Underage Cheltonian Soldiers

A full and detailed description of the types of enlistment into the British Army during the Great War is given here.   Basically, the minimum age of enlistment at the declaration of war was 19 years, being reduced to 18 years on 10th April 1918 following the manpower crisis after the German offensive in March 1918.

During the immediate period after the declaration of war on the 4th August 1914 many men were inspired by the news, drum-beating and pressure to conform, to enlist.   Men joined up for all manner of reasons, including a natural desire to quit a humdrum or arduous job, take a chance of seeing another country, or to escape family or other troubles.  Volunteers usually had a considerable choice about which branch of the service they joined; many travelled considerable distances to attend a depot or recruiting office for a particular unit.  They would be attracted to a Regiment or Corps by its reputation, the fact that it was the local one, or where they had relatives or pals.  There is also plenty of evidence that the Army connived in the recruitment of under-age soldiers (although it is most definitely NOT true that the typical Tommy was 16 and lied about his age to get in).

After the form filling and the examinations, the process was concluded by the recruit 'taking the King's Shilling' and the recruiting Sergeant taking his sixpence per man.  The recruit then went home, receiving his joining instructions and travel warrant a few days later.

The following Cheltonians were underage when they enlisted and subsequently died in the service of their country.

Leonard Frederick AYRES was born in Cheltenham in the final quarter of 1899 and enlisted in February 1916 (aged 16) serving with 18th Battalion (1st Public Works Pioneers) Middlesex Regiment.   He was killed in action on 16th April 1918 (aged 18) during the Battle of Lys in the Neuve Eglise area of northern France near to the Belgian border   He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial.

He is also commemorated on the Cheltenham War Memorial and the St Paul's Church War Memorial.

Leonard Ayres' parents, James and Elizabeth Ayres (nee Ornsby), resided at 33 Marle Hill Road, Cheltenham.

The photo was published in "The Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic" on 11th May 1918.

Cecil James DELANEY was born in Thornbury, Glos, in the final quarter of 1898.   He enlisted into 10th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment in March 1915 (aged 16) and was killed in action at Bois Carre, west of Hulluch on 25th September 1915, the first day of the Battle of Loos.   He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

He is also commemorated on the Cheltenham Borough Memorial, the St Peter's Church War Memorial and St Gregory's Church Roll of Honour.

Cecil Delaney's mother, Mrs Elizabeth Delaney, was associated with The Post Office, 84 Tewkesbury Road, St Peters, Cheltenham.

The photo was published in "The Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic" on 25th December 1915.

Joseph Sydney KING was born in Cheltenham during the summer of 1899.   He enlisted into the 10th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment in December 1914 (aged 15).   He was wounded on 25th September 1915 as Bois Carre, west of Hulluch on the first day of the Battle of Loos and was evacuated to Netley Military Hospital, Southampton.   He died there on 8th October 1915 (aged 16) and is buried in Cheltenham Cemetery.

He is commemorated on the Cheltenham War Memorial, the St James Church Roll of Honour and the St James' School Roll of Honour.

Joseph King's parents, John and Annie King, resided at 6 Brunswick Buildings, Upper Bath Road, Cheltenham.

The photo was published in "The Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic" on 16th October 1915.

Young Cheltonian Sailors

Boys of 16 and over were allowed to join the Royal Navy as a Midshipman and train to become an naval officers.   The boys continued their education and whilst on board a ship learned seamanship and other naval duties.   At 18 or over, the boys attended the Royal Naval College and on graduation were commissioned into the Royal Navy.
Midshipman Vernon Hector CORBYN was born in Cardiff in 1898.   Whilst aged 16, was serving on board HMS Cressy when it was torpedoed along with HMS Aboukir and HMS Houge by the German Submarine E9 on 22nd September 1914.   Nearly 1,500 men were lost in the incident, including Vernon Corbyn. 

He has no known grave but the sea and is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial.

He is commemorated on the Cheltenham War Memorial and the All Saints Church War Memorial.

His aunt, Miss Eveline Margaret Corbyn, resided at Easton Villas, Albert Road, Cheltenham.

The photo was published in "The Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic" on 3rd October 1914.

Midshipman Meynell Osborne HANWELL was born in Cheltenham in 1900.   Whilst aged 16, was serving on board HMS Defence when it was hit by a salvo of shells and was sunk on 31st May 1916 during the Battle of Jutland.   HMS Defence had a complement of 54 officers, 845 men and 4 civilians.   There were no survivors.   Meynell Hanwell has no known grave but the sea and is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

He is commemorated on the Cheltenham War Memorial and the Holy Apostles Church Roll of Honour.

His parents, Major J Hanwell and Mrs Ethel Octavia Hanwell resided at Orchard Lawn, Battledown Approach, Cheltenham.

The photo was published in "War Illustrated, Volume 4, page 480".

Midshipman George (aka Paul) HOPCRAFT was born in Portsmouth in 1900.   Whilst aged 16, was serving on board HMS Queen Mary when it was sunk on 31st May 1916 during the Battle of Jutland.   HMS Queen Mary had a compliment of 60 officers and 1.215 men, only 9 were saved.   Paul Hopcraft is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

He is commemorated on the Bishops Cleeve War Memorial, the Southam War Memorial and the Cleeve Hill (St Peter's Church) War Memorial.

His parents, George Paxman Hopcraft and Mrs Mildred Hopcraft, resided at Old Gable House, Southam, near Cheltenham.

The photo was published in "The Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic" on 10 June 1916.

 

Page last updated:  1st August 2013

 

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