Boy Soldiers of the Great War (Hardback)
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After the outbreak of the Great War, boys as young as twelve were caught up in a national wave of patriotism and, in huge numbers, volunteered to serve their country. The press, recruiting offices and the Government all contributed to the enlistment of hundreds of thousands of under-age soldiers in both Britain and the Empire. On joining up, these lads falsified their ages, often aided by parents who believed their sons’ obvious youth would make overseas service unlikely.
These boys frequently enlisted together, training for a year or more in the same battalions before they were sent abroad. Others joined up but were soon sent to units already fighting overseas and short of men: these lads might undergo as little as eight weeks’ training.
Boys served in the bloodiest battles of the war, fighting at Ypres, the Somme and on Gallipoli. Many broke down under the strain and were returned home once parents supplied birth certificates proving their youth. Other lads fought on bravely and were even awarded medals for gallantry: Jack Pouchot won the Distinguished Conduct Medal aged just fifteen. Others became highly efficient officers, such as Acting Captain Philip Lister and Second Lieutenant Reginald Battersby, both of whom were commissioned at fifteen and fought in France.
In this, the final update of his ground-breaking book, Richard van Emden reveals new hitherto unknown stories and adds many more unseen images. He also proves that far more boys enlisted in the British Army under-age than originally estimated, providing compelling evidence that as many as 400,000 served.
As featured inWho Do You Think You Are
Rating: 5 out of 5 starsNetGalley, Sandra Miller
This factual account of the involvement on the front line of underage boys is a part of WWl that has, in the general sense, been overlooked until recently. The author has been extremely diligent in his research on this subject and the details of the individuals involved demonstrated that degree of patriotism instilled in that generation that sadly is less evident today. For young teenagers to actively volunteer for active service by lying about their age coupled with the recruiters who tended to be less than honest in accepting the untruth as they were driven by the lure of a recruitment bonus, allowed these young men to face the horrors of the Western Front, Gallipoli or the Middle East. The fact that a vey few were rescued from that fate by parents who had no idea where their sons had disappeared until they were overseas or discovered by concerned Commanding Officers, shows that the majority of the 400,000 underage soldiers performed magnificently. Some of these brave lads distinguished themselves in various ways, promoted to NCO and commissioned rank before they were 18 years old, others survived until the end of the War only to have been killed in that last few weeks.
A tale of bravery, foolhardy dreams and determination in young men that reminds us in the 21st Century that those values should never be forgotten or undervalued in our society today. A fascinating read that enhanced my knowledge of this pivotal period in world history and of that generation.
This isn’t a book for the faint-hearted, some of the letters written by these young men back to their families are heartbreaking, but I do feel that these stories need to be told. The statistics are changing constantly as information is released by the National Archive, and hoards of letters are found in cupboards. This should all be publicised more widely, to educate current generations about twentieth century history, living conditions and attitudes to working people. Sadly everyone who fought in that War has passed away now, but that generation, and in particular the 400,000 plus who served overseas before they were 19 years old, deserve our eternal gratitude.ARRSE (Army Rumour Service)
I leave you with a rating of five mushroom heads and the words of 17-year-old Reginald Kiernan, who after six months in France wrote:
‘It’s the lying like those fellows we’ve passed –on your side with a fixed grin on your face, or on your back with your eyes turned up – and no one caring! And it’s the thought that you don’t die a hero. That would help. There are no heroes here. No one cares’.
Read the full review here
My own wife's grandfather lied about his age and joined the Rifle Brigade at the age of fifteen. Such acts of courage were commonplace as these amazing young men took up the call to arms, believing they were old enough to serve their country. Richard van Emden, one of our very best WW1 authors, takes up their stories and puts them into perspective.Books Monthly