Beaumont Hamel on the Somme on the Western Front, France. The battle from which Rickman supposedly fled.

Albert Rickman was born in Milford-on-Sea and lived with his parents, Charles and Anne Rickman, at 4 Carrington Terrace. On Friday 15 September 1916, at the age of 27, he was executed following a court martial for desertion. Retired army officer and local resident John Cockram investigates the circumstances surrounding his death.

In August 1914 he was amongst the first in Milford to respond to Kitchener’s call and joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers (RDF). Serving in 7th Battalion, he took part in the Gallipoli campaign – landing there on 9 September 1915 – was wounded, evacuated back to England, and on recovery posted to the 1st Battalion.

1st RDF was part of 86th Brigade, 29th Division, VIII Corps. Arriving in France in April 1916, Albert took part in the attack on Beaumont Hamel on 1 July. The battalion lost 305 men in a few minutes. Albert disappeared that evening. He was found 18 days later in Abbeville.

At a Field General Court Martial held on 7 September, Albert was charged with ‘deserting his Majesty’s service’. The following information is taken from the summary of evidence compiled by the President of the Court.

Allegations
The prosecutor’s case was brutally simple. Albert’s section commander had seen him at five o’clock on 1 July, but Albert did not answer to his name at the evening roll call an hour later.  The second witness described how he had found Albert beneath a hut in Abbeville camp at 9.30am on 20 July.

Statement from the third witness

The third witness, part of the camp guard, recorded:

I asked him to what regiment he belongs?  And he replied ‘No. 11 Platon Hants Regiment.’  I asked him his name and number, he answered that his name was Andrews, but I cannot remember now what number he gave me.  I asked him for his pay book, but he said he had not got one.  The accused told me that he had come in a motor lorry from a place which sounded like Lavincourt in order to see a friend.  I reported all this to the Camp Adjt. 

The last witness confirmed that Albert had no equipment with him. On oath, Albert stated:

On 1 July I attacked with the remainder of my company, and returned to our front line trenches when the order was given. I remained on duty in the trenches the whole of that day. At some time of the night of 1st/2nd I felt ill, probably owing to a shell having burst very near me during the day. 

I was lying in the trench when two men led me away down the communication trench. I think these men belonged to the Middlesex Regiment, but am not prepared to swear to that. These men put me in an ambulance motor, which took me to a hospital tent, where I remained for two days. From there I was taken to a hospital where I remained about a week. I am unable to say where the above-mentioned tent or hospital were. At the hospital I was only given milk. After about a week I was given some papers, which I have lost, and told to rejoin my regiment. I was also given a pair of breeches and socks, shirt and a pair of boots. 

On leaving the hospital I felt hungry and bought some cakes, which made me ill. I rested for some time and then walked on until I met a motor lorry, in which I got a lift. This lorry stopped just outside a town. I got out and walked to the town, which I found to be Abbeville. 

I was frightened after being absent from my regiment and therefore stayed at Abbeville. I must have been there for at least a week and got my food at the YMCA. I slept anywhere. One night the ground was wet so I crawled under a hut to sleep. I was found there by the guards. I gave a wrong name and regiment as I was frightened, for I knew I ought to have been with my regiment.’

Character witness
The court then deliberated and found Albert guilty. After the finding, witnesses were called to give evidence of character. Captain Ridley, Assistant Adjutant to 1st RDF, produced Albert’s clean conduct sheet and stated: ‘The accused joined this battalion (in) April 1916. All the company officers of the accused were killed or wounded on 1 July 1916.’

Following all statements, the court passed sentence that the death penalty should be imposed.  A day later Brigadier Williams, commander of 88th Brigade, wrote:

Brigadier Williams’ recommendation

Sentence of Death passed on No 12923

Pte A. RICKMAN 1/R Dublin Fusiliers.

1. I recommend that the Sentence be carried out.  My reasons are that there is nothing to convince me that the crime was not deliberately carried out.  I am of opinion that with this Battn a strong and relentless discipline is necessary to maintain its fighting value.

2. The information called for by Circular Memo of Courts Martial Part VII 2(b) is as follows:-

(1) A Certificate as to Character from O.C. 1/R. Dub Fus is attached.

In France the soldier has served in the trenches since April last; he also served in Gallipoli.

(2) The discipline of the Battn is good.

(3) The O.C. 1/R. Dub Fus considers that the crime was not deliberately committed.  The man has the reputation of being a good fighting soldier.

WJ Williams Brig Genl

Comdg 86th Inf Bde

Death penalty
The sentence was confirmed, successively, by Major-General H de B de Lisle, commanding 29th Division, Lieutenant-General Sir A G Hunter-Weston, commanding VIII Corps, and General Sir H C O Plumer, commanding 2nd Army. On 12 September, the Commander in Chief, General Sir Douglas Haig, made final confirmation of the sentence.

Albert was executed at 6.10am on 15 September 1916. He was buried at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery in Grave IV D7.

The people of Milford-on-Sea, who knew and understood Albert, had no hesitation in including his name with the others who died in the war. He is therefore included on the memorials in both the parish church and the Memorial Hospital and his name is properly included, amongst the names of the fallen, read out in All Saints on Armistice Sunday.

Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, where Albert Rickman is buried.

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