Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Britain`s Boy Soldiers


PhilB
 Share

Recommended Posts

I'd still like to know how the TV producers based their figures and how they estimated that half had been casualties (CWGC couldn't give them figures for that, or could they??).......

The following is from The Times article....

Richard van Emden, a First World War historian who carried out research for the documentary, said he had uncovered records which showed that an estimated 120,000 boy soldiers had been killed or wounded.

"The Commonwealth War Graves Commission wrote to all families of soldiers killed in the war, asking for personal details, including age, and 50 per cent returned the forms, so it's possible to estimate the true figure for the number of under-age recruits," he said.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Pete Wood

So, of the 120,000 under age soldiers, we should expect to see 30,000 of these men/boys (one in four casualties died) as being commemorated...?

With 50 per cent of the forms returned, there should be 15,000 under-aged boys on the CWGC register.

Can anyone confirm this....??

Personally, I believe the argument (number of dead) is flawed. As Nick has pointed out, it would seem more likely that the next of kin of under aged boy would complete the form.

It seems to me that van Emden has made a quantum leap to get to his figures. A CWGC casualty without any details recorded is far more likely to be 18-40+ years of age, than be 14, 15, 16, or 17 years of age; 4 years versus 22+ years of probability.

I have come across just a small handful of youngsters whose age is not recorded, but lots of 'mature' soldiers who have no next of kin information.

Of the 3000+ plaques, that I have details of, I know of just two under aged boys.

So what/where are these records. The CWGC doesn't have records on casualties who survived, does it....??

I admit I am fighting the claim as it is just too horrific to contemplate, if van Emden statistics are correct. Please, someone, prove he is wrong......

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Some more detailed figures: used abbreviations;

BR: British; CA: Canadian; SA: South African

15 years old

BR 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918

2 4

CA 1

SA 1

Extreme dates:

BR: 18th November 1914- 6th August 1915

CA: 21st April 1915

SA: 11th April 1918

16 YEARS

BR: 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918

4 36 2

Extreme dates:13th November 1914- 2nd March 1916

CA: 1915 1916

1 7

Extreme dates: 26th April 1915- 18th June 1916

SA: 1917

1

Date: 20th September 1917

I hope to do the 17 years old today.

Jacky

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Shame on me here are the figures again:

15 years old

British:

1914: 2

1915: 4

Canadian:

1915: 1

South African:

1918: 1

16 years old

British:

1914: 4

1915: 36

1916: 2

Canadian:

1915: 1

1916: 7

17years old (figures for all the Commonwealth troops)

1914: 32

1915: 165

1916: 36

1917: 45

1918: 5

for dates see previous post. With more time, I am currently working on a major update of the Last Post website, I will try to detail more about kind (regular, territorials,cavalry) ranks etc.

Jacky

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As Nick has pointed out, it would seem more likely that the next of kin of under aged boy would complete the form.

I don't see how you can make this assertion. Why would the parents of an underage soldier be more likely to return the completed form? To back up this type of comment you have to know definately why only 50% of forms were returned for soldiers who were over 19 years of age.

Andy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Pete Wood

Jacky, many thanks for this.

The total of underage boys is, therefore, 341.

There are, according to the CWGC figures, 54,332 names on the Menin Gate.

These underage lads represent 0.6% of the casualties.

If I have got my sums right, that equates to a maximum of 7000 killed/died, based on the (approximate) 1,000,000 names on the CWGC register.

Using the ratio of one death for every four casualties, this means around 28,000 under age lads were wounded, killed, or died.

The television company claim that just under 50 per cent of the youngsters would become casualties, which means around 55,000 boys were in uniform. This number is 80% lower than that claimed by van Emden.

I am being more than generous with my figures, and I sincerely believe that they would be a lot lower if a proper investigation was carried out.

Mr van Emden's statistics do NOT (literally) add up.......

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Pete Wood
As Nick has pointed out, it would seem more likely that the next of kin of under aged boy would complete the form.

I don't see how you can make this assertion. Why would the parents of an underage soldier be more likely to return the completed form? To back up this type of comment you have to know definately why only 50% of forms were returned for soldiers who were over 19 years of age.

Andy

I based it on the fact that it is more PROBABLE that a lad who is underage will have next of kin who are able to complete the form(s).

My own small statistics (based on one TF regiment that I am studying) suggests that the vast majority of those men killed, with no next of kin details on the CWGC, were older (rather than younger).

By all means double the numbers, in favour of the under age lads (possibly) unrepresented because of the 50 per cent non-returns.

But it still doesn't add up, does it.......??

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello Jacky

Thanks for your analysis.

However, I consider that there is a slight flaw in the method of calculation. As RT says Emden claimed that "just under 50 per cent of the youngsters would become casualties". In my mind this does not mean that they were killed necessarily when they were underaged. For instance, if a boy joined up in 1914 aged 15 and was killed in 1918 he would show on CWGC as being 19 years old and "old enough to die", this does not take away from the fact that he was underaged when he joined up. The only way that you will ever be able to come to a true figure is by extracting all the names of the men/boys who because of their recorded age on CWGC COULD have joined up underage (this means anyone who is shown as being 21 or younger in 1918), checking their attestation papers and then extrapolating your numbers from these results. Any other method of calculation is meaningless. I am not saying that either that you or RT are wrong, just that I don't think that your methods of calculation are necessarily sound.

Andy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Beneath you can find totals for Ploegsteert Memorial and Tyne Cot. The totals are for Commonwealth soldiers. Personally I haven't seen the programme yet , a friend will send a copy so I can't comment.

PLOEGSTEERT

14 YEARS:-

15 YEARS: 1

16 YEARS: 7

17 YEARS: 40

TYNE COT

14 YEARS: -

15 YEARS: -

16 YEARS: 4

17 YEARS: 44

Total of killed underaged on 3 Memorials:437

Total names on 3 Memorials: +/- 100.000

Total known ages: +/- 55%

I leave the rest for arithmeticians.

Max

I don't think I made any extrapolation on the figures. They are just the bare numbers. I agree on the fact that more given factors should be used to have a much more adequate idea but numbers are numbers.

Jacky

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Pete Wood

Jacky

Your figures for three memorials now push the under age casualty rate below 0.5%. This would equate to less than 5000 under age casualties on the CWGC.

It would be very good, if you have the time, to list the 18 - 22 year old casualty numbers also.

Your numbers would appear to match the figures I stated earlier; 2 under-age death plaques in over 3000 that I have details on.

If you think about it, it works out at (roughly) one under age casualty per battalion, per year of war, who was killed/died.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Using the ratio of one death for every four casualties, this means around 28,000 under age lads were wounded, killed, or died.

I cannot pretend to be able to digest all these figures that are commendably being considered to produce a realistic answer, however I would like to ask RT why he decided on one death per four casualties, when I had always been under the impression that in the British Army the ratio was more like one in seven or one in eight?

Concerning the programme itself, the most salient point that came across to me, was that none of the veterans voiced any regret in the fact that they had joined up early.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Pete Wood
Using the ratio of one death for every four casualties, this means around 28,000 under age lads were wounded, killed, or died.

I cannot pretend to be able to digest all these figures that are commendably being considered to produce a realistic answer, however I would like to ask RT why he decided on one death per four casualties, when I had always been under the impression that in the British Army the ratio was more like one in seven or one in eight?

Concerning the programme itself, the most salient point that came across to me, was that none of the veterans voiced any regret in the fact that they had joined up early.

John, I was trying to be as fair as possible.

Because we don't know how van Emden arrived at 'his' statistics, I was trying to make the number of under-age casualties theoretically as large as possible - and still prove them to be too large.

Mr van Emden quotes 250,000 under aged boys served. Of these, he claimed just under half (120,000) would be casualties. If you use your ratio, of 1:7 deaths, that comes to just over 17,000 deaths. But if you use 'my' ratio (which is that of the first day of the Somme), it is 30,000 deaths.

Now, using the 'guestimate', as it stands, of 5,000 deaths (based on Jacky's figures), it would show 35,000 under aged men in uniform - that's using your 1:7 ratio, John.

This number, whatever ratio is chosen, is far short of the 250,000 boy soldiers claimed by van Emden.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is some information on under-age soldiers based on research I have done on Territorial Force units from Staffordshire.

Based on information recorded in the surviving AB220 for “E” Company of the 6th Battalion, The North Staffordshire Regiment, of the recruits who joined during 1913 and 1914, 24 soldiers were still under nineteen by August 1914 and were therefore unable to meet the minimum age requirement for active service. This situation mirrored the national trend prevalent within the Territorial Force, which by 1913 contained around 40,000 members under the age of nineteen. (Beckett, Amateur Military Tradition, p. 222).

There is evidence that Staffordshire Territorial Force units accepted a significant number of recruits who were under nineteen years old, the minimum age requirement for troops to be sent on active service, following the outbreak of the war. This continued the trend prevalent prior to the war in that recruits aged seventeen and eighteen had been allowed enlist in the Territorials. Although it is possible that some of the soldiers concerned may have lied about their age at the time of their enlistment, it is also likely that unit commanders were well aware of the youth of some of their soldiers and they were authorised to proceed on active service during 1915.

There are several examples of very young soldiers to be found among the men who served with the 1/5th Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment on the Western Front during 1915. Private John Thomas Johnson enlisted in the 5th Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment in October 1914. Employed as an assistant gardener by West Bromwich Corporation, Johnson was only sixteen years old but gave his age as nineteen when he was attested. According to a contemporary newspaper report, his motivation for giving the recruiting office false particulars was his desire to follow his father and elder brother into the army.

Another sixteen year old, Private Sidney Hill, also joined the battalion during October 1914. Prior to his enlistment, Hill had worked at a brickyard in Aldridge. He proceeded to France with the 1/5th Battalion in March 1915 and served with “B” Company.

Private Harry Rochford was fifteen years old who enlisted at Walsall around the same time as Hill. Private Rochford was posted to “C” Company of the battalion and acted as an officer’s servant to Second-Lieutenant Frederick Wilkinson. After celebrating his sixteenth birthday in the line, he was later wounded on 22 April 1915 while on duty in the trenches in front of the village of Wulverghem in Belgium.

Private Alfred Butterworth was aged sixteen and a half when attested at the recruiting office at Old Hill on 1 January 1915. A foundry worker at the Colonial Works in Cradley Heath, he joined the 1/5th Battalion at Ouderdom in Belgium with the 3rd Reinforcement on 20 August 1915 and was posted to 13 Platoon of “D” Company. Private Butterworth was to serve with the battalion for barely seven weeks before he was listed as missing presumed killed in action following the action at the Hohenzollern Redoubt on 13 October 1915.

There are many more examples that I have found as well.

The nominal roll for the 1/5th Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment records that a number of soldiers were sent back to base in early 1916 as underage, thereby perhaps signalling a stricter policy on the matter.

One underage soldier from Wolverhampton serving with the 1/6th South Staffords, Private Roland Elcock, was sent to Egypt before he was found to be underage. He was sent back to England and discharged. On reaching 18 he re-enlisted in The Royal Scots and would be eventually awarded the Victoria Cross in Belgium in 1918.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mr van Emden quotes 250,000 under aged boys served. Of these, he claimed just under half (120,000) would be casualties.

Now, using the 'guestimate', as it stands, of 5,000 deaths (based on Jacky's figures), it would show 35,000 under aged men in uniform - that's using your 1:7 ratio, John.

This number, whatever ratio is chosen, is far short of the 250,000 boy soldiers claimed by van Emden.

I think that the only way that we can properly assess Mr Emdens calculation rationale is to read his book (maybe the reason for his participation in the programme ??).

As for the figure of 35000, this is still an astounding number and equates to 2 Divisions of 14 to 18 year olds.

Andy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Pete Wood
I think that the only way that we can properly assess Mr Emdens calculation rationale is to read his book (maybe the reason for his participation in the programme ??).

As for the figure of 35000, this is still an astounding number and equates to 2 Divisions of 14 to 18 year olds.

Andy

Yes the numbers are frightening, if correct.

Mr van Emden has written other similar WW1 books tied to TV programmes made by the production company on which he has a position.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As I have a particular intrest in this thread I have done my best to give the figures asked by RT:

MENIN GATE

18 years: 866

19 years: 2501

20 years: 2443

21 years: 2474

PLOEGSTEERT

18 years: 377

19 years: 894

20 years: 499

21 years: 2213

TYNE COT

18 years: 412

19 years: 2585

20 years: 1837

21 years: 6620

Jacky

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Pete Wood

Okay, I have just had an interesting phone conversation with Richard van Emden. His book will, hopefully, "be published in the Spring time of 2005."

Richard, for very obvious reasons, did not want to reveal too much, as this would detract from the impact of his book.

Much of what Richard told me was in confidence, but I now understand how he has arrived at his statistics. What I can say, based on what he told me, is that his research is very involved and has made use of the CWGC database (British army soldiers only).

He has also made many visits to the PRO and spoken, as we saw on the TV programme, to many veterans to back up his claims, which Richard assures me are "on the low side." The 250,000 boy soldiers figure is based on a certain percentage of the total number of soldiers who enlisted in the British Army in WW1.

It will be interesting to see what we, the readers of his book, will make of the figures when the title is released.

Richard van Emden is, I found out, a regular visitor to the forum. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Pete Wood
As I have a particular intrest in this thread I have done my best to give the figures asked by RT:

Jacky, thank you so very much for your input.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mr van Emden quotes 250,000 under aged boys served. Of these, he claimed just under half (120,000) would be casualties.

Now, using the 'guestimate', as it stands, of 5,000 deaths (based on Jacky's figures), it would show 35,000 under aged men in uniform - that's using your 1:7 ratio, John.

This number, whatever ratio is chosen, is far short of the 250,000 boy soldiers claimed by van Emden.

I think that the only way that we can properly assess Mr Emdens calculation rationale is to read his book

It would be intersting to see if the methodology behind his estimate is clearly set out, but I suspect that's unlikely. Not necessarily for any "bad" reasons, but simply that a page full of maths doesn't usually make rivetting reading for most people.

(maybe the reason for his participation in the programme ??).

It's probably one of those chicken-and-egg situations. Did the book lead to the TV programme, or did the TV programme lead to the book?

As for the figure of 35000, this is still an astounding number and equates to 2 Divisions of 14 to 18 year olds.

As I suggested previously, there are ways of coming to a robust estimate that may very well be in this region, but it really takes something a lot more sophisticated than simply multiplying the known under-19s on the CWGC Register and then applying the same percentage to those whose age isn't recorded, as well.

With access to the full CWGC database it would be possible to build in conditions that would identify those who were underage when they enlisted, e.g. if you have someone dying in late 1917 aged 19, but they have a regimental number that will have been issued in early 1915, then clearly you can include that as an underage enlistment. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone who is in position to authorise such an analysis would see it as anything remotely like a priority in terms of allocating someone's paid time to carry out.

This is a bit like how useful it would be to have a proper index for WO 363 & W0 364 at Kew, compared to the actual effort that would be involved in compiling one, which means I doubt we'll see either any time soon!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I forgott to add that the figures I gave in my last post are for Commonwealth soldiers. I don't think the New Zealand figures at Tyne Cot will have a great influence on the total.

Jacky

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks RT for making the effort to contact with Mr Emden. I await his book with some relish.

Thanks also to Jacky for taking the time to extract the data. It really is a terrible indictment of our society, of whatever period, when we allow our brightest and best hopes for the future to go away and kill each other. In reallity it should be middle aged old has beens like us who go and kick the bejesus out of each other and let the youngsters build for the future.

Andy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In reallity it should be middle aged old has beens like us who go and kick the bejesus out of each other and let the youngsters build for the future.

Andy

or better still, the politicians!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks RT for making the effort to contact with Mr Emden. I await his book with some relish.

In reallity it should be middle aged old has beens like us who go and kick the bejesus out of each other and let the youngsters build for the future.

Andy

And as few of the midde-aged old uns (I include myself here) have the energy or inclination to 'kick the...' perhaps that is the way to avoid such conflicts.

Incidentally, given the discusssion, I am pleased that RT has taken the trouble to contact the person at whom the controversy is mainly directed.

Regards

Rosemary

Link to comment
Share on other sites

on Monday 14 June, Channel 4 is putting on a documentary at 9pm entitled "Secret History : Britain`s Boy Soldiers" about WW1.

As a newbie, may I post a cheeky but genuine request here? Having looked forward HUGELY to watching this programme, I missed it! :( I tried very hard to find someone who had recorded it and who could loan me the tape, with no success. I even rang Channel 4 to ask if they were planning to repeat it, but sadly not....

Is there anyone herein who has recorded it and could post me a tape, or a DVD? All postage refunded and the tape returned - pay postage and cost of tape in advance if required!

Cheers,

Jim

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...