Category Archives: Boy Soldiers

The Cult of the #FWW’s 11%

To a greater or lesser extent all who are interested in the First World War, myself included, are members of this British cult. Some are fully paid up and will exclude all others.  Looking at posts on social media it is easy to see why more than a few think the war was a war in which most British soldiers were killed and the rest shot at dawn on their fourteenth birthday. If you are going to go on a Munro bagging style of tour to put poppies on the graves of VC holders, Boy Soldiers, Shot at Dawn, remember the idea of the graves is every soldier should be treated the same in death. That is why they look the same. Place a poppy on the graves surrounding your own particular Munro. Perpetuated by companies and their agents to endless tours of cemeteries and memorials along the Western Front in the guise of “Battlefield Tours”

First, who are the 11%?

Some are the Missing, buried in unknown graves.

Some are Resting in Peace in Silent Cities.  They are buried in Cemeteries.

Some are just resting in France. No, they are not.

Some are sleeping. If you think this, wake them up.

Some are Standing easy. Not my favourite phrase.

They are not “Pining for the Fjords “, but they are all DEAD. Most are buried in cemeteries under six feet of soil, none are asleep, resting, or standing. They are all dead. If you believe in Heaven and hell, for you, that is where they are. If not they are just Dead.

A whole wars narrative based on just 11%. Their stories are important and should be told. But not at the expense of the 89% who survived the war. Their stories need to be told too.

The connection with the First World War needs to be made too. The experiences of the war shaped their attitudes.  What they thought of defeat, victory, the future. What happened to them. The leaders who fought the second world war were forged by the first. Churchill just didn’t disappear after Gallipoli and emerge phoenix-like in 1940.

Many of the Generals of the second fought in the first Bernard Law Montgomery did not crawl rat style from the sands of North Africa. The connection needs to be made to the first.

Then there are the ordinary stories. People such as Captain Darling, yes that really is his name. Lived for a while in Folkestone. He was the guide on one of the first tours of Vimy and Arras in January 1919.

People such as Robert Goddard, farmer farmed not far from Folkestone. He knew Ewart Alan Mackintosh. (google him).

George Dore, his regimental number was “1”

Stories, like that of Lewis Gedalovitch, yes Russians did serve in the British Army. Came home and divorced his wife.

Sad stories such as Duncan Mackintosh, died wounds in 1927.

The First World War is not solely the possession of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Royal British Legion (who appointed them the guardians of remembrance anyway?) or the 11%.

It belongs also to the 89% who survived. It is up to us to remember them too.

Chinese Labour Corps, First and Last #FWW #WW1 #WWI

I keep saying I will never write another blog on the Chinese Labour Corps, so…

The Chinese had been labourers in the British Empire for a while. They were miners in South Africa, railway navies in Canada and worked in other roles throughout the Empire. Prior to the First World War, there was a Chinese Regiment in the British Army There were Chinese civilians on Royal Navy warships in the Falklands War in the eighties. They are often forgotten, as are the British Soldiers who volunteered to serve in the Chinese Labour Corps.

The recruiting area for the Chinese Labour Corps was centred on Weihai, Shandong, China. The first known recruit in my records is Bi Xuzhong. Bi Xuzhong came from a village in Rongcheng, Shandong.  Bi Xuzhong survived the war and almost certainly returned to China.

The last, again in my records is Ch’un Ch’ih Wang. While not the first or the last Chinese man to be executed for murder by the British in France, they are my records and I have put him last. Ch’un Ch’ih Wang was executed in the small square at Poperinghe Town Hall.  His execution site is one of the most visited places in Poperinghe yet few could tell you a Chinese man was executed there. Ch’un Ch’ih Wang is buried in Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery, it is a mile down the road from the New Military Cemetery. For at least one reason this is a shame because busloads stop at the New Military Cemetery and place at sometimes seems armfuls of poppies on the graves of those who were shot at dawn there and ignore Ch’un Ch’ih Wang’s grave a mile down the road.

One of the basic premises behind the then  Imperial War Graves Commision, now the Commonwealth War Graves Commision’s treatment of Imperial/Commonwealth war dead is they should all be treated equally. Something we seem to have “Unremembered”, No matter the rank, age, sex, race, what they did or how they died. Death is the great equaliser. We just don’t,  we put armfuls of poppies on some. I tell people go to any of the CWGC cemeteries in the tourist season and walk down the row ends look along the rows. The mounds of poppies mark the grave of a VC holder, Boy Soldier, shot at Dawn, or a poet. We say we treat them all with the same respect. It is time we did.

Merry Christmas.

James Lyall, Boy Soldier. #FWW #WWI

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.

Virgin Soldiers. #FWW #WW1

Lots, volumes, has been written about the needs of the British army and her soldiers going to war. unsung heroes who worked in unglamourous jobs. Heroines who worked long hours in factories, mills, buses, trains, hospitals. all will and are being commemorated. It was, after all, a very new experience.

“…In this new experience you may find temptations both in wine and women.

You must entirely resist both temptations, and, while treating all women with perfect courtesy, you should avoid any intimacy.”

The above is a quote from Kitchener’s letter to each of his soldiers going off to war.

A bit idealistic, and very naive. Most men in Kitchener’s army we happy to fight and die for King, Country, and Empire. They just wanted to get laid first.  At home the young soldier went to a prostitute, overseas a brothel.

Brothels were part of French life and soon they were yet more of them. Red Lights for soldiers, Blue Lights for officers.  Money was being spent on loose women and wine. The rest of a soldier’s pay packet, very often, was just wasted.  Some women made fortunes, others died penniless.

The wives back home were given a separation allowance and expected to just get on with things.

There is a disconnect here that is not talked about. Prostitutes are not a separate life form. They are people. times were difficult. Then as now some people have very little option, some liked the money, others just enjoyed the work.  They came from all sorts of backgrounds. Some were wives, their names have vanished from history.  Although I do know of one.

Her name is Annie.1) Annie worked Saville Road/Tottenham Court Road area of London. No idea of how successful she was. I like to think Annie was happy. Prostitutes are looked down upon. Regarded as “Tarts” We forget that the word very likely originated as an abbreviation of the word sweetheart.  I’m also sure Annie did not remember the names, if she ever knew them, of her clients.  I bet though, the soldiers she serviced were now a lot less unhappy about going to war. Her country needed soldiers. Her country’s soldiers needed her, and ladies like her. Unnamed heroines, so here is to you Annie, and others like you.

1)I’m keeping mum about her surname. it will be revealed in my book, “Poppies To Oblivion” When I can raise the funds to publish it. (Need an editor too.)


W Moss, Every Tombstone Tells a Story. #FWW #Folkestone.

I like talking to the dead, they don’t answer back. I like stories about the dead from the First War War. Sure I like the stock in trade stories of bravery, the tales of valour. The glory as well as the sadness of it all. Some story tellers can make it so real you are there. Close your eyes and be with them. Listen and you can hear about their lives and feel their fears. Every tombstone tells a story.

The Under age boy soldiers their story is there. The Women who died. Their story is there. The Canadians, the Americans, the Germans, the Unknowns also have their stories there all you have to do is listen and see with your eyes closed. Run your hands over the names of the missing feel the stories in the walls. It’s wonderful the soil is enriched with their tales. I love going to these places. Every tombstone tells a story.

At your local cemetery go read them, they are here too. Read the stories on the graves. Take part in the CWCG Living Memories project it is a wonderful excuse to find out another cracking story. It is an event happening in a cemetery near you. Every tombstone has a story.

So you live in the colonies and  the CWCG doesn’t have a Living Memories project near you. Do it anyway, Every…

W Moss, nearly forgot, W. Moss one of the least, we forget them. People like old Moss make us uncomfortable. We want them to go away, not be there. We fidget shuffle away.  The others we can tell their story. It’s carved in stone in front of us. We can wave our arms and point to the mass-graves. The endless rows of war graves, stand quietly for two minutes as a mark of respect, or because everyone else is doing it.  Dwell on the reality of war. But it is not there, that is not the reality of war. W. Moss is.

Others you can tell their story. Were they heroes or villains. What they did before the war. But not W. Moss.

W. Moss, might have just about been able to smile. He could grip your finger or hair. slept a lot. That’s about it.

Walter Moss 2 months old. Killed by a bomb which fell on Tontine Street, Folkestone, 25th May 1917. Buried with his mother in “C New Ground. St Martins Church, Cheriton, Kent.

Their grave is unmarked, every tombstone tells a story, as does every unmarked grave.

Still, makes me cry.

William Alexander Dick, Fishmonger and Boy Soldier.

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.