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Fighting for the United States, Executed in Britain (Hardback)

US Soldiers Court-Martialled in WWII

WWII Military

By Simon Webb
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 200
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526790958
Published: 2nd June 2021

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This book relates a chapter of American military history which many people would rather forget. When the United States came to the aid of Britain in 1942, the arrival of American troops was greeted with unreserved enthusiasm, but unfortunately, wartime sometimes brings out the worst, as well as the best, in people. A small number of the soldiers abused the hospitality they received by committing murders and rapes against British civilians. Some of these men were hanged or shot at Shepton Mallet Prison in Somerset, which had been handed over for the use of the American armed forces.

Due to a treaty between Britain and America, those accused of such offences faced an American court martial, rather than a British civilian court, which gave rise to some curious anomalies. Although rape had not been a capital crime in Britain for over a century, it still carried the death penalty under American military law and so the last executions for rape in Britain were carried out at this time in Shepton Mallet.

Fighting For the United States, Executed in Britain tells the story of every American soldier executed in Britain during the Second World War. The majority of the executed soldiers were either black or Hispanic, reflecting the situation in the United States itself, where the ethnicity of the accused person often played a key role in both convictions and the chances of subsequently being executed.

Fighting for the United States, Executed in Britain by Simon Webb – US Soldiers Court-Martialled in WWII has, as many of Webb’s books, a very unusual and not exactly well known subject. This makes the book fascinating and surprising, of course. One of the most intriguing aspects is that these soldiers were under US jurisdiction despite being based in UK, they were court-martialled in US courts… but they were executed by Brits, who were not impressed with American executions. Who would have imagined that the differences between the British and American approach would be so significant. There are many more things, like what it took to train as an executioner. These details are fascinating.

The Shepton Mallet Prison in Somerset was used by the US military for the soldiers who were killing or/and raping British civilians. Because of the treaties, US soldiers could be (and were) executed for rape while rape was not a capital crime for a century or so in the UK. In three years, American soldiers killed 53 people and raped 126.
The majority of the soldiers executed were black or Hispanic, but even here is a stark contrast in how people were referring to the accused, with Brits and Americans using different language. In one case, the British public was appalled by the conviction of a black man on slim evidence, which, again, is very different than what would have happened in US at that time.

I like that Webb pointed out what happened next and he mentions the case of a 17-year-old boy killed in a car accident, by an American soldier in 1970. He was driving on the wrong side of the road. He was fined $1 in US courts. Of course my readers would remember the tragic case of Harry Dunn, the 19-year-old killed in a car accident by the wife of a CIA operative. She was flown back to US and neither Trump nor Biden had the decency to extradite her to UK to face justice.

Read the full review here

Coffee and Books

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Having grown up near Shepton Mallet prison, the site of the US Army’s jail during WW2, I was aware before reading this book (supplied courtesy of Netgalley) that it had been used to house and execute US military during the war. This book is a book of two parts. The first part, which sets the context for part two, is the story of executions in the US and the background to US isolationist policy in the 20th Century. Before reading this book I wasn’t aware that although the US were instrumental in drawing up the Treaty of Versailles after WW1, they were never a signatory to it. The book also covers why the US demanded – and the British Government allowed – that US military personnel on British soil in WW2 were not subject to British laws. However, we insisted that British executioners carried out any hangings, not least of all for the reason that any suffering of the condemned was short-lived.
The second part of the story is that of the individual US soldiers who were court martialled and executed for crimes carried out during their time in Britain; not just against the locals but also against fellow soldiers.
I found this book a fascinating read and is definitely well worth reading, particularly by anyone interested in Somerset history or the history of the US ‘over here’.

NetGalley, Paulette Ward

I had no clue! This is a very interesting story about the executions of American soldiers in Great Britain for crimes they commited during WWII. I just never thought of us as having soldiers that commit crimes. I know how naive that sounds but I think most of us want to look at our soldiers and only see the good guys, not what the bad side could be. We all have this fantasy I think about WWII and how we were the knights on white horses charging in to save the day and triumphj over evil. Well we did help save the day and win against evil, but that is not to say that we didn't do our share of the looting and pillaging also. This book provides an education on what goes on and what we really don't care to acknowledge but need to. Thank you for opening my eyes.
I recommend this to anyone interested in WWII history, Read it so that you form a complete picture of our role in the war, both good and bad.

NetGalley, Lori Harris
 Simon Webb

About Simon Webb

Simon Webb is the author of a number of non-fiction books, ranging from academic works on education to popular history. He works as a consultant on the subject of capital punishment to television companies and filmmakers and also writes for various magazines and newspapers; including the Times Educational SupplementThe Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.

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