Warrant Officer Napoleon Barre – trial for desertion

Warrant Officer Napoléon Barre was one of the few Canadians who was accused of desertion and sentenced to be shot by a firing squad during World War One. What saved him was that he enlisted one month before his 18th birthday

You can find his small biography by clicking here

Here a transcript of his trial for desertion and the letters following the trial

Orders of operation for the 4th Canadian battalion the day Private Napoleon Barre was accused

4th Canadian Infantry Battalion

Operation order No 68

September 11th 1917

Move : The 4th Canadian Battalion will relieve the 1st Canadian Battalion in the front line, left sub sections on the night of Sept 11th/12th.

Disposition :

Right front line  – “C” Co’y          Left front line – “A” Co’y

Support – “B” Co’y                         Reserve – “D” Co’y

Time : The head on the leading company will clear FOSSE 10 by 6:45 a.m. and remaining companies will follow at 10 minutes intervals. No platoons will come into view beyond FOSSE 11 until it is sufficiently dark.

Trials details

Date of the trial : September 29th, 1917

President of the tribunal : Major Douglas Herbert Campbell Mason, D.S.O. 3rd battalion

Members of the tribunal : Capitaine Donald Stanley Montgomery 29th battalion

Lieutenant William Alexander McMaster

Lieutenant R Coke Scots Guards

Witness :  Sergeant Henry Matthews # 21955

Sergeant William Edward Goodyear # 10907

Company Quarter-Master Harry George Crawford # 23229

Private John William Drysdale Black # 142072

Private Wesley Lowe Pierson # 803203


The accused No 814027, Pte. N. Barre, 4th Canadian Battalion, a soldier of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces is charged with :


Section 12 (1a) A.A. Desertion

When on active service deserting his Majesty’s active service,

in that, at FOSSE 10, on Sept. 11th 1917, when orders to proceed to the front line trenches, absented himself without leave and remained absent until he reported to Q.M Sgt. H.G. Crawford at FOSSE 10 about 11.00 a.m. on the morning of the 14th Sept. 1917.


Section 8 (2) A.A. Using insubordinate language to his superior officer

When on active service, using insubordinate language to his superior officer,

in that, at FOSSE 10, on Sept. 14th 1917, when personally order by Q.M Sgt. H.G. Crawford, 4th Canadian battalion, to prepare to go into front line that night refused, saying «even if I am absent two or three days more it won’t make any difference in my crime» or words to that effect.


Section 40 A.A. Conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline

When on active service, to the prejudice of good order and military discipline in that, at FOSSE 10, on Sept 14th 1917 when personally ordered by Q.M Sgt. H.G. Crawford, 4th battalion, to prepare to go into the front line that night, refused, saying «even if I am absent two or three days more it won’t make any difference in my crime» or words to that effect.


Lt J.G. Roberston 4th Canadian battalion

Appears as friend of the accused

1st witness No 219555 Sergeant H Matthews 4th Canadian Battalion sworn states :

On 11th September 1917 I was a Platoon sergeant on no 10 Platoon 4th Canadian Battalion. The accused is a member on the no 10 Platoon. Between 10 am and 11 am on the date stated, C company, 4th Canadian battalion fell in at Fosse 10 for inspection. No 10 platoon is in C company. No 10 Platoon was warned at the time and date stated by the Platoon officer not to go far away, as the Platoon was going up the trenches that night. I heard the officer give this warning. The accused was present when this warning was given. I saw him there. The officer who gave the warning is sick. Before the warning was given I called roll of no 10 Platoon and the accused answered his name.

About 6 pm on the same date I heard the section commander on no 10 Platoon call the roll, I heard the accused’s name, the accused was absent. No 10 Platoon marched off the trenches at 7 pm on the date stated.

Cross examined

By the court ;

The officer when he warned the platoon did not mention the time of the parade, but said it would be sometimes that night.

2nd witness No 10907 Sergeant W.E. Goodyear 4th Canadian Battalion sworn states :

On the 11th September 1917, I was the section commander of the Platoon (cross out in the text) section No 10 Platoon to which the accused belong. About 8:20 (cross out in the text) when the platoon paraded in the morning of the date stated I heard the company officer warned the whole company including No 10 Platoon, that the company would be moving up to the trenches and everybody must stay in or around the billets.

At about 6 pm of the date stated, I called the role of No 5 section and I found that the accused was absent. I reported this to the Sergt Matthews. The company were ordered to parade at 6 pm, this order was given out early in the afternoon. I next saw the accused about 2 pm on September 24th in the orderly room.

Between 6 pm on 11th September and 2 pm on 24th September, the accused did not do any duty with No 5 section.

Cross examined

By the court ;

I saw the accused present on parade when the warning was given.

3rd witness No 23229 C.Q.M. Sergeant Crawford 4th Canadian Battalion sworn states ;

On the 14th September 1917, I was C.Q.M.S. of the accused’s company. The accused reported to me at 11 am on the date stated at the transport Lines at St……. in Gobelles. I ordered the accused to come with me and get his equipment and to stay at the company kitchen, until the rations came up. At 5:30 pm when the rations came up I ordered the accused to get his equipment and go up the lines with the rations. The accused refused to obey my orders and said “ I am not going up the lines as few more days of absence will not make any difference in my sentence either way” or words to that effect.

I then placed the accused under arrest

Cross examined

By the court ;

The accused spoke to me in English

4th witness No 142072 Private J. W. Black 4th Canadian Battalion sworn states ;

On 14th September I was assisting C.Q.M.S. Crawford. About 5:30 pm on the day stated I saw the accused, he was talking to C.Q.M.S. Crawford to whom I heard his say that he was not going up the line. I did not hear anything more

5th witness No 803203 Private W.L. Pierson 4th Canadian Battalion sworn states ;

I am in the same section as the accused. I saw the accused present when my Platoon headed on the ……….. of 11th September 1917 when the Platoon officer us to stay in billets as we going up the lines and he did not know the time of parade.

The Platoon move off at 6:15 pm on the same date, the accused was absent.

I heard the Platoon had to parade at 6 pm, about 4:30 pm the same date Sergt Matthews came around and told me.

No cross examination

By the court ;

I am not sure Sergt Matthews told me but I think he did.


The accused sworn states ;

On the afternoon of 11 September I went to estaminet about 12:30. I had some bose and I got drunk. I was into a field where I fell asleep. I woke up at 10:30 p.m. that same night and tried to find my billet. When I got my billet I found my section had gone. I then came down to Barlin. I did not know what I was doing. I then came back to Bruay where I stayed two days. I had no money. I then went and reported to the transport lines at in Gobelles. When I got there C.Q.L.S. Crawford ordered me to go up the line. I told him I was going to stay where I was. I was accused to desert and …. myself to transport Line.

No cross examination

By the court;

I heard the officer warned me of parade the morning 11th of September that we were going to the trenches and not to be far away from the billets.

I know we were shortly going up the line.

I was not drunk all the time I was away, I was sole when I was in Bruay

I did not know where I was going to. I was alright when I was at Barlin. I don’t know why I went to Bruay. I was sick when C.Q.L.S. Crawford gave me the order. I did not tell him I was sick.

Cross examination

The accused sworn in litigation

I enlisted 15th February 1916. I came to France 2nd of November 1916. I was at the battle of Vimy on April 1917. I have done by ordering tour in the trenches from time to time. I am 17 years of age. I shall be 18 on 2nd October 1917. I was at the battle of Fresnoy and hill 70 in August.

Lt Colonel V Collins 4th Canadian Battalion

… states . I produced a certified …. copy of A.7.13 122 of the accused which is marked X signed be the president and attached to the proceedings.

The accused was formerly in my Platoon fro about 4 months. I found him a good soldier. The last tour in the line, in which I was with him, I noticed that his nerves had gone.”

(1) The fighting character of the soldier in question cannot be reported upon favourably. Pte. Barre’s service with the Expeditionary Forces : 10 month having joined the 4th Battalion Dec 2nd 1916

Pte Hasleden’s service with the Expeditionary Forces : 9 months, having joined the 4th Battalion Feb 11th 1917

(2) The state of discipline of this unit has been of the unit has been maintained up to the standard demanded by the Canadian Corps

(3) It is the opinion of the CC that this particular service was deliberately avoided by these man.

(4) With reference to the extreme penalty; if the interest of discipline of the Corps require it ; the extreme penalty should be effected or such punishment on will meet the necessities of discipline.

(5) I certify that Pte. Bare and Haselden have been sent to for safe custody


Letter of October 2nd, 1917 from  Brigadier-General William Antrobus Greisbach

2 – 10 – 17     

1st Canadian Division

F.G.C.M Proceedings in the case of No 814027 Pte N. Barre, 4th Canadian Battalion, are forwarded herewith also a letter from his commanding officer containing his recommendations. In view of the youth of the accused I recommend that the extreme penalty be not carried out.

Pte Barre has been put into the custody of the A.P.M

Brigadier-General William Antrobus Greisbach

Commanding 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade


Letter from October 3rd, 1917 from Major-General Archibald Cameron McDonell

 1st  Canadian Division

CM 1471

We have to day wired the to have this man statement regarding his age verified, though in all probability he was a minor at the time of enlistment he gave false age.

Before recommending that the sentence be commuted in penal servitude I am the opinion that this man’s statement about his age should be verified.

If it is proved that Pte. Barre has done nearly a Year’s campaigning at the age of 17 I would recommend that steps be taken to have him remove from the line.

In the meantime Pte Bare is with the A.P.M. 1st Canadian Division for safe custody. (Certificate attached).

I will communicate the answer from the Base regarding this man age as soon as receive.

I forward herewith proceeding in the case of No 814084 Pte N. Barre, 4th Canadian Battalion charged with desertion His Majesty’s Service found guilty and sentenced to death.

The court have recommend this man to mercy on account of his age which he states is only 17 and attached herewith also please find letter from C.O.C. 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade recommending that the extreme penalty be not carried on account of Pte Barre’s youth.

The O.C. 4th Canadian Battalion, in his letter attached cannot report favourably on this man conduct from a fighting point of view. His conduct sheet however only shows two previous offence having been committed after 19 month service.

The discipline in the 4th Canadian Battalion is good and there is no need of making an example.

I therefore concur in the opinion of the C.O.C.1st Canadian Brigade that the sentence be not carried out.

It will be noticed that Lieut, Robertson, 4th Canadian Battalion on his evidence of character …tes that he is of the opinion that Pte Barre’s nerves have gone.

Major-General Archibald Cameron McDonell

1st Canadian Division


Letter of October 6th, 1917 from Arthur Currie Lieutenant – General Commanding Canadian Corps

Canadian Corps A. 20-1-329

6 October

Proceeding of Field General Court martial in the case of N814024 Pte Napoleon Barre, 4th Canadian Battalion are forwarded herewith

I recommend

«That the sentence should be commuted, information as the age of this man will be forwarded as soon as verified»

Lieutenant – General Arthur Currie

Commanding Canadian Corps


On October 7th his sentence was commuted in 5 years penal servitude and was returned to his battalion (4th battalion CEF) on October 8th 1917.

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