When World War One began there was no shortage of eager men willing to fight for their nations. They were told the war would be short and there was every reason to believe it. Men joined the military for adventure, to see foreign countries and because of patriotic fervor.
Soon, however, reality struck and, as the death toll mounted, recruitment became difficult.
Recruits had to pass physical examinations to join the armed forces. These requirements varied from nation to nation. These were the requirements for Great Britain:
- Be at least five foot, three inches
- Minimum chest size was 34 inches
- Pass a medical exam
At the war’s onset, 40 percent of men could not pass the army’s medical test. Eventually, standards were lowered.
In many nations, especially those in the Central Powers, it became necessary to accept any able-bodied male, from preteens to elderly men.
Others lied about their ages to join. Many people born in the late 19th century didn’t have birth certificates so this was easy to do. But other times, it was simply that recruitment officers looked the other way.
In Britain, a man had to be 18 to join the military and 19 to serve overseas, but recruitment officers were paid for each recruit so they were likely to worry more about their own pocketbook than a teen’s safety.
It is estimated 250,000 boys under the age of 19 fought.
The need to accept underage recruits was eliminated when Britain introduced conscription in 1916. Still, many boys continued to filter into the armed forces and died for the cause they believed in.
The youngest Allied soldier to die in the war was John Condon from Great Britain. It is believed he was 14 when he was killed during the Second Battle of Ypres.
Did any of your ancestors serve in World War One? Leave a comment below.
Enjoyed reading this post? Join the mailing list and receive updates in your inbox whenever a new post is published. Simply enter your email address in the form on the bottom right of this page.