Canada’s Boy Soldiers in WWI & WWII

At the November 2017 meeting for the Leeds-Grenville Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS), former editor of “Legion Magazine: Canada’s Military History Magazine“, Mr. Dan Black gave a very interesting talk about under-age soldiers from all across Canada who served during the WWI and WWII.

 

Some of the young men came home after their tour of duty, but many that didn’t. He read excerpts from two of the books he co-authored with John Boileau, describing their time in the field, and also read from some of the soldier’s letters home to their families and loved ones. For a few of those boys, their mother’s went through great effort to try to persuade the authorities to release their sons from service and send them home.

A great deal of research went into detailing the lives of these under-age soldiers, and Mr. Black shared information about the resources he accessed in order to do it – one of the main repositories accessed was Library and Archives Canada (LAC). He also spoke about some of the more challenging aspects of targeting his subjects due to the fact that their enlistment papers usually had false dates of birth. Many of these boys enlisted at the young ages of 15 and 16, there were some that were even younger. He told one particular story about a young man who enlisted not only under age, but under his elder brother’s name, which cause some difficulties when the family received a telegram expressing the regrets of the loss of their son.

The first book “Old Enough to Fight: Canada’s Boy Soldiers in the First World War” has a forward written by Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire. And the second book “Too Young to Die: Canada’s Boy Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen in the Second World War” had its forward  written by General John de Chastelain.

These books are an incredible resource for researchers of Canada’s Military History during the two World Wars, and for those that have general interest in newly researched and published aspects of those two conflicts.

I thought one of the most poignant aspects of the talk was when he was describing the Estate Forms that had to be filled out by the families of the deceased soldiers – usually by their mothers. Reading each of the files diligently filled out in their hand must have been a very intimate and moving part of the research.

Mr. Black spoke briefly on the next book currently in the research phase which will also be focused on a little known aspect of the First World War, to be written and publication expected for 2019.

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