Child Soldiers on the Frontin WorldWar One
It was a war which put incredible burdens on the shoulders of mothers. A
war which turned innocent fathers into merciless killers. A war which put
weapons into the hands of weak hands. A war which destroyed dreams and
young children before they could have a chance to live.
World War One demanded sacrifices. From everyone. Even from children.
Mothers had to go to railway stations and live through the terrible moment
when the train left for a battlefield at some unknown and faraway places.
However, instead of searching for the faces of their proud husbands, they
had to find the eyes of their children only to shed tears at the moment of
Those children who liked to play soldiers became rather enthusiastic about
reaching glory for their people and themselves. They were enthusiastic
because they believed: nothing will change, they simply play soldiers.
As a matter of fact, everything did change. They were no more running for
their victory but for survival; they were no more running around on the safe
family property but on some alien battlefields full of corpses.
The war overwrote the decree passed in 1914 which said that no one under
the age of 18 can be enlisted, and, as a result, at least a quarter million
children between the ages of 15 and 18 found themselves on the front.
Ki van itthon nálatok, fiú?
Friends andbrothers who remained at home also wanted to take up
Many young people signed up voluntarily. What may have been
their motivation? Enthusiasm? The spirit of the age? A feeling of
obligation? Perhaps we will never know the answer. Perhaps there is
no right answer since everybody made their decision individually.
Therefore, I would like to invite you to join me on a journey. A
journey that makes you cry so that you can understand what were
the motivations for three special young men to enter the recruiting
Jim Martin was only fourteen when he accompanied his father to the
office of the recruiting officers. He saw how proud his father had been
thinking that he would be able to fulfil the demands of his country to
fight in the war and then he also saw the dissappointment in his father’s
eyes when he was rejected. At that moment Jim stepped up to the
officer claiming that he was eighteen and while his height was being
measured, he murmured to his father: „Don’t worry, Dad, I’ll go for
you!” And he went to Gallipoli with his regiment. In his letter written to
his parents in September he proved to be a fully mature man who could
stay humane among the terrible conditions of the war. He asked them
not to worry about him because he feels perfectly all right. He died the
next month on board a ship where typhoid took its toll among the tired
and weakened soldiers.
John Kipling was sixteen when, urged by his father, he applied for
military service in London but for health reasons his request was
immediatately rejected. The well-known poet (Rudyard Kipling) could not
accept that his son would not be able to fight in the war, and therefore
he turned to the commander-in-chief directly. As a result, in spite of his
visual disorder, John, fully armed, made his first steps against the enemy
and last one in his life. When his father learned about the death of his
son, he wrote the following lines: "If any question why we died/ Tell
them, because our fathers lied."
Albert French was also sixteen and the only one who joined the war
voluntarily. He was much weaker than his contemporaries, yet the
recruiting officers believed that he was old enough to join the
regiment sent to Belgium. His letters provide a good picture of stark
reality. He died on the front one week before his seventeenth
birthday. His age was not inscribed on his tomb. When after more
than sixty years his brother was walking in the cemetery, he saw a lot
of tombs, and it was only his brother, one of the youngest soldiers of
all times, whose tomb did not display the age of the man buried
The war took many things from the young: their happy childhood,
their most beautiful years, their health and their spiritual peace, i.e.
their whole life. The survivors broke down like the 17-year-old
soldier who is mentioned in the poem ”Pluck” written by sister Eva
He survived the war. He survived but would never be able to forget
all these details. He survived but was never able to start life again.
The poem tells about his bravery and his perseverence even in the
hardest of times. He remained a soldier and showed quietness but
his eyes revealed his deepest pain based on the question: Why?
As the war was progressing, death notices began to grow in number: more
and more children lost their fathers, and and more and more mothers
decided to present an embroidered story to their kids instead of telling them
the truth. Fathers were keen on sending their families letters of a light and
cheerful atmosphere nature to save them pain and sorrow.
The children who read these messages hoped that they would see their dads
appear again after such a long time. However, when they finally returned
home they turned out to be psychologically broken and distorted shadows of
their own selves. Children then realized that they had lost their great heroes
A tüzérségi sokk
The Artillery Shock
The question arises: if the war had left such deep wounds on adult men,
what did it do to the teenage soldiers?
The artillery shock reached the children too. From Albert’s letter it
becomes clear that the teenagers did understand the horrors of the war
… As a kind of magic, some of them could cope with these stories
though many young people failed to do so. When they lost their hope in
any future, they deserted the army. But those who got arrested were
mercilessly executed. Victor Silvester, who joined the English army at
the age of 16, was forced to be a member of a firing squad. Later, in an
interview, he recalled one of the soldiers of his own age at whom he had
to shoot. He aimed at him blindly so the final shot had to be done by an
officer. The boy’s last cry: ”Mummy!” echoed in him for a long time.
Despite the fact that in 1918the soldiers
recruited at avery young age ,the real fight for
them started in the same year:after many
years ofkillings anddestruction they hadto
learn to build.They hadto learn TOLIVE.