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The Killing of the Iron Twelve (Hardback)

An Account of the Largest Execution of British Soldiers on the Western Front in the First World War

Military > Prisoners of War WWI

By Hedley Malloch
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 246
Illustrations: 30
ISBN: 9781526718570
Published: 8th July 2019




  • Author interview with Peter Bearne, ITV News Central: The Iron Twelve Story: Part 1 and Part 2
  • "If you have a Top Ten 'books on the First World War' - then make room for 'The Killing of the Iron Twelve' by Hedley Malloch" - Jonathan Vernon, Digital Editor of The Western Front Association 
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Why did the Germans brutally and illegally execute a group of British soldiers who had been trapped behind the lines during the retreat to the Marne in 1914? Hedley Malloch, in this gripping and meticulously researched account, vividly describes the fate the soldiers on the run, and of the French civilians who sheltered them. He tells a dramatic and tragic story of escape, betrayals and punishment that also gives a fascinating insight into the life stories of the soldiers and civilians involved and the mind-set of the German army on the Western Front. The book names the German officers responsible for this atrocity, and explores their motivations.

Click here to listen to Hedley Malloch interview

Newstalk, Talking History show with Professor Patrick Geoghegan

This compelling read begins by establishing the context whereby the German Army of occupation in 1914/1915 could execute soldiers found behind the lines.

A wide variety of examples are given of soldiers caught alone or in groups, sent to prisoner of war camps or executed. A similarly thorough and enlightening study is done for German treatment of civilians in captured territories, the German habit of taking hostages, of Germanification of the conquered land and sending the conquered to labour for the German war effort. One remarkable story follows another. Each is told with the finesse of a novelist and the skills of an historian - if you wish to follow the references you can. If you read French, you should.

The men involved in this story with its tragic ending are lovingly brought to life as sons, brothers, colleagues and friends. Why they enlisted is well argued: the fear of poverty for many, getting behind King and Country for others.

The story unfolds with growing foreboding. How this story has not made it to the big screen beggars belief.

Highly recommended for its extraordinarily powerful insight into the fragged edges of the first months of the European War, this war that in time was called a World War, and much later the First World War.

If you have a Top Ten 'books on the First World War' - then make room for 'The Killing of the Iron Twelve' by Hedley Malloch

Read the full review here

The Western Front Association

As featured in

Stand To! Western Front Association

Article: 'Cold-blooded execution of Irish and British soldiers in WWI' as featured by

Irish Examiner, 23rd November 2019 - words by Ryle Dwyer

I then realised that this book is so much wider in scope than just the killing of the Iron 12, and that’s what made it such a compelling and interesting read for me.

Review by Nigel Rayner for

Great War IMPS

How a jealous lover’s revenge led to the execution of six young Irish soldiers

A new book reveals the brutal fate of 11 soldiers, six of them Irish, and their French host, in 1915

The Irish Times 11/11/19

Listed in the 'First Flush' feature

Books Ireland, November/December 2019

As featured in

Stand To! Western Front Association, October 2019

Article spread: 'Soldier James: One of the First World War Iron men' as featured by

Liverpool Echo, 13th September 2019 – words by Cheryl Mullin

Article: 'Sad pictures show family of Sheffield soldier killed in Iron 12 wartime atrocity' as featured by

The Star (online & print), September 2019 – words by Julia Armstrong

Article: 'Book reveals First World War atrocity' as featured by

The Star (print), 24th August 2019

Article: 'Book reveals brutal execution of Sheffield troops during First World War' as featured by

The Star (online), 21st August 2019 – words by Nigel Booth

This is an episode of WW1 with which i am not familiar, and one that I found particularly fascinating and, at the same time, harrowing. The author attempts to set the record straight by naming the perpetrators of this enormous outrage.

Books Monthly

Hedley Malloch, who is chair of the Iron Memorial fund and Honorary Life Member of the RMFA, has done a wonderful job with his book, a true memorial in its own right to those that were executed; innocent soldiers who just happened to find themselves on the wrong side of the lines.

Read the full review here

Redcoat and Khaki

This is a compelling read about the fates of soldiers ‘lost’ behind the lines when the war went past them in 1914. It focuses on a group that avoided capture for 6 months and why they were executed. In all it is well researched with good supporting photographs. I do not agree that the German doctrine of Auftragstaktik was a compelling reason why some German officers took the actions that they did; rather that the objectives to which they operated were conflicted by several different legal parameters and command structures that made different interpretations possible. Auftragstaktik properly directed would not have resulted in such differing and tragic outcomes. Apart from that minor matter of opinion the book is recommended.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy

About Hedley Malloch

Hedley Malloch is Chair of the Iron Memorial Fund and an Honorary Life Member of the Royal Munster Fusiliers Association. He has taught management in business schools throughout Europe, latterly at the Catholic University of Lille. He holds a PhD awarded by the University of Glasgow. Now retired, he lives in Nottinghamshire.

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