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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Warlike Wednesday: determined to join up

There are lots of family stories about young men lying about their age to join the army, and I have the proof of one right here. James Calderhead tried harder than most. He is not my ancestor, but he is part of a family closely connected with mine.

Almost as soon as was was declared in 1914, he signed up for three years' service in the Scottish Rifles, claiming to be 19 years old. Note the statement 'You are hereby warned that if after enlistment it is found that you gave a wilfully false answer to any of the following seven questions, you will be liable to a punishment of two years' imprisonment with hard labour'. So the army specifically did not threaten this as a punishment for giving a false age, one of the question before the warning.

The National Archives ref: WO 364/592
A few months later, he was discharged 'having made a misstatement as to age on enlistment' and a further note says 'Date of birth according to birth certificate 25th March 1901', which made him 13 when he tried to enlist. This is a clerical error, because I have a copy of his birth certificate, and he was actually  born on 25th March 1900. But 14 is a bit on the young side too, I think!

The National Archives ref: WO 364/592
In the autumn of 1915 he had another go, this time he joined the Royal Marines

The National Archives ref: ADM 159/162
The physical description part of this form (not illustrated) shows that he had grown 2 inches taller in the intervening year, but the Royal Marines took less than a month to rumble him, and he was discharged again for 'Mis-statement as to age' on 7th October. Undeterred by this, he decided to give the army another try, and less than two weeks after his discharge from the Royal Marines, he signed up for the duration in the Lovat Scouts

The National Archives ref: WO 364/592
This time he managed to serve 59 days before being found out, so he was back on Civvy Street before Christmas 1915.

The National Archives ref: WO 364/592
But did he give up? Of course not. Less than three months later, and about three weeks before his 16th birthday he joined the Royal Navy. He claimed to be nearly twenty years old, and this time he got away with it. His record shows that he served for the remainder of the war as an Ordinary Seaman, and was finally discharged in January 1919.

The National Archives ref: ADM 188/748
That is probably the end of the story, but on the birth certificate of one of his 14 children his occupation is given as 'Merchant seaman', so perhaps he had found life at sea appealed to him. However, I haven't found any evidence of this in the merchant navy records we have at The National Archives...yet.

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