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Remembered Today:

Teenage soldiers killed in action


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Has anyone calculated how many teenage soldiers were killed in action? I have read figures of 250,000 under 20 year olds serving but how many of them died? I'm writing a bit about a young man who was killed in action in September 1918 just 2 days before his 19th birthday and wanted to put it into context. I do know that the age at which a young man could be sent abroad to fight was reduced to 18yrs 6 months some time around the middle of 1918, so that is what would have happened to this young man.

Any help greatly appreciated, thanks.

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It's probably impossible to tell accurately - many people's ages either don't survive on remaining records to be checked or they served under assumed ages.


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A number under his age died, some 15,16 and 17 but as Craig mentions without the records it is impossible to tell. CWGC list does not always have ages either.

Many 18 and 19 year olds could also have been regulars.

The only possible way that I can see would be to purchase very death certificate! Not an option.

Steve M

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Thanks for both your replies. I realise it would be impossible to be accurate but had hoped that maybe some WW1 historian might have produced a guestimate. Oh well! I see the BBC is doing a programme about 'Teenage Tommies' as part of their WW1 programming. Perhaps that will help with some rough estimates.

Thanks again.

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Here a suggested methodology - no claims on accuracy but might give a reasonable figure:

1) Download from CWGC all entries for those with known ages into a spreadsheet

2) Sum the number of known teenagers

3) Find the frequency for all those in teenage years (as a % of the total of those with known ages)

4) Apply this same frequency to all those without a recorded age and derive the estimated number of teenagers using this frequency from the total of those with unknown age

5) Add together the numbers found from 2 and 4

Improved accuracy might be gained by applying the above for each year of the war and then summing the total or using other additional criteria that might be considered to have significantly different age distributions to the total.


Edit: Just done the above for 1914 only, UK forces only, army only: returns 27774 total number deaths (14280 with recorded ages), 9.2% with known ages are teenagers. Applying that frequency to the unknown age group gives the total number of teenage deaths as 2550.

Edit: for 1915 (UK forces, army only) I get 10174 teenage deaths.

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Following on from the above, here is a summary table of the number of teenage deaths per year between Aug 1914 to 11/11/1918 for the UK forces and army only.

So includes all deaths from KiA, DoW and died in all theatres and the UK.

Important assumptions - all open to challenge - that the distribution of known ages is the same across all units for a given year. Clearly there are likely to be differences between for example regular, volunteer and TF units in different years. But those can be tested. Also that the age distribution for the group with recorded ages is the same as that for the group with unrecorded ages. Given that over 50% of the records in CWGC have ages recorded, I don't think this could lead to a significant error.

Note that those underage soldiers who lied about their age might well lead to an underestimate of the total. But perhaps most of those who were underage lied about their age by giving an age to the nearest acceptable age i.e. 19, so these would still be counted in the figures.

It's perhaps credible, that of those with a recorded age, there is a bias (in comparison to other age groups) towards those with recorded ages who were the youngest - e.g. parents making sure their young age was known and recorded. If that were the case, there would be an over-estimate of the total by using the same frequency from the group with recorded ages to derive a number from the group with unrecorded ages.

Noting the above, the total number of teenagers turns out to be approximately 100000, with the derived % number of teenagers varying from year to year in a manner that is perhaps explicable, particularly for 1918.

Deriving a figure of about 100000 deaths (if reasonably accurate) also means that the OPs number of about 250000 teenagers serving looks to be a gross underestimate.


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I have researched 47 out of 49 names on my local memorial (semi-rural community in Southern England). I have ages for all of them and 4 were teenagers. One died of disease while training and and the other three were killed on the Western Front. If you scaled up that admittedly very small sample you would get about 85,000 teenage deaths I think - so not inconsistent with Russ's estimate.


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