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on 19 June 2013
An extremely well researched book about a very controversial issue that very people....even those who consider themselves to be Great War enthusiasts...know too much about. The issue is examined from the perspective of the boys themselves, the officers who commanded them, the War Office, the small group of MPs who fought so hard to get these young boys "out of the firing line" and the parents of the boys. This is a very moving...and often heart rending...book and a fitting tribute to all the young boys who gave up everything they had (including for so many of them their lives) to serve their King & Country in that terrible conflict. This "must read" book would be a very worthy addition to anyone's personal library of books about the Great War.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 22 November 2014
This is a fascinating and well-researched account of the very large number of boy soldiers who fought and in many cases died during the First World War. It focuses on those who were boys by the military standards of the time, which said that no one under the age of 19 should be fighting overseas (in this context it is worth remembering that the age of majority at this time and for over fifty years afterwards was, of course, 21). During the early years of the war, the rule was routinely breached, as boys as young as 13 (in the extreme case of George Maher) enlisted, though the majority of underage boys enlisting were 16-17. They were motivated by a mixture of feelings: patriotism; peer pressure or guilt at not doing their bit; the bravado of extreme youth; the desire for adventure and excitement; or a simple escapism from humdrum everyday life - many recruits from poor backgrounds had a much better diet, exercise and a sense of purpose in the army. So how were they able to get away with enlisting so young, when it must have been obvious in many cases that they were not the age they claimed to be? A combination of reasons - simply lying so they could fulfill one or more of the motivations above, especially with boys who were strong or tall; manpower shortages in the pre-conscription phase meaning that anyone willing to fight and not obviously decrepit was not turned away; combined with the perverse incentive caused by the bonus that recruiting sergeants and doctors conducting medical examinations received for every recruit admitted.

Due to public and Parliamentary pressure (especially from the Liberal MP Sir Arthur Markham), the rules were gradually better enforced, so that those underage were not sent to fight, and those underage boys already out fighting were removed from the front line and kept in reserve in the rear until they were old enough; but these rules were still often flouted, partly because the flow of volunteers was erratic and would sometimes decline after news of appalling losses reached Britain (though it would rise again on occasions such as the sinking of the Lusitania or the execution of Edith Cavell. The introduction of conscription in January 1916 changed the situation, though even then many commanders on the spot preferred to keep an underage boy who had proved himself rather than take on a perhaps reluctant conscript. From mid 1917, very few underage boys enlisted as the rules were tightened and better enforced, though during the desperate German Spring offensive of 1918, boys of eighteen years and a few months old had to fight as part of the mighty effort to push the Germans back and ensure final victory.

Complete with photos of a number of the boys whose stories are movingly told threaded throughout the generally chronological narrative, this is an excellent book and surely the definitive modern guide to this aspect of the Great War.
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on 13 September 2014
A truely horrific account of patriotic young boys, who were inspired to "do their bit" by the news coming from the Front, but were systematically abused by Government and Army alike, into fighting and dying for their country, regardless of how old they were.
Many had been bullied and abused into joining up by some Recruiting Sergeants accosting them in the street, who were being rewarded for each recruit they made, so, this seemed to be a very lucrative business to those who appeared to disregard pleas of being under-age by these recruits, many as young as fourteen, fifteen and sixteen, but some as young as twelve, to apparently make money, regardless of Regulations that stated soldiers had to be at least nineteen before being allowed to fight abroad.
These were despite pleas from some parents, many of whom had no idea that their sons had joined up, and had also showed proof of their under-age sons, but many were ignored, either by elements of Government with platitudes, or, Army hieracy, who either ignored the pleas, or took their time in withdrawing those under-age, to extent that some of them had been killed before they could be removed from "harms way", and brought home.
The excuse was that these boys had joined up giving fraudulent information, had been trained and kitted out at great expense to the Country, so it was their fault of being where they were...!!
There appeared to be little "Common Sense" by many in a desperation to get as many recruits as possible, to fill the places of those who had been killed or maimed for life.
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on 6 October 2015
As with my review on "Sapper Martin" also by this author, the remarks then belong to this book as well. Richard Van Emden also writes in a style I find easy to understand and which make me want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next, and that is what a good book is all about.
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on 19 September 2014
An Interesting Book about a subject little covered in the past. Alot of people do not realise that there were many under 19's who fought in the trenches in the First World War. Some were as young as 14, and just about all were volunteers. Some were Sergeants before they were 18, and some won gallantry medals, and a great number were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. They were young hero's.
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on 13 January 2014
Richard van Emden has clearly researched this touching and revealing subject very well and produces a fascinating picture of the stark reality which a country faced when attempting to restore freedom and save Europe from the scourge of the Huns. We all have an inkling about boys fraudulently enlisting but this author reveals the big picture of a monumental cover up and denial of the truth, from the recruiting Sergeant and medical officer through the army rank structure and all the way to government. The struggle which rumbled on throughout the war is revealingly described and explains the situation so very well. The scandal is revealed as, well as the heart wrenching stories of some of the many thousands of somewhat misinformed boys who volunteered to fight. They were all heroes and should never be forgotten, in fact a specific curriculum should be devised to teach present day children about their forebears. These boy soldiers contributed so much to the eventual victory and I salute them all. Well done Richard van Emden.
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on 23 September 2014
very interesting book it looks into life of some very young lads in the army and navy in the first world war. It looks at their way of life how they got into the services the trials and tribulations they come accross and the action they saw. Some had their age found out and were sent home others had their ages ignored as long as they did the job. How lads of that age endured what they did and what they saw, I shall never know.
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on 23 April 2014
Another good read from one of my favourite historians. This was fascinating for me to find out more
About the young boys who lied to go to war. Because my Grandfather was discovered lying at 14yrs for the army,
He joined the navy cadets and fought on board ships from 16yrs, in 1916. Well worth purchasing.
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on 11 June 2014
Heart breaking that these young immature young lads were taken advantage off because of their patriotism, it to our countries eternal shame. Once again the high command callous indifference, ineptitude to human life. My personal opinion that we should never have venerated or put them on a pedi sta
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on 3 October 2017
Good book by a very good writer, how the young lads stood up to it is amazing.
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