Historian pays tribute to war’s underage soldiers

A Nottinghamshire historian who worked closely with Nottinghamshire County Council for its Remembrance features has paid tribute to child soldiers who died in the Great War.

Historian David Nunn specialises in First World War history and heritage and proved useful in developing profiles for Nottinghamshire’s heroes of the war.

British soldiers marching through Bouzincourt during the First World War. Many soldiers holed uop in caves beneath Bouzincourt during the war and their etchings on the walls remain today

British soldiers marching through Bouzincourt during the First World War. Many soldiers holed uop in caves beneath Bouzincourt during the war and their etchings on the walls remain today

Giving an insight into some of the poignant heroes from the war, he stressed the need to remember “brave” child soldiers who elected to lie about their age for their country.

He said: “All war headstones represent a tragedy which devastated families, but the loss of children in conflict seems particularly poignant.

“About 250,000 boys under the age of 18 served during the First World War.

“It is likely at least four times that number enlisted but were discharged early on for being obviously too young or too small.

“Eighteen was the enlistment age and for most of the war and 19 the minimum age for overseas service. However, a lot of people lied about their age.

“A lot of them enlisted because of patriotism and the obvious desire to defend Britain from German aggression. However, there were obviously more reasons.

“One of the most common was a desire for adventure. However, there was also rebellion, peer pressure and a hero’s worship of older relatives.

“I don’t know how many boy servicemen were killed during the war, but in Nottinghamshire there were 87.

“Two were aged 15, 14 were 16 and 71 aged 17.

“However, the two 15-year-olds, three of the 16-year-olds and eight of the 17-year-olds were sailors and it is important to remember there was no age limit in the Navy.

“Of the Nottinghamshire soldiers, 11 were 16 and the rest were 17. There were also two boy airmen.

“I think their bravery should be remembered most of all.”

Later in the war Sir Arthur Markham, a Nottinghamshire MP, led a campaign to end the use of under aged soldiers.

Many were withdrawn from the line and housed in special camps in the UK until they were old enough to return to the war.