1920-1939 | 1900-1919 | Burning villages | Civilians slaughtered | Executions | Kurdistan



Suspect mutineers about to be blown from the guns.
Watercolour by Orlando Norie via the National Army Museum.

[ 8 September 1857 ]

Eighteen Indian mutineers were summarily executed at the town of Satara on 8 September 1857. According to the Morning Advertiser, they met their fate ‘in the presence of an immense multitude of people… Five of the prisoners were hanged, six were blown away from the guns and seven were shot.’ The newspaper reassured readers that ‘everything passed off quietly, and (that) the scene must have inspired the natives with a wholesome dread which will tend to keep them in submission.’1


British troops in France – winter late 1914 or early 1915 –
© IWM Q 57400

[ 8 September 1914 ]

Today in 1914, the First World War was barely a month old and the first British soldier was executed. Private Thomas Highgate, born in the Kentish village of Shoreham, had joined the army the previous year when he was 17. He had only just turned 19 when he was shot at sunrise in front of soldiers of the Dorset and Cheshire regiments. He had been discovered hiding in a barn in civilian clothes two days earlier and was tried and convicted the same day at a court martial, without any officer acting in his defence. Even today no one knows where he was buried.2 There were another 265 executions of British soldiers for desertion before the war ended four years later.3


A Rolls-Royce armoured car in Iraq –
© IWM (H(AM) 496) .

[ 8 September 1925 ]

In the early hours of 8 September 1925, British officers led 500 Iraqi troops in surprise raids against three Kurdish villages – Khani Darka, Azaban and Bizeniyan, located in the hills just to the east of the town of Sulaymaniyah. No specific reason was given in a classified military memo on the mission. The colonial authorities may have suspected that some villagers were supporting anti-British rebels or the village chiefs may have failed to pay recent fines or taxes. 24 villagers were killed during the raids and an equal number taken prisoner for having been found in possession of the 17 rifles found. It was normal for Kurdish villagers to keep rifles for hunting as well as for their own protection. The report noted that all three villages were destroyed, presumably burned to the ground, although the method used was not specified.4 Neither did it speculate on how the women and children might survive the approaching winter.


  1. ‘Bombay Presidency,’ The Morning Advertiser, 16 October 1857, p. 6.
  2. Julian Putkowski and Julian Skykes, Shot at Dawn: Executions in World War One by authority of the British Army Act, Leo Cooper, 2003, pp. 25-26.
  3. Ibid., p. 18.
  4. Raid on Khani Darka, Asaban and Bazzainian, Sept 7/8th, 1925, AIR 5/1254 accessed at the National Archives. In the report Azaban is written as ‘Asaban’, and Bizeniyan is written as ‘Bazzainian.’

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