Faced with the prospect of being killed or permanently disabled, soldiers sometimes hoped that they would receive what was known as a blighty wound, and be sent back home. There were some cases where soldiers shot themselves in an attempt to end their time on the frontline. Self-inflicted wounds (SIW) was a capital offence and if discovered, a man found guilty of this faced execution by firing-squad. A total of 3,894 men in the British Army were convicted of SIW. None of these men were executed but they all served periods in prison.
Guy Chapman wrote about a man in his battalion called Turnbull who had been charged with SIW: "A bullet fired deliberately at the foot was the only way out. Perhaps those who call this man a coward will consider the desperation to which he was driven, to place his rifle against the foot, and drive through the bones and flesh the smashing metal. Let me hope that the court-martial's sentence was light. Not that it matters, for, in truth, the real, the real sentence had been inflicted long ago."
Others killed themselves rather than carry on in the trenches. The usual method of suicide was to place the muzzle of their Lee-Enfield rifle against the head and press the trigger with their bare big toe. In some cases, when men could endure no more, stood up on the fire-step and allowed themselves to be shot by an enemy sniper.
George Coppard was shot by mistake by one of his men and was suspected of being guilty of SIW: "Transferred to an ambulance car, I became puzzled to find myself the only casualty in it. Finally I arrived at the 39th Casualty Clearing Station. Next morning I discovered that there was something queer about the place which filled me with misgivings. None of the nursing staff appeared friendly, and the matron looked, and was, a positive battle-axe. I made anxious inquiries, and quickly learned that I was classed as a suspected self-inflicted wound case. Unknown to me, the letters SIW with a query mark added had been written on the label attached to my chest."
Arnold Ridley was bayoneted during an attack on a German trench at Gueudecourt. After spending several months in hospital he was ordered to appear before a TMB (Travelling Medical Board): "I found myself in the presence of an excessively corpulent surgeon general. "Well, what's the matter with you?" he demanded, anxious to get the matter settled with all speed. I held out my shattered left hand which was the most obvious of my injuries. He took it and twisted it in an agonising grip. "How did you get this?" he demanded. "Jack knife?" Probably this was only meant as a heavy joke but I was still suffering from shell shock, blue with cold and in considerable pain. "Yes, sir," I replied. "My battalion is famous for self-inflicted wounds and just to make sure I cracked my skull with a rifle butt as well and ran a bayonet into my groin." The General's normally ruddy countenance changed to a deep shade of purple. He gave my hand a twist in the opposite direction. "Treatment at Command Depot," he barked, so instead of returning to civilian life, I was granted a further experience of military matters at No 2 Command Depot, County Cork."
Brigadier-General Frank Percy Crozier explained how soldiers found guilty of this offence were treated in his book, A Brass Hat in No Man's Land (1930): Evidently men in other places have taken to blowing off their fingers to escape service in the line, as all self-inflicted accidental wounds of any sort are to be made the subject of legal proceedings against the wounded. Our sergeant-major, an excellent soldier, throws a bit of brass into a brazier. It is a detonator! It explodes and inflicts damage on his hand! He goes to hospital, is tried by court martial and reduced to the rank of sergeant.... War is stern. The innocent as well as the guilty must suffer."