The Daily Telegraph of 9 January 2014 carried an article about the Blackadder comedy TV series of 25 years ago, in the wake of recent comments by the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove. “The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What A Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite,” he wrote in the Daily Mail.
In the Telegraph article, Rowan Atkinson, who portrayed the fictional Captain Blackadder, stated “It may sound ridiculous for someone to face a court martial for shooting a pigeon, but madder things happened in reality. Towards the end of the war 30 soldiers were court-martialled and shot in France by our own side for not wearing a hat in the trenches. It is so absurd nobody would ever believe it”.
Well, no one would believe it because it did not happen. The records of courts-martials and executions are intact and have been trawled in recent years during the campaign to have executed men pardoned. Military law is fully documented. It’s all there: you just have to look. I do not know where Atkinson heard this or even if it was from a discarded comedy script, but it is complete nonsense. There are enough myths and smokescreens about the Great War without the need for any more, thank you very much Mr Bean. You have done the men of the Great War a dis-service by your ludicrous statement and an apology would be a good thing. And that does not need a cunning plan, just honesty.
First posted in previous version of this site on 11 January 2014