"NOT ENTITLED TO MEDALS - 6/10/20"
That's the first thing you see when you view the army records of Victor Manson Spencer. Although he is commemorated on the war memorial at Bluff, his family would have kept a bitter secret about their lost boy.
Victor grew up in rural Otautau and was working as an engineer in the port town of Bluff when he volunteered for the war in 1915. He wasn't a model of obedience as a soldier and was given seven days "FP" (Field Punishment) number two and forfeited 21 days' pay for being absent at roll call in June, 1916. FP number 1 was usually being tied to a fixed object such as a fence of pole and was called "crucifixion." Number two was being tied or fettered but still marching with one's unit.
He was wounded in the field the next month and had a few days in hospital before returning to the Otagos. He must have done something serious shortly after that as he was struck off the Otagos' roll in September 1916 due to being sent to a military prison, Number One Military Prison, at Rouen. He was sentenced to 18 months and served half of that before having the rest of the sentence suspended when he rejoined his unit on 15/6/1917, in time for the Battle of Paesschendaele. You can only imagine what a military prison had to be like as a deterrent measure to make soldiers prefer facing the trenches and enemy shelling.
He was then recorded as absent from August 13th, 1917 to January 12th, 1918. This was the desertion for which he was tried and shot.
His record goes on to show the bare bones of the story of his apprehension, trial and execution: "Was sentenced after trial by FGCM (Field General Court Martial) to be shot for deserting His Majesty's Service...Sentence was duly executed." "Deserted HMS 13/8/17 until apprehended by Military Police on 2/2/18 - Guilty - to suffer death by being shot. Sentence duly carried out."
He had only a brief wait for the formality of his sentence being confirmed by his ultimate commander, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. For Haig, it would have been an easy decision to make.
He was shot at 6.40am, on February 24th, 1918. He was the last of five New Zealanders who were shot for desertion.
Victor was one of the soldiers who were pardoned by the Great War Act of 2000. The purpose of the Act was ‘to remove so far as practicable, the dishonour that the execution of those five soldiers brought to those soldiers and their families’.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said, during the ceremony for the presentation of medals and documents of military service to the families of the pardoned soldiers: "Military discipline of the day could only recognise dissent or shell shock as the offences of mutiny or desertion, punishable by death by firing squad. In today's ceremony we honour the memory of these three soldiers who volunteered to serve their country.
"Now we can remember their service and sacrifice with pride and sorrow whenever New Zealand commemorates those who died in war, and in the service of peace,"
Section 8 of the Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act reads thus: