Page last updated at 17:48 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

Youngsters who lied about their age to join up

Reginald Earnshaw
Reginald Earnshaw lied about his age to help the war effort

Fourteen-year-old Reginald Earnshaw has been confirmed as the UK's youngest known service member to have been killed in WWII after lying about his age to join the merchant navy as a cabin boy.

You have been sending us your stories of other youngsters who lied about their age as they joined up to help the British war effort.


I too went to sea as a cabin boy aged 15 years nine months being born in 1925. I put a year on my age, which is still recorded in my discharge book, although amended at a later date.

My first trip was June 1941, but I soon switched to deck and eventually obtained my master's certificate.

I had no regrets and retired from the sea in 1978 and started another career which I am still working in.


My brother was 14 when he joined the Royal Navy. I have his four medals, one of which I believe was awarded for serving six months in the "field of battle", as he told me he was awarded one of these medals before his sixteenth birthday. I remember the day he received his "papers" and how happy he was to be going to war.


My great uncle lied about his age to join the First World War. Thankfully he was quickly captured, spent the war as a POW and died at a ripe old age on the golf course in Wales, probably as he would have wished!


I find this story very moving as my own father joined the merchant navy at the same age.

His family moved to Cardiff when he was aged 14, but owing to the amount of time he had previously spent in hospital due to an injury, found himself unable to find a school that would accept him (the leaving age at that time was 15 so the local schools thought it would be futile for such a short period).

He therefore decided to join his father and brother in the merchant navy. He too must have lied about his age which according to him was quite common at the time. Within a year or so of joining, the war broke out and he soon found himself along with his shipmates running the regular gauntlet of German bombers and submarines.

Unfortunately his luck ran out when one night his ship was torpedoed. He was just 17 years old at the time but was lucky enough to survive the ordeal, even though it meant spending two freezing cold days and nights in a lifeboat dressed only in pyjamas and boots!

Within a few weeks he was back on board another ship and managed to see out the remainder of the war years physically unscathed.

Unfortunately the same could not be said of his father and brother who both lost their lives in separate incidents while serving Queen and country.

It must have seemed like a wonderful adventure at the time for such boys as Reginald Earnshaw, Raymond Steed and countless others along with my dad. The reality, however, was a harsh contrast.


My father and his friend went down to the Royal Navy recruiting office in Edinburgh, only to be turned away as too young.

The Royal Marine there said they would take them straight away so they joined up. Dad served with 41 RM Commando from formation to disbandment.

He was at Sicily, Salerno, D-Day and Walcheren Island landings and others along the way. Most of the men he served with were casualties. A tough four years. RIP Dad.


My father, Harry Victor George Smith, joined the TA (Royal Artillery) in 1939 in Swindon, Wiltshire. He and his mates were keen on the two week camp offered by the TA - the only way of getting a holiday of sorts.

To do this he lied about his age saying he was 18 but was 17. A few months later war broke out and all TA were instantly called up.

His father offered to tell the army of his age but me dad joined anyway knowing full well he would have been called up at some point.

He went on to fight in North Africa and Italy. All his army records that we have in our possession show his DOB as 1922 when it really was 1923.

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