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Britain`s Boy Soldiers


PhilB
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Just a reminder that on Monday 14 June, Channel 4 is putting on a documentary at 9pm entitled "Secret History : Britain`s Boy Soldiers" about WW1. It examines "why so many youths were allowed to enlist and follows the stories of a handful". Phil B

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Just a reminder that on Monday 14 June, Channel 4 is putting on a documentary at 9pm entitled "Secret History : Britain`s Boy Soldiers" about WW1. It examines "why so many youths were allowed to enlist and follows the stories of a handful". Phil B

Should be interesting but will depend on the slant it takes on,I hope it remembers these Lads wanted to go!,to be with Big Brother{when He was a Person not an excuse to waste TV Air Time}or join the Elder Lads of his Village or Town & stay with friends for the Adventure of the Unknown,I just hope it doesnt become an Army Bashing Exercise,from the perspective of 21st Century Hindsight :rolleyes:

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Just a reminder that on Monday 14 June, Channel 4 is putting on a documentary at 9pm entitled "Secret History : Britain`s Boy Soldiers" about WW1.  It examines "why so many youths were allowed to enlist and follows the stories of a handful".    Phil B

Beat me to it ... I was just about to post a follow-up to my earlier posting on the subject which seems to have fallen from immediate view!

The work of Testimony Films, I believe the programme will take an intelligent look at the matter and include an interview with Cecil Withers, aged 105, Britains oldest surviving boy soldier.

Also featured will be the case of Aby Bevestein, a young Jewish boy who was economical with details of age and name when signing-up and who was shot for cowardice in 1916, aged 16.

Sections of the media and press have shown interest in the programme and it is hoped that at least one of 'the Sundays' may include a feature on this important subject.

Regards

Rosemary

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I know we shouldnt use 21st century critiscism but it does rankle to know the top brass/establishment shot for alleged cowardice etc. kids they knew were under-age and were volunteers. They havent even been pardoned -unlike the terrorists of recent times who have. But its all been discussed before.....

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In one paper it said that this prog. was being done in the light of some new research, done by the CWGC, which showed that a lot more of Britains WW1 soldiers were underage than had been thought.

Can this be right? How would the CWGC know anyway, since we are told that the CWGC has only the details supplied by the army at the time. Was the CWGC involved, with the army, in some sort of cover-up? Far more likely to be shoddy journalism I would have thought.

Anyone know more?

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Far more likely to have been released by the programme makers to garner publicity and column inches: did the makers tell the newspapers exactly how big was this supposed discrepency vis-a-vis boy soldiers?

Nevertheless, this is all for the good since it got the programme into the papers and it looks to be a most interesting programme.

On a related note, many of these supposed 'secret' histories, now very much in vogue on the t.v. as a way re-cover old ground, tend to offer little fresh information to anyone who has made even a cursory study of the subject matter.

Recent examples of such 'revelations' shocked us by announcing that Tony Hancock suffered from depression, Tommy Cooper drank quite a bit and Frankie Howerd was a predatory homosexual. (This sounds insufferably arrogant, I know, but I am sure many of you will agree with it.)

By their very remit to attract viewers, if they make such programmes too esoteric and too concerned with the intricacies of records and details, they will lose viewers: I could watch a fairly intense programme about WW1 tanks, but an hour describing their diesel engines' development would frankly leave me cold.

Richard

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In one paper it said that this prog. was being done in the light of some new research, done by the CWGC, which showed that a lot more of Britains WW1 soldiers were underage than had been thought.

BS

Any idea which paper this was, please?

All

I would welcome details of the other newspapers covering the matter, also, as I have yet to spot anything significant here.

Many thanks.

Rosemary

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In one paper it said that this prog. was being done in the light of some new research, done by the CWGC, which showed that a lot more of Britains WW1 soldiers were underage than had been thought.

BS

Any idea which paper this was, please?

All

I would welcome details of the other newspapers covering the matter, also, as I have yet to spot anything significant here.

Many thanks.

Rosemary

Rosemary

It will probably be either "The Times" or "The Daily Mirror" - which I have started to read since they opposed the Iraq War.

Whichever it was it was only a sentence or two. Probably discussing the prog. If you are interested I will see if I can scan and send it - we save all out papers for re-cycling.

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It will be interesting to see whether the programme makes a distinction between boy soldiers who joined up prior to WW1 quite legally (several vets I knew joined up after leaving school age 12) and those who lied about their age to join up from August 1914 when the minimum age requirement was 18?

Also, will it differentiate between Army and Navy? I believe in the Navy it was possible to join at age 16 even during the war (or younger?) ?

Looking forward to it.

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Paul, quite so. Let us all be clear by what is meant by "boy soldier". The army, legitimately, took a small number of boys aged between 14 and 16 years AS BOYS, trained them for a number of skills such as drum, bugle, trumpet, band, tailor, and required proof of age on enlistment. It paid them 8d per day, less stoppages. A BOY became a MAN at 18 years, was paid 1/- per day, but was not to be taken on active service until 19 years of age. A CO could make exceptions but, certainly in 2RWF, the under-age were specifically left at home.

There was a big incentive not to be a BOY: extra money, no birth certificate needed, and, for the adventurous, overseas service. Frank Richards was accepted into the army at under 18 because he was big for his age.

When a MAN was accepted as such, he gave a birthday which, for all purposes, once believed was cast in stone. No checks were made, and this partly because compulsory registration at birth had not been very long implemented [my wife knows when, but she is in the garden!]

During the war, some modifications to the above occurred, and the age of entering the SR and TF was slightly different and also tinkered with.

Recruiters were paid for each recruit and, although the payment was reduced once a steady flow of manpower came forward, both the nation's need and their own greed may have caused a fair few blind eyes to be turned.

However, crocodile tears for "BOYS" need to be informed by the facts: very few indeed [do we know of any?] were conscripted, so the vast majority, perhaps unwisely, put their hands up.

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The arguments, as I understand them are that these were not boys but men; these boys/men knew what they were letting themselves in for and can therefore have no complaints; the ‘nation’ demanded it. Let’s take them one at a time.

The distinction made by the Army between ‘boys’ and men related to pay and training only. It is entirely without legal or moral significance. If one was 18 one could not vote, or get married. If one is not old enough to be legally deemed responsible to choose a wife or a politician then one is certainly not old enough to suffer the death penalty, least of all for an offence that has no equivalence in civilian law.

‘They knew what the were letting themselves in for.’ Did they? I have read several dozen accounts over the years of under-age volunteers being asked their age and being told to have a walk around the park and come back two years older. I have never read a single account of a RSM telling an under-age recruit ‘well, son, if this all goes badly for you, you know that we’ll stick you up against a wall and shoot you.’ Not one. And among the many good reasons for that oversight is that by 1914 the death penalty in the British Army was effectively moribund; my understanding is that only one soldier was executed between 1870 and 1914. The death penalty was not in anyone’s (recruiters or the recruited) head in 1914. Its subsequent re-introduction without warning is a clear example of goal-posts being shifted.

‘The nation demanded it.’ Phrases like this obscure where responsibility rests. ‘The nation’ did not recruit, train and discipline soldiers – the Army did, and they have to take responsibility for the outcomes. Recruiters (RSMs and doctors) were paid bonuses for boys recruited, they encouraged volunteers to lie, and no selection systems were employed. They took anyone. In other words the Army demonstrated a complete lack of professionalism in their approach to recruitment and selection and failed completely in their duty of care.

It’s about time that the Army put up their hands, said ‘mea culpa – give the boys pardons’. I can understand why people might argue against pardons for the adult SAD cases (understand, but not agree), but with the boys there should be no argument from anyone.

Regards

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Anybody know how many men were executed in the Boer War?

Since executions started in 1914 (4) and became increasingly common through 1915, is it fair to assume that Gen French was the catalyst? Phil B

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Also, will it differentiate between Army and Navy? I believe in the Navy it was possible to join at age 16 even during the war (or younger?) ?

If not Boy.Jack Cornwell would never have won the VC!

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William Morris book the Thin Yellow Line, suggests that excutions were few and far between, flogging and the maintenance of discipline that was the most important way.

Many will see this now as a way to keep the lower or criminal classes in their place.

The fact that diet and the such meant that recruits were often poor.. quite often the lack of recruits for the mincing machine meant that blind eyes often were turned.. and as was said in the Daily Mail on saturday, the recruiting drive meant that this had to happen.

What interests me was the fact of it was so widespread with so many boy soldiers who was to blame? The youngsters were there out of patriotism and thinking it would all be over soon. The politicians allowed the thought to be creatred so they would join up... even Beverstein was there he should never have been there, Jewish and underage... who should bear that repsonsibility?

I just hope the programme tells us!

John

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The old WW1 &WW2 matelot I knew recalled that there was a fair bit of ill-feeling about the award of the VC to Cornwell after Jutland. This was not directed towards the boy himself, who acquitted himself most admirably, but rather since he had 'merely' remained at his post, as did many other men, and was given the VC since the Brass and politicians wished to lift public morale through making the award to such a young person. It was believed that had he been five, ten, or twenty years + older he would not even have been considered, as happened with many others.

Richard

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Guest Pete Wood

Thought provoking stuff, certainly....

But where are these statistics gathered from??:

"250,000 under aged soldiers were fighting in the trenches. It is estimated that around half would become casualties; killed or wounded...."

If you work on the 'average death count' being one death for every four casualties, by my reckoning that implies that 60,000 names recorded by the CWGC were under aged.

Can that be right....??!!

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There was a full page article in the Times today. It also mentioned this 'fact' that half of the boy soldiers were killed or injured. Reflecting on this, however, since these lads all seem to have joined up in 1914, when the euphoria was high, they would have served right through. Does this not explain the high toll - what proportion of the Old Contemptables from 1914 made it unscathed to Armistice ? Not many, I'll wager.

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Interesting, but why did they keep going on about Kitchener's volunteers as if they were the only soldiers represented? Were they really suggesting that under-age soldiers didn't serve in the Regular or Territorial Army?

Ken

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Ok Ok ...HELP!!!!

I knew I would do it.... any PAL tape it? any chance of a copy .. happy to pay postage...

WAS OUT AND FORGOT....

John

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I can't say I enjoyed the programme on looking at it from the point of view of being a mum, had my son joined up under age I would have been at my wits end like the parents back then.

It was so sad watching the programme with hindsight we all know through experience and television what war is like, those young men though joining up of their own accord had no idea of what they were going to face, and some of them panicked and went in the wrong direction under such a barrage of shells it's no wonder some got disorientated from what I have watched and read it was just your luck on whoever found you whether you were up on a charge or not.

Regards

Mary

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Ok I admit I missed 20 minutes or so in the middle, but I was a little disapointed with the parts that I saw.

There was some good cameo stuff concntrating on one or two individuals, but I fealt that some of the information and statistics were a little wooly when the programme maker extrapolated the experiance of a few to cover a vast number more. I am not saying that the conclusions were wrong, I just felt badly presented and sensationalist in places.

John

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