Boy soldiers and a deaf volunteer

editorial image

The recruiting fever of 1914 offers many examples of under-age enlistment and the town of Ballymena was no exception. Henry Brown, for instance, managed to bluff his way past the recruiting sergeant with a claim to be 19 years of age.

But his ruse was discovered when his understandably worried parents produced the young man’s birth certificate revealing that his true age was 15. In a letter to the commander of the battalion, which had by now been sent to camp at Newtownards for basic training, Brown’s father wrote:

“Would you be so good as to let Henry Brown of ‘A’ Company off as you will see by his birth certificate that he is to(o) young and I think that he is not fit for route marching.”

Lt. Col. R. McCalmont duly granted this request on February 26, 1915. His authorising signature appears at the bottom of Brown’s medical form. The information contained on this fine example of military bureaucracy tells its town story about selection criteria at this period when droves of men were literally begging to be enlisted. Brown’s age is, of course, falsely given as 19. His height is recorded as five feet three inches and his weight 111lbs (around eight stone). His standard chest measurement is given as 33.5 inches with an expansion of two inches.

From a modern perspective, the enthusiastic Master Brown would be considered small and underweight but the doctor who examined him in 1914 classed his physical development as ‘good’, an opinion which tells us a great deal about the health standards of the day.

But perhaps the best discharge certificate is that of James Lawrence Clarke, of Alexander Street, Ballymena. He enlisted on September 24, 1914 and served until December, 15 1914, a total of 83 days.

And this despite the fact that he suffered from:- “deafness, both ears for last five years, has not heard a word of command since joining the battalion ..”

One can only imagine his performance on the drill square! It is also noteworthy that Clarke’s brother, John, signed on at that the same recruiting station, obviously well aware of his sibling’s disability!