Too young to die: the children who lied to fight in WWI

WWI boy waiting for soldier father

The First World War was a pivotal moment in human history, with its impact still felt today. It was a time of great turmoil and sacrifice, as millions of people from around the world fought and died for their countries.


Among them were young boys, who lied about their age to join the military and serve their country. Despite the danger and hardship they faced, these boys were determined to do their part in the war effort.


In this article, we'll explore the stories of these young soldiers and the reasons behind their decision to enlist. From Sidney Lewis to Jack Cornwell, we'll discover the courage and sacrifices made by these young boys during one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.

Why did they want to fight?

The reasons why young boys lied about their age to join the military during World War One were varied. For some, it was a sense of duty and patriotism that motivated them. They saw the war as an opportunity to prove their courage and loyalty to their country.


Others may have been influenced by peer pressure or a desire to escape their current circumstances.

Their reasons were often the same as the adults who signed up. For some, it was a sense of duty and patriotism that motivated them. They felt a strong sense of loyalty to their country and believed it was their duty to defend it.


Others were motivated by a desire for adventure and a chance to prove themselves in battle. Many young men were also influenced by peer pressure, with friends and family members enlisting and encouraging them to do the same.

Additionally, there were economic factors that played a role in people's decision to enlist. The war created many new jobs in the military and related industries, which provided an opportunity for people to earn a steady income.


Some people also saw the war as a way to escape poverty or unemployment in their home countries.


Finally, there was a strong propaganda campaign that encouraged people to enlist by portraying the war as a just and noble cause, and those who fought in it as heroes.

In many cases, boys who lied about their age were able to pass themselves off as older than they really were. Some of them had already started working and looked older than their actual age.


The recruiters, eager to fill their quotas, often turned a blind eye to the age of the recruits. In some cases, the boys themselves forged documents to make themselves appear older.

Some famous examples

One of the most famous examples of a young boy who lied about his age to enlist in World War One is Sidney Lewis. Sidney was just 12 years old when he joined the British Army in 1915. He had been working as a messenger boy and was eager to do his part in the war effort.


Sidney was eventually discovered by his commanding officer and sent home. However, he later re-enlisted under a false name and served in the war until he was discovered again and sent home for good.

Another young boy who lied about his age to join the war effort was Jack Cornwell, who was just 16 years old when he joined the Royal Navy in 1915. Jack served on the HMS Chester during the Battle of Jutland and was severely wounded.


He died two days later and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery in the British Armed Forces.

Horace Iles was another young man who lied about his age. As part of Lord Kitchener's' enlistment drive, he signed up to fight with Leeds Pals during World War One. At the time, he was only 14 years old.


He remained undiscovered through his training and deployment. Sadly, he died on the first day of the Battle of Somme.

Finally, James Charles Martin, also known as Jim Martin, was 14 years old when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). He served at Gallipoli in early September 1915. He is thought to be the youngest Australian known to have served and died in the war.


Unfortunately, he died as a result of sickness during the Gallipoli campaign when he was only 14 years and nine months old.

Tragic legacy

Despite their young age, many of these boys served with distinction in the war. They were often used for tasks such as delivering messages or working as stretcher bearers.


However, many of them also saw combat and were exposed to the horrors of war. Some were killed or wounded, while others returned home with physical and emotional scars.

The practice of young boys lying about their age to join the military continued throughout the war, despite efforts to crack down on it.


Eventually, the authorities began to take the issue more seriously and introduced stricter age requirements for enlistment. However, the legacy of these young boys who fought in World War One lives on as a testament to their bravery and determination to serve their country.