Shot at Dawn: Chloe Dewe Mathews
8 November 2014 – 25 January 2015
Mathews' photographs capture the sites where British, French and Belgian troops were executed for military crimes between 1914 and 1918.
During the First World War 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers were put to death by execution for crimes such as desertion and cowardice. Six hundred French officers met a similar fate. Senior officials thought that, if these crimes weren't punished harshly, it may encourage other officers to abandon their posts and would jeopardise the stability of the army. The sentence was shooting by a 12 man firing squad.
Today these deaths are highly controversial. Contemporary thought recognises that many of these men were likely to be suffering from psychiatric illnesses brought on by the horrors of trench warfare – such as shell shock – making it unsurprising that they felt unable to return to service.
For this project Mathews visited 23 locations where soldiers were shot or held in the period leading up to their execution, taking pictures as close as possible to the precise anniversary at which their deaths occurred. While she is quite possibly the only photographer ever to have recorded the sites of military executions in such a systematic fashion, her portraits are also an important lesson in compassion.