How 250,000 Underage Recruits Lied About their Age in World War One


When a campaign for volunteers was launched in 1914, thousands of men answered the call to fight. Among them were 250,000 boys and young men under the age of 19, the legal limit for armed service overseas. So how did so many men manage to evade giving proof of their age and successfully fight in the war?

Official government policy stated that you had to be at least 18 to sign up and at least 19 to be able to fight overseas. However, a century ago many people didn’t have birth certificates, meaning it was easier to lie about your age. Furthermore, It didn’t help that recruitment officers were paid two shillings and sixpence, about £6 in today’s money, for each new recruit, and would often turn a blind eye to any concern they had about age. When it came to the recruitment process, officers were more concerned with fitness than age. The minimum height requirement was five feet, three inches, with a minimum chest size of 34 inches, so a 16 year-old in the final stages of puberty was very likely to be let through and pass for an 18 year old.

This would not happen today, though. Even though the army considers applications from people as young as 16, the formal written consent of their parent or guardian is required. Despite this, an estimated 300,000 children are currently involved in armed forces or militias around the world. Children between the ages of 10 and 14 years old, in particular boys, are most vulnerable to abduction and recruitment and are deemed to be strong enough to carry weapons. Children are considered to be particularly malleable, both physically and mentally, and easier to manage and control.