The sergeant major’s heavy boots thundered to a standstill in front of private George Willis. “You’re scruffy, lad!” he yelled, poking the soldier’s buttons with his swagger stick. “Put him on a charge, sergeant!”

When the parade at Woolwich Barracks, in south-east London, was dismissed, Willis was fuming. He had been in the Royal Artillery for a year and, although a good soldier, he had several times fallen foul of Company Sergeant Major William Shepherd, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars. Now the young gunner was so angry that he did something that in any man’s army, at any time in history, is unpardonable – he picked up his rifle and shot the CSM dead.

He was hanged outside Maidstone Prison on Thursday, July 4th, 1839. He appeared almost indifferent to his fate, and started running to the gallows. Prison officers pulled him back, told him to slow down, and reminded him of the solemnity of the occasion.