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Boy soldiers - recruitment in 1917


Phil Wood
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There are many tales of boy soldiers who went to war in 1914/15 either through the army overlooking their age or the boys misprepresenting their age but I have come across an article in a local paper that suggests that a 14 year old was serving in the RFA in 1917. There is no suggestion that he was overseas, so, perhaps, he was in the UK as a drummer boy or somesuch? I suspect that the most likely explanation is that the newspaper article is wrong - but I though I'd ask if the army was recruiting boys mid war?

The article is about a man who won the MM and mentions his 4 brothers who were also serving. He only had 4 brothers, he and two others were in the R Berks (1, 5 & 7 bns) and another in the RGA - the fifth was said to be in the RFA, but the fifth brother was born in 1903.

Newbury Weekly News, 26 October 1916 – Local War Notes

Lance-corporal W H Hester, of the [5th] Royal Berks, son of Mrs G Wheeler (formerly Hester) of the City, has been awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field. In writing to his mother, he modestly says he did no more than hundreds of others have done under the circumstances. He says they were being heavily shelled, when one of his section was buried, and he dug him out. Pleased to say that he was not even scratched, although he considered the buried man was in a safer place had he been able to breathe. There are three other brothers in the Army, one in the Garrison Artillery [Victor], another [Robert b 1903??] in the Field Artillery, and a third [berty] in the [7th] Berks. A fourth [Percy] was killed while serving with the [1st] Berks.

I have also considered that the fifth might be a step-brother as his mother had remarried, but I can find no previous marriage or children of her new husband.

Any ideas?

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They were certainly recruiting some Boys in 1917. One of my Anglesey casualties was born June 1902, and later lived in Kent. There he enlisted on 5th September 1917 (aged 15) on a 12-year Regular contract as a band boy for the 4th KRRC. He died of illness at a Depot in September 1918 aged 16, not having served abroad.

Clive

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Regular recruitment of boy soldiers continued throughout the war years but as far as I'm aware boy soldiers weren't knowingly sent out to France that late in to the war

Craig

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Out of the three TF battalions I'm researching, I've only come across one who managed to get into action under-age once Conscription had begun. He was a serial enlister, who changed his name each time he signed up and was twice booted out for being under-age. There was obvious parental collusion here with regard to his registration, as he was still under-age when conscripted and went out to France in 1918 still only aged 17. It wasn't until his fourth enlistment in 1919 that he put his true age on the attestation form. (A date I verified by birth records)

With a school-leaving-age of fourteen, it's not unreasonable for the Regular Army to accept a limited number of fourteen-year-olds, particularly if they were kept out of harm's way. I suspect that working in the shipyards of Barrow, or the coal mines of Wigan was a far more dangerous place than being in the army in the UK. (TF were restricted to a normal allocation of 16 per battalion with a maximum of 24 at the CO's discretion, which I suspect mirrored the Regular establishment)

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Robert James Hester - birth registered Oct-Nov-Dec 1903, Newbury, Berkshire.

1911 Census - Robert James Hester (7) living in Hampton Road, Newbury, with stepfather George William Wheeler (47), mother Martha Ann Wheeler (50) married 1 year, and sibling Percy Richard Hester (17).

Martha Ann Hester's marriage to George William Wheeler was registered Jan-Feb-Mar 1910.

JP

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Phil

Cant quite fathom this out. Dates don't match

Percy Richard Hestor of 11 Hampton Road enlisted 27/3/12 as 9744 and kia 8/2/15 according to cwgc but the 1st were in a quiet period and no deaths recorded from 1st Jan until 20th Feb when B Coy (Percy's) took part in a brigade operation in which 5 men were killed so I suspect CWGC got date wrong

Burkham Hester was 2836 (later 200677 in 1st/4th he would have enlisted Sept 1914

William George Hester was 39 when he attested at Reading 10/12/15 as a foreman and was called up in July as 28845 and posted to 3rd RBR 24/7/16

There was also a Herbert Richard Hester of Ashampstead 201736 in the 1st/4th who died 15/6/17

William Henry Hestor enlisted as 6931 and was discharged 25/6/02 to serve in the Volunteer Coy (reservist) He was recalled as 19606 around Feb 1916 and served with the 5th Bn He was gaqzetted with the MM in the London Gazette of 21/10/16 and this was recorded in the Reading Mercury 28/10/16 for gallant conduct in the operations of 7/8/9 August 1916 when they were in trenches near Arras - He was reported wounded in the Mercury of 21/4/17

cant find anyone who matches Berty - Burrkham is the closest but 1/4th not 7th

John

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Hi John,

Percy was killed by a sniper in the trenches at Givenchy - the date is slightly confusing - 7th or 8th Feb 1915 (the NWN gives both dates!) - see http://westberkshirewarmemorials.org.uk/texts/stories/WBP01160S.php

His death is not mentioned in the war diary but is reported in the NWN before the action on the 20th that you mention.

Berty was Albert Allen - Private (13189), 7th Battalion.

Regarding William - did he enlist on 25/6/02 and immediately be discharged to the Volunteer Coy? He would have been 18/19 at that date.

Phil

PS The Reading Mercury 1914-18 is now available online in the British Newspaper Archive - perhaps not so much use to a man with his own copy, but others might be interested.

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Albert Allen Hester - birth registered Apr-May-Jun 1898, Newbury, Berkshire

1901 Census - Berty Hester (3) living in Hampton Road, Newbury with father George Hester (48), mother Martha Ann Hester (40), and sibling Percy Hester (7)

1911 Census - Albert Allen Hester (13) living in Hampton Road, Newbury with grandmother Rachel Brindley (52)

Also found:

WW1 Service Medal & Award Rolls - Albert Allen Hester, Gunner, 167970, Royal Garrison Artillery, British War Medal and Victory Medal.

JP

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William Stewart (dob 10 January 1899) was serving in 2/4/5 Black Watch (combined 2/4 and 2/5) by 15 February 1916 (from the local paper). I am fairly sure that he did not serve overseas. He must have been invalided out. He died on 11 November 1918 of phthisis pulmanalis and tubercular disease of the hip. His death record makes no mention of his military career. I suspect that this is all I will ever be able to find out.

R.

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Official policy at start of war was to send/allow some under-age soldiers [age = 19 years for this purpose] to go on active service if they were appointed as: drummer, bugler, trumpeter. The CO and RMO had to agree on this. Authority is Mobilisation Regs 1914.

I know of no amendment during hostilities.

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Phil

Re Percy

The 1st were in billets at Le Preol on the 7th until they moved to Givenchy around 1500. At 1000 they were on church parade so I suppose he and Doble could have been in the trenches at 1130 but it seems very unlikely and I would have thought the 8th is a much more likely date.

Thanks for clarifying Bertie - He enlisted 7/9/14, went to France 19/9/15 then to Salonika and was discharged to Z Reserve 22/4/19 - he was always with the 7th so the other man (RGA) is not him.

re William - Yes - this was fairly normal - he enlisted as the Boer war ended so they did not need all the troops so they trained him and returned him to civilian life and I would guess the Special Reserve was not properly up and running by then so he was told to keep in the reserves until his term of service expired and he went to the 1st Volunteer Bn rather than the 3rd whichb would have been more normal. When he rejoined he effectively started again as his reserve service would have expired.

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Thanks to all who have responded - I have lots of details of the family, all of them (censuses, BMDs, medal rolls, newspapers etc) my only real issue is this phantom 5th brother serving in the RFA in 1916. Percy, Berty (Albert) and William were all in the R Berks, Victor was in the RGA - the only other Hester brother alive in 1916 was Robert, 13 years old at the time. I am increasingly dubious that he would be serving in the RFA.

I am now of the opinion that either the paper got it wrong (always a strong possibility) or there was a step-brother (son of George Wheeler) who I haven't found. They had no sisters so it can't be a brother-in-law.

John - I too am of the opinion that the 8th is the more likely date though your reasoning is more cogent than mine! Thanks.

Phil

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  • 1 year later...
Guest Boston1944

An old topic but one that was very interesting to find as the Hesters are my great great uncles on my maternal Grandmother's side. I was aware of Percy as he was clearly a casualty but totally unaware of the other brothers' involvement in the conflict, particularly the MC award to William. I would like to know more about them and will come back to the matter when I get some clear space, other history related projects keep me more than busy currently. Thank you for all of you who have contributed to this thread, very enlightening. For what it is worth, misreporting by the NWN, bless it, is far from unusual, having had them report on events that I have been involved in, usually with an entertaining level of sometimes bizarre inaccuracy.

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