting Lieutenant-Colonel J. S. Collings-Wells, 4th Bedfordshire Fusiliers. The prosecution's case was built from the witness testimonies of:
Lt-Commander NelsonNelson Brigadier-General Phillips  189th Bde GOC
Lieutenant Truscott" Captain Bare  189th Bde Staff
Sub-Lieutenant Gardner" Sub-Lieutenant Herring  Drake
Lieutenant Dangerfield" Acting PO Aimes

From the witness statements it was established that, along with Lieutenant Truscott, Dyett was ordered by Lt-Commander Nelson to Brigade Headquarters. The Lt-Commander's opinion of Dyett was that he was a poor officer, having little authority, and added that he had only sent him as there was nobody else available. At Brigade HQ the two officers were ordered by Brigadier-General Phillips to join the battalion at the Green Line.

At the railway station they met Sub-Lieutenant Herring with a number of men. Herring ordered Truscott and Dyett to take the men to the front line. Truscott gathered the men up and went forward. Dyett was seen in a heated discussion with Herring. It appears Dyett resented the order and, rather than moving forward, he said he was returning to Hamel for orders. On returning to Hamel himself, Herring reported the incident to a Staff Captain.

It is not clear from the records when Dyett returned to Englebelmer, whether it was on the 14th or 15th, but at no point did he return to Brigade HQ nor was he seen in the fighting line. During the prosecution the most damning statement was probably that of PO Aimes stating that Dyett 'looked as if he wanted to get out of it'. This was underlined in red in the court records.

Attention now switched to Dyett's defence as the President of the Court, Brigadier-General Metcalfe, asked "Do you apply to give evidence yourself as witness?"
          "Do you intend to call any other witness in your defence?"
          "Have you anything to say in your defence?"
          "I do not wish to say anything at all."

In summing up the prosecution's case Sub-Lieutenant Strickland stated that even if Dyett had not received any definite orders, on arriving at Beaucourt station the circumstances dictated that it was his duty to join his battalion.

In response for the defence Sub-Lieutenant Trevanion highlighted how Edwin was unsuitable for command in the trenches having made four applications for sea service. It was stated how due to his nerves he had begged for base service. On the 13th he had lost his way in the darkness when returning to Hamel and had spent the night in a dugout. When he reported back to Englebelmer he was asked if he wished to go to Headquarters, he had declined saying he would wait for the return of the battalion.

In his summing up the Judge Advocate highlighted that Dyett had been absent over the 14th.

Edwin was found guilty of the first charge but not guilty of the alternative. The court sentenced Edwin to suffer death by being shot with the recommendation of mercy on account of Edwin's age and inexperience as well as the general confusion on the battlefield.

Royal Naval Division .info Edwin Dyett's death Warrant
Major-General Shute recommended mercy whilst General Gough recommended the sentence be carried out. On January 2nd Field Marshall Haig confirmed the sentence and two days later Edwin learnt that he would be shot at dawn. Aged 21, Edwin was excuted by men of his own battalion 5th January 1917.
An eye witness account to the execution from the John Bull newspaper 23rd February 1918

Can you picture that final scene? The prisoner tied to a stake; there was no need - he faced death fearlessly, but the cords cut him and he protested - his eyes bandaged, his identification disc suspended just over his left breast. The firing party, half-hidden in a trench. No time is wasted. And yet there comes the cry: 'For God's sake put me out of my misery - this suspense is killing me'. And, as the rifles make their first click, 'Well, boys, good-bye! For God's sake, shoot straight.' And this from one who stood there and saw it all: 'He was no coward; he behaved like a pukka white man'. And this from the lad himself, in that dread hour: 'Yes I can face this, but I couldn't face the Boche.'

Temporary Sub-Lieutenant Dyett is interred at Le Crotoy Communal Cemetery.
Royal Naval Division .info The Grave of Edwin L. A. Dyett


Eleven personnel of the Royal Naval Division were sentenced to death during the course of the war, Edwin's was the only sentence not to be commuted. Those to have the death sentence commuted:
A.B. Harry DavidsonZ/4748Hawke     Private John Chemmings18716Chatham
A.B. George MilliganZ/5986Hood Private John T. Greenhalgh18399Plymouth
A.B. William P. ReillyZ/5250Nelson Private Ernest G. Keeble1219(S)Portsmouth
A.B. John C. RickettsZ/1625Drake Private Harry Tuke1456(S)Chatham
A.B. Charles RogersZ/7075Nelson
A.B. Archibald RoseZ/4447Hawke

There are questions surrounding the procedure of this court martial. These concerns are beyond the scope of this website and I would highly recommend Leonard Sellers' book Death for Desertion and R.N.D. Journal issue no. 12.

There were also a number of points made outside of the court martial, these include:
Edwin wrote that he met up with a group of returning A Company men and they sheltered the night in a dugout. He made no mention of why he left the company of these men.
On the 13th Sub-Lieutenant Bentham was seriously wounded along with a number of his men and, whilst waiting for stretcher bearers, they sought shelter in a crater. Edwin stumbled across them on the morning of the 14th and asked for directions to the front line. Having received an answer he left, never reporting the position of the wounded men.

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