Death or Deliverance
192 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:01 Jan 2014
Release Date:05 Sep 2013
Release Date:27 Aug 2013

Death or Deliverance

Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War

UBC Press

Soldiers found guilty of desertion or cowardice during the Great War faced death by firing squad. In this revealing look at military law in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, historian Teresa Iacobelli examines the cases of 25 Canadian soldiers who were executed by their own military as well as the untold stories of the 197 men who were sentenced to death but spared.

Death or Deliverance – the first book to consider commuted sentences alongside cases that ended in tragic executions – offers a nuanced account of military law in the Great War. 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. Beyond well-known stories of unyielding and callous generals, however, lies another story, one of a disciplinary system capable of thoughtful review and compassion for the individual soldier.

Published to coincide with the centennial anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, this book reconsiders an important and unexamined chapter in the history of both a war and a nation.

This book will appeal to students, scholars, and general readers interested in military history, Canadian history, and law.


  • 2013, Winner - C.P. Stacey Prize, Canadian Commission for Military History and the Canadian Committee on the History of the Second World War
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 offence, 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
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
Teresa Iacobelli received her doctorate 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.


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


Notes; Bibliography; Index

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