There are tales aplenty of boys as young as 14 lying about their age so they could enlist in the army. Of recruiting serjeants saying to young lads, “Just walk around the corner, you will be 18 when you get back”. or “Comeback in the morning you will be 18 then.” Not so for James Lyall. He enlisted as a “Boy” at the age of 14 years and 105 days. Giving his trade not surprisingly as “Boy”. signing on the line after taking the oath of loyalty he became a Cameron Highlander.
This, however, was not 1914, or the years between then and the end of the war. This was the 6th February 1912 in Edinburgh. James is then sent down to Aldershot. Here in joins the 1st Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders on the 9th. Still, a “Boy” he is posted to Poona in India and joins the 2nd Battalion there on the 13th November. Four months later he is appointed “Bandsman” Lyall remains in India with the Battalion until the 13th October 1914. .Back home for just over two months he is posted with the battalion to France on the 19th December. They arrive at Le Havre the next day. 25 days later, Lyall receives a gunshot wound to a hand. His Military History sheet states “Head” At first, he is admitted to 83rd Field Ambulance before being sent back to England on the Hospital Ship St David. He turns 18 on the 23rd October 1915. Lyall returns to France at the beginning of January 1917. Returning home on two weeks leave, 29th December 1917. During this leave, he marries and legitimises his son. A year later he is appointed unpaid Lance Corporal. This becomes a paid promotion in November 1919. Again he is granted two weeks home leave extend to three weeks. it is now the 9th February 1919. On the 14th April Lyall goes back to Scotland. He requests to be discharged and after paying £35 this is granted on the 10th July 1920. He has been a soldier for 8 years and 155 days. All before he turns 23 years old.
As we have seen the practice of officially enlisting 14-year-olds predates the First World War. One soldier I knew, Major Les, “Chopper” Hill joined the British Army as a 14-year-old. He served with the 8th Army in North Africa and Italy. When he retired he was Britain’s longest serving soldier having been in the Army 51 years.