Most of us are horrified by the thought of boy soldiers. Under age school kids serving in the trenches. Skipping school to join the great adventure. But it wasn’t like that. The world was not as now. We can not help but look at the world through twenty-first century eyes. When I left school my first job was with the Ministry of Defence. My second boss was a soldier by the name of Leslie “Chopper” Hill. Chopper joined the army before he was 14, and served for over 51 years. So I knew a soldier who started his army career as a boy soldier. This blog is about another boy soldier. William Alexander Dick, a Fishmonger by trade. It is based very closely on a couple of entries in my book, Poppies from the Heart of Strathspey, with some additional information from the Morayshire Roll of Honour. 1914-18.
William, the son of Alexander and Margaret Dick, was born on the 11th May 1899. He lived at 1 Spey Avenue in Grantown on Spey, in Morayshire Scotland. By the 4th August 1914 William had left school and was now a fishmonger, a working man. Eager to answer his country’s call William enlisted in Inverness on 16th September 1914. No one now knows if he thought the war would be over by Christmas, or if he was caught up with the jingoism of the times. Like millions of others he decided, whatever the reason, he would do his bit. William was now No. 2256 William Alexander Dick, Private, 1/4th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. After training at Bedford William proceeded to France with his battalion on the 20th February 1915. Not yet 16 William was in the trenches. On the 15th May 1915 the Strathspey Herald, publishes a letter William had sent to his parents.
In the letter William says there trenches are better than at Neuve Chapel where
“…we were standing up to our knees in mud..
The skill of the German snipers
“… You only have to show your hand above the parapet for a minute, and then you find yourself stretched out on the ground…”
William also reassures his parents about the general condition describing his dug-out with its corrugated iron roof and the sandbag walls, “… padded, just like a home.” He ends with a reflection of his first night in the trenches.
“The first night in the trenches we were all trembling, and to make things worse we were just 150 yards away from the enemy. The fellows we relieved told us some yarns that did not make our minds any easier, but as time went on one took those yarns with a pinch of salt.”
Five days later the 4th Camerons found themselves in the midst of the Battle of Festubert and at least one under age soldier No 1306 private Lewis Rose age 17 would be killed. In a letter home, also published by the Strathspey Herald Private A Mackenzie described the action in Which Lewis Rose was killed.
“… in the morning (18th May 1915) we could see the Germans held a strongly fortified position to our right and on our left. Luck did not seem to be in our favour. We were caught like rats in a trap, and they started to bomb us out. We gave what resistance we could, but our bombs gave out and it was useless. One hun was about to bomb at us, and his hand was up, when one of our fellows shot him through the head and he fell back. a good few of them got the same does. we were forced to retire. some went back over the open, but only to be shot down like rabbits. I shall never forget the screams and moans of the poor chaps as they got bowled over…)”
“…it was nothing better than a glimpse of hell and butchery…) Strathspey Herald 17th June 1915
William survived the action unwounded. The next we know for certain of William’s war was on the 13th October 1918. William was now No. 13bo72 and in the Machine Gun Corps. On the 13th October he was severely wounded in the left cheek, jaw and tongue. His war was over, but he had survived. Lewis Rose is commemorated on the War Memorial in Grantown on Spey.