Death or Deliverance

Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War

Teresa Iacobelli

  • Published: 2013. Paperback 2014
  • Subject Listing: History
  • Bibliographic information: 192 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Distributed for: UBC Press
  • Contents

Soldiers found guilty of desertion or cowardice during the Great War faced death by firing squad. Novels, histories, movies, and television series often depict courts martial as brutal and inflexible, and social memories of this system of frontline justice have inspired modern movements to seek pardons for soldiers executed on the battlefield. In this powerful and moving book, Teresa Iacobelli looks beyond stories of callous generals and quick executions to consider the trials of nearly two hundred soldiers who were sentenced to death but spared by a disciplinary system capable of thoughtful review and compassion. By bringing to light these men's experiences, Death or Deliverance reconsiders an important chapter in the history of both a war and a nation.
Teresa Iacobelli received a doctorate in 2010 from the University of Western Ontario and is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow. Her current research examines how the two world wars have been portrayed in popular media and how these depictions have shaped Canadian identity and social memories of war.

"Death or Deliverance corrects many misconceptions about the subject of military justice in the Canadian Corps. While it will have significant appeal for Canadian and other historians of Great War military history and legal history, it will also enjoy a popular readership because of its gripping subject matter."
-Patrick Brennan, fellow of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary

"Death or Deliverance tells an important story, that of desertion in the First World War and the ways in which the army reacted. Investigating the later campaign to pardon the soldiers shot for that offense, Iacobelli adopts an entirely original approach - she incorporates the stories of those soldiers found guilty of desertion but who avoided the firing squad. The book's conclusions and its many comparisons between military law and civilian jurisprudence at the time are sure to spark scholarly debate."
-Bill Rawling, author of Surviving Trench Warfare: Technology and the Canadian Corps, 1914-1918


1. Competing Ideologies

2. Military Law: An Overview

3. The Crimes

4. The Court Martial Process

5. The Confirmation Process

6. The Campaign for Pardons