Interesting

How motivated were the Australian, Canadian and NZ soldiers in the British army during the two world wars?

How motivated were the Australian, Canadian and NZ soldiers in the British army during the two world wars?

How motivated were the Australian, Canadian and NZ soldiers in the British army during the two world wars? Did they feel that their homeland was under threat or did they have problem understanding why they were fighting a war oceans away?

There must also have been some people with German ancestry or ethnicity that could be conscripted, what happened to them?


In the early years of the second world war, Britain made frequent requests for help from its colonies. One man to respond was Billy Strachan. Like most Jamaicans at the time, he regarded Britain as his homeland and enlisting it seemed a natural option.

“I went to the British Army camp in Jamaica to ask about being sent to Britain to join the R.A.F, but I was laughed at and told to find my own way there”.

“I then went to the Jamaica Fruits Shipping company, which had some boats coming from Britain four of the middle-class white people fleeing from the war, and persuaded them to let me have a passage back for £15. I didn’t have £15, so I sold my bicycle and saxophone to raise the fair”.

On arrival in Britain Strachan had no idea how to enlist, and so he headed off to the Air Ministry in London.

“I hadn’t heard about the recruiting stations and the guards thought I was taking the Mickey when I said I wanted to join up. Luckily, a Hooray Henry, Officer type, overheard us and said: “oh you’re from Jamaica, one of our colonial friends. Welcome. I did geography at university and I’ve always been impressed by you West Africans.” Thanks to his supreme ignorance I was dragged in and was eventually sent to the RAF unit in Euston for a medical.”


Douaumont Ossuary

The Douaumont charnel house is a burial site for the bones of soldiers killed on the western front near Verdun, who could not be identified. In 1984, on the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, François Mitterand and Helmut Kohl stood here hand in hand and declared: "We have reconciled. We have come to an understanding. We have become friends".

Unforgotten victims and memorial places


Winner of the Plaque Design

The WW1 Next of Kin Memorial Plaque.

On 20 th March 1918 the results of the competition were announced in The Times newspaper. This was the day before the German Army launched a massive surprise attack on several miles of the British Front on the Somme battlefield in France. By the end of the following day, 21 st there were several thousand more British casualties caused by this attack, whose names would be added to the list of those to be commemorated by this memorial plaque.

The names of seven prize winning entries were announced, together with names for 19 highly commended entries. All but one of the seven prize winning entries were circular in dedesign. The designs were made available for the public to see in an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Kensington.

Prize Winners

The sum of £250 was awarded for two entries submitted under the pseudonym of “Pyramus”. The overall winning design was chosen from these two entries. They were by Mr Edward Carter Preston (1894-1965), founder of the Sandon Studies Society, Liberty Buildings, School Lane in Liverpool.

Mr E Carter Preston was also responsible in the same year for medal designs for the newly formed Royal Air Force's gallantry medals dating from June 1918, these being the silver Air Force Cross, the silver Distinguished Flying Cross, the silver Air Force Medal, and the Distinguished Flying Medal. E Carter Preston was a painter, sculptor and medallist.

The sum of £100 was awarded to two entries under the pseudonym “Woolie”, which had been submitted by Mr Charles Wheeler of Justice Well Studios, Chelsea in London.

A prize of £50 was awarded to each of three further entries to “Sculpengro” (two designs by Mr William McMillan), “Weary” (a design by Sapper G D Macdougall) and “Zero” (a design by Miss A F Whiteside).

Publication of the Winning Design

Detail of Britannia holding a trident and wreath on the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque. One of the two dolphins in the design is seen near her left shoulder.

The winning design by Mr E Carter Preston was described and shown to the public in The Times newspaper three days later, on 23 rd March 1918. The design incorporated the figure of Britannia. She is facing to her left and holding a laurel wreath in her left hand over the box where the commemorated serviceman's name was to be placed. In her right hand she is holding a trident. In representation of Britain's sea power there are two dolphins each facing Britannia on her left and right sides.

Detail of the lion on a Next of Kin Memorial Plaque.

A lion is standing in front of Britannia at her feet, also facing to the left with a menacing growl. As specified by the committee, the words “He died for freedom and honour” are written around the margin of the circular plaque. A very small lion, with his head facing to the right can be seen underneath the larger lion's feet, biting into a winged creature representing the German Imperial eagle.

Interestingly there was a response to the design from the zoo at Clifton, Bristol, whereby a letter was written to The Times to say that the lion was not very life-like, looked a bit feeble as it was too small in scale compared to Britannia.


The teenage soldiers of World War One

War confers many things on boys who pick up a weapon to fight. They learn the true meaning of fear. They test their own capacity for courage and the limits of human endurance, physical and mental.

Some find that killing comes easily to them, too easily. And others recoil from acts of blood.

But what unites all teenage warriors is the speed with which they are hurled into a place of maiming and death.

Describing the training of a boy soldier in World War One, Wilfred Owen, wrote in Arms and the Boy:

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade

How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood

Blue with all malice, like a madman's flash

And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-heads

Which long to muzzle in the hearts of lads.

Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth,

Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.

From Homer's Iliad to the present day the stories of boy soldiers evoke a particular sadness, resonant as they are of the destruction of youth and possibility.

But at the outbreak of the Great War there was nothing to suggest that the tens of thousands of boy volunteers were about to join a long, doomed procession.

Nearly 250,000 teenagers would join the call to fight. The motives varied and often overlapped - many were gripped by patriotic fervour, sought escape from grim conditions at home or wanted adventure.

Technically the boys had to be 19 to fight but the law did not prevent 14-year-olds and upwards from joining in droves. They responded to the Army's desperate need for troops and recruiting sergeants were often less than scrupulous.

"It was obvious they weren't 19," says historian Richard Van Emden, "but youɽ have a queue of men going down the road, you're getting a bounty for every one who joins up, are you really going to argue the toss with a young lad who's enthusiastic, who's keen as mustard to go, who looks maybe pretty fit, pretty well. Let's take him."

Fifteen-year-old Cyril Jose was a tin-miner's son from Cornwall. With the region suffering from heavy unemployment, the boy with a strong sense of adventure joined up. From his training camp he wrote an excited letter to his sister:

"Dearest Ivy, stand back. I've got my own rifle and bayonet. The bayonet's about 2ft long from hilt to end of point. Must feel a bit rummy to run into one of them in a charge. Not ɺrf. Goodbye and God bless you, from your fit brother, Cyril."

Cyril survived the war but the bloodshed he witnessed in France turned him into a vehement opponent of militarism for the rest of his life. In one letter home he poured scorn on the British commander, Field Marshal Earl Haig.

"What brains Earl Douglas must have. Made me laugh when I read his dispatch. 'I attacked.' Old women in England picturing Sir Doug in front of the British waves brandishing his sword at Johnny in the trenches. attack Johnny from 100 miles back. I'll get a job like that in the next war."

Why did so many teenagers make it to the battlefield?

  • Recruitment officers were paid two shillings and sixpence for each new army recruit, and would often ignore any concerns they had about age.
  • Many people at the start of the 20th Century didn't have birth certificates, so it was easy to lie about how old you were.
  • The minimum height requirement was 5ft 3in (1.60m), with a minimum chest size of 34in (0.86m). If you met these criteria you were likely to be recruited.
  • Some young boys were scared of being called a coward and could not resist the pressure from society.

The patriotic imperative at the outbreak of war was not confined to British-born boys. For the children of migrants, rallying to the flag was proof of loyalty to their new country.

Aby Bevistein was born in Russian-occupied Poland in 1898 and came to London when he was three. In September 1914 Aby volunteered, changing his surname to the English "Harris".

Soon after his arrival in France Aby discovered the wretched nature of trench warfare. He wrote home:

"Dear mother, I've been in the trenches four times and come out safe. We're down the trenches for six days and then we get relieved for six days' rest. Dear mother, I do not like the trenches. We're going in again this week."

For Aby, and many like him, the trenches meant cold and mud, wet clothes and rats, the smell of death and the sight of mutilated flesh, long monotonous hours interrupted by terror.

On 29 December 1915 Aby was caught in a German mine explosion - the enemy had tunnelled under the trench where he was stationed. He was wounded and suffered what was then simply called "shock". In today's military lexicon it would be described as "combat stress" or "post traumatic stress disorder".

By early spring Aby was back on the front. On 12 Feb 1916 the Germans again attacked his position, this time with grenades.

Suffering from shock, Aby wandered back and forth along the British lines. He was eventually arrested and charged with desertion. His last letter home is that of a boy who seems determined to underplay his situation, not to put stress on his mother at home.

"Dear mother, I'm in the trenches and I was ill so I went out, and they took me to the prison and I'm in a bit of trouble now."

The following month Aby then aged 17, became one of the 306 British soldiers executed during the Great War.

Those who survived the trenches and came home brought memories that retained the power to haunt until the end of their lives. St John Battersby was 16 when he was severely wounded at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

Like all of the teenaged officers, Lieutenant St John Battersby had responsibilities far beyond his years, as his son, Anthony, recalls:

"There's my dad, 16-years-old, really in the war. He is responsible for 30-odd men and his decisions may result in them dying or not dying. This was it."

Three months after he was wounded, St John Battersby was back in France leading men in battle again. He could have opted to stay at home - by now the government was taking all those under 19 years of age out of the front lines. But a shortage of experienced officers meant they were allowing boys like St John Battersby to stay on if they wished.

A sense of duty compelled St John to return. Soon after coming back he was blown up by a German shell and lost his left leg. Determined to continue helping the war effort, he asked for, and was given, an administrative job in Britain.

But years later, after a fruitful life serving as a country vicar, the memories of war returned. His son Anthony remembered his father's last hours.

"In the hour or two before he died, he was on the Western Front, yelling, 'the Bosch are coming. We're going over the top now'. Right down deep on the ground floor of his memory was the Western Front."

The man facing death was once again the boy who had cheated it so many times.

Teenage Tommies will be broadcast on Tuesday 11 November at 21:00 GMT on BBC Two. Or catch up later on BBC iPlayer.

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How well did American and British soldiers get along during ww2?

Pretty straight forward question, as we know back then information travelled much slower than today which allowed for more stereotypes and such. So my question is asking, when yanks first arrived in Britain how did the British like/dislike them? After all the U.S has always had cultural and economic ties to England so did they generally get along like the two do today?

Iɽ also like to extend this question to the other, "brothers" of the U.S. So please feel free to answer for Australia, Canada, and New Zealand too.

My Great Grandfather was a U.S. Army Colonel in the Pacific Theater during WWII. He occasionally worked with his Australian and British counterparts to coordinate intelligence reports, from what I've been told of him. My Grandmother has a few pictures of him with some of these officers framed in her living room, so Iɽ assume, at least in the Pacific Theatre and among officers, they got along pretty well. I can't comment on what happened in Europe or Africa, though.

Yanks and Aussies didn’t get along to much in Australia due to the massive racism by the U.S. Army. There where several large “battles” in Australian cities in involving white yanks verses Aussies and Black yanks, which resulted in numerous fatalities.

One thing I have always been told/taught is that the British and Americans clashed over segregation. The American soldiers were shocked there were no formal segregation rules in the UK and the British thought them very extreme.

My Nan was in the Wrens, the Royal Navy’s women’s service, driving trucks and operating radios in the war and she got shouted at by some white US GIs for dancing with one of the black GIs.

There was the battle of Brisbane I believe. A train load of US troops and a train load of Aust troops opened fire on each other.

One Australian soldier was killed when a US MP shot 5 people with a shotgun during the first riots. The Four others that were shot where Australian soldiers and the other was a pregnant woman.

Australians and Americans didnt really get along in the Pacific. Has a lot to do with MacArthur.

Some British comedian said something to the effect that there were only 3 problems with American soldiers, they were 'overpaid, oversexed, and over here'.

From the Canadian perspective.

We had about 12,000 US citizens come to Canada to enlist in our military ( mostly the RCAF ) as volunteers before Pearl Harbor. They knew that a war with Germany was inevitable. In many cases they joined under a assumed name, because of the US laws about " serving in a foreign military force ". Some of them died under their assumed names and are buried in Canadian military graves in Europe.

When the Americans arrived in the UK, the Canadians were mostly amused by their behavior while on leave, where they acted as if they were above UK civilian laws. Drunk and looking for a fight, the British police locked them up, and the US MP's let them go with out any punishment. That changed when the British Government convicted a large number of the American troops and sent them to British army military prisons.

In Italy, the Canadians were on the east coast of the country, while the Americans were on the west coast, so there wasn't much contact between the two armies.

This will come across as harsh but I feel that during ww2 the Americans treated everywhere as if it was America which doesn’t work very well in most countries. American military police got away with killing 5 aussies with a shotgun by claiming it was self defence, the aussies where unarmed and Americans where wondering around with handguns and shotguns. Self defence isn’t even a valid reason to kill someone here in Australia and It hasn’t been legal for decades.

They were generally kept apart and were a sort of quirky mystery to each other. Civilians liked US troops because they were well paid and had weird exotic stuff like Coca Cola, orange juice and good cigarettes.

While their habits and attractiveness to da laydeez annoyed many Brits, the necessity of having them in the war, and the idealistic decency Americans then had, made up for it.

In Normandy the British launched Operation Bluecoat right alongside their junction with US troops. It is quite clear that, apart from a minor interaction between commanders, the two armies had almost zero interaction.

In Market Garden, the 82nd Airborne and Guards Armoured Divisions fought together. Some US officers were very critical of the hesitacy of the British troops after the Nijmegen Bridge was captured.

Another recurring theme is many US soldiers saw British troops as constantly 'stopping for tea'. British soldiers would almost always start making tea at any stop, for any reason. Cause and effect were misunderstood here.

My great grandmother actually had an �ir' with a US soldier who was stationed in the UK. Not sure if that constituted an affair like today but for the time it was certainly considered to be one. There is also a park in Auckland, New Zealand that has a little information board outside that mentions plenty of fighting between Kiwis and Americans over anger at the dashing and exotic US soldiers being sought after by the local women.

Most mixing only took place at the highest echelons otherwise the troops had different sectors on the front so there wasn't much need to get along. In the Pacific, the British were fighting more in the Indian Ocean and in eastern India and Burma/Myanmar, with the US engaged in its island hopping campaign and also advancement to the Philippines. In Torch, the North African campaign, the British were on the east for the most part and Americans landing at two zones in the west and the British at one other zone.

Most soldiers are pretty young, so there were significant limits on what they could get out and do for the ones stationed in the UK waiting to invade France.

That said, the US troops were generally better supplied and dealt with less deprivations than the British, so there were some resentments relating to rations.

I've always been led to believe that they held a lot of disdain for each other as the US soldiers were paid substantially more than ours were and fed better also.
This was mitigated somewhat after the US published a series of informative videos instructing US soldiers how to behave in Britain as there were a lot of cultural differences, more so than today.

The US soldiers were taught that they should not harass the women, respect pubs and not trash it as many of them are older than their country, that they shouldn't be loud and obnoxious in them, and they should be as polite as possible as locals (Although they probably don't want to) will feel obligated to invite them to their home for dinner, the US soldiers were further instructed never to ask for seconds as although this was seen as a polite gesture and indicative of liking the food, the locals would likely oblige them and starve themselves to feed the soldier again as they will also be too proud to admit this and the severity of rationing.

The American troops also tended to be more racist and often expressed disdain over the lack of segregation in British towns. I'm sure the officers got along well enough though, but I'm not surprised that American sources will report that we got along famously for propaganda purposes, the need for instructional videos on this issues would indicate otherwise.


Conditions and activities

Enlistment term

From the end of the Napoleonic Wars until 1847, men were enlisted for twenty-one years, practically for life. From 1847 enlistment was for ten years, later increased to twelve with a pension after twenty one years for extended service. From 1870, as part of the Caldwell Reforms, “short service” was introduced, where men enlisted for a period of time in the Army, the balance of time in the reserves (total twelve years). The standard term varied over time, including six and six, seven and five, three and nine, nine and three years, 𖏣] but terms may have been modified for regiments going to India. 𖏤]

Wives and families travelling to India

For soldiers deployed from Britain to overseas garrisons only a proportion of men were allowed to be accompanied by their wives. For most countries the proportion was six wives per one hundred soldiers. However for India, and Australia, the ratio was twelve wives per one hundred men, including NCOs. The number of children was unlimited. 𖏥] These wives and children were provided with food, accomodation and transportation by the Army and were classified as "on the strength". There are thought to be very few soldiers' wives in India who were "off the strength", however, for one marriage in India (76th Regiment) see External links below. An 1870 Cork newspaper advertisement sought a passage to India for a soldier's wife. 𖏦]

Harrington Prayer Rooms

Harrington Prayer Rooms were set up in all the major cantonments for use as a 'Soldiers' Scripture Reading and Prayer Room'. 𖏧]

Moustaches and beards

An Army Order was issued 6 October 1916 which meant that moustaches were no longer compulsory in the Army. 𖏨]

Circa the WW1 period, beards were forbidden unless you were a Pioneer-Sergeant. Exceptions could be allowed for medical reasons, and the regulation did not apply to chaplains. 𖏩]


How well did American and British soldiers get along during ww2?

Pretty straight forward question, as we know back then information travelled much slower than today which allowed for more stereotypes and such. So my question is asking, when yanks first arrived in Britain how did the British like/dislike them? After all the U.S has always had cultural and economic ties to England so did they generally get along like the two do today?

Iɽ also like to extend this question to the other, "brothers" of the U.S. So please feel free to answer for Australia, Canada, and New Zealand too.

My Great Grandfather was a U.S. Army Colonel in the Pacific Theater during WWII. He occasionally worked with his Australian and British counterparts to coordinate intelligence reports, from what I've been told of him. My Grandmother has a few pictures of him with some of these officers framed in her living room, so Iɽ assume, at least in the Pacific Theatre and among officers, they got along pretty well. I can't comment on what happened in Europe or Africa, though.

Yanks and Aussies didn’t get along to much in Australia due to the massive racism by the U.S. Army. There where several large “battles” in Australian cities in involving white yanks verses Aussies and Black yanks, which resulted in numerous fatalities.

One thing I have always been told/taught is that the British and Americans clashed over segregation. The American soldiers were shocked there were no formal segregation rules in the UK and the British thought them very extreme.

My Nan was in the Wrens, the Royal Navy’s women’s service, driving trucks and operating radios in the war and she got shouted at by some white US GIs for dancing with one of the black GIs.

There was the battle of Brisbane I believe. A train load of US troops and a train load of Aust troops opened fire on each other.

One Australian soldier was killed when a US MP shot 5 people with a shotgun during the first riots. The Four others that were shot where Australian soldiers and the other was a pregnant woman.

Australians and Americans didnt really get along in the Pacific. Has a lot to do with MacArthur.

Some British comedian said something to the effect that there were only 3 problems with American soldiers, they were 'overpaid, oversexed, and over here'.

From the Canadian perspective.

We had about 12,000 US citizens come to Canada to enlist in our military ( mostly the RCAF ) as volunteers before Pearl Harbor. They knew that a war with Germany was inevitable. In many cases they joined under a assumed name, because of the US laws about " serving in a foreign military force ". Some of them died under their assumed names and are buried in Canadian military graves in Europe.

When the Americans arrived in the UK, the Canadians were mostly amused by their behavior while on leave, where they acted as if they were above UK civilian laws. Drunk and looking for a fight, the British police locked them up, and the US MP's let them go with out any punishment. That changed when the British Government convicted a large number of the American troops and sent them to British army military prisons.

In Italy, the Canadians were on the east coast of the country, while the Americans were on the west coast, so there wasn't much contact between the two armies.

This will come across as harsh but I feel that during ww2 the Americans treated everywhere as if it was America which doesn’t work very well in most countries. American military police got away with killing 5 aussies with a shotgun by claiming it was self defence, the aussies where unarmed and Americans where wondering around with handguns and shotguns. Self defence isn’t even a valid reason to kill someone here in Australia and It hasn’t been legal for decades.

They were generally kept apart and were a sort of quirky mystery to each other. Civilians liked US troops because they were well paid and had weird exotic stuff like Coca Cola, orange juice and good cigarettes.

While their habits and attractiveness to da laydeez annoyed many Brits, the necessity of having them in the war, and the idealistic decency Americans then had, made up for it.

In Normandy the British launched Operation Bluecoat right alongside their junction with US troops. It is quite clear that, apart from a minor interaction between commanders, the two armies had almost zero interaction.

In Market Garden, the 82nd Airborne and Guards Armoured Divisions fought together. Some US officers were very critical of the hesitacy of the British troops after the Nijmegen Bridge was captured.

Another recurring theme is many US soldiers saw British troops as constantly 'stopping for tea'. British soldiers would almost always start making tea at any stop, for any reason. Cause and effect were misunderstood here.

My great grandmother actually had an �ir' with a US soldier who was stationed in the UK. Not sure if that constituted an affair like today but for the time it was certainly considered to be one. There is also a park in Auckland, New Zealand that has a little information board outside that mentions plenty of fighting between Kiwis and Americans over anger at the dashing and exotic US soldiers being sought after by the local women.

Most mixing only took place at the highest echelons otherwise the troops had different sectors on the front so there wasn't much need to get along. In the Pacific, the British were fighting more in the Indian Ocean and in eastern India and Burma/Myanmar, with the US engaged in its island hopping campaign and also advancement to the Philippines. In Torch, the North African campaign, the British were on the east for the most part and Americans landing at two zones in the west and the British at one other zone.

Most soldiers are pretty young, so there were significant limits on what they could get out and do for the ones stationed in the UK waiting to invade France.

That said, the US troops were generally better supplied and dealt with less deprivations than the British, so there were some resentments relating to rations.

I've always been led to believe that they held a lot of disdain for each other as the US soldiers were paid substantially more than ours were and fed better also.
This was mitigated somewhat after the US published a series of informative videos instructing US soldiers how to behave in Britain as there were a lot of cultural differences, more so than today.

The US soldiers were taught that they should not harass the women, respect pubs and not trash it as many of them are older than their country, that they shouldn't be loud and obnoxious in them, and they should be as polite as possible as locals (Although they probably don't want to) will feel obligated to invite them to their home for dinner, the US soldiers were further instructed never to ask for seconds as although this was seen as a polite gesture and indicative of liking the food, the locals would likely oblige them and starve themselves to feed the soldier again as they will also be too proud to admit this and the severity of rationing.

The American troops also tended to be more racist and often expressed disdain over the lack of segregation in British towns. I'm sure the officers got along well enough though, but I'm not surprised that American sources will report that we got along famously for propaganda purposes, the need for instructional videos on this issues would indicate otherwise.


The boys who lied about their age to fight in WW2

Boys as young as 14 lied about their age in order to enlist and fight in the Second World War. Here, History Extra explores the stories of two such boys who enlisted – despite officially having to be 18 to do so…

This competition is now closed

Published: March 6, 2019 at 10:10 am

In 1930s Britain, boys could leave school at the age of 14 and start work. Consequently, many working class children found themselves in factories or on building sites.

Being a soldier was seen as a far more glamorous occupation, so when war broke out in 1939 and a desperate recruitment drive was launched, many young boys were quick to enlist – despite officially having to be 18 to do so.

A 2014 Channel 5 documentary, Boy Soldiers of World War 2, explored the stories of four youngsters who fought on the front line of some of the most brutal battlefields. Here, we reveal the stories of two such boys…

Bill Edwardes: “There was me, a 17-year-old boy, cradling these senior officers, men in their late twenties or their thirties. Holding them in my arms…”

Bill Edwardes, a 16-year-old factory worker tired of his job, spent the first four years of the war in Wales as an evacuee. Returning to London in 1943 and looking for some excitement, he decided to join the army.

“I’m 17-and-a-half, sergeant” he told the recruiting officer, who took him at his word. Bill’s mother was horrified, but the youngster wanted to do his bit.

Bill initially trained at Maidstone, where he was teased for being obviously underage. But when he came home in uniform, he felt a tremendous sense of pride. “I walked up Holloway Road thinking I was Jack the Lad,” he said.

Bill was an infantryman with the 1st Batallion of the Worcestershire Regiment. Training hard for D-Day and the long campaign that would follow, Bill was so small he could barely keep up, and was sent to a camp for under-strength recruits.

Turning 17, Bill was still below the legal age to be sent abroad. But as D-Day approached, nobody asked questions. He was tasked with being a stretcher-bearer, responsible for picking up the wounded on the battlefield, and deciding who could be saved and who should be left to die.

Bill’s first battle was the attack on Mouen: “We were just behind the infantry, crouched in a cornfield. We watched, we saw someone go down and went to them. With a group you have to look and make your own judgement. Leave the man with the bullet in his leg, to deal with the man with shrapnel in his back.”

The underage boy found himself saving the lives of his superiors: “There was me, a 17-year-old boy, cradling these senior officers, men in their late twenties or their thirties. Holding them in my arms, looking after them. I’d tell them ‘You’re lucky’… knowing full well that they might not last the day.”

Come July, Bill was at the forefront of two of the most vicious battles of the Normandy campaign – Hill 112 and Mont Pincon. In two months of fighting, he had just three days’ rest.

“It’s surprising how quickly a 17-year-old gets hardened – not indifferent, but detached. You got accustomed to wounds and death…

“You came to the conclusion that how could you possibly survive when so many people were going down around you. In the morning you’d wake up and you’d think to yourself, ‘Maybe it’s today?’”

Later, at the battle of Elst, in September 1944, Bill experienced his most violent and relentless battle yet – but survived. As the death toll mounted, Bill found himself training and overseeing new recruits.

“Was I daft? Yes and no. Consider this, I was something of an urchin. I wasn’t very well educated. I joined the army. I did my primary training and within three months I’d learned to ride a motorbike, drive a Bren carrier, to fire all sorts of weapons – I was happy as Larry. It did me good. It was just the fighting bit that came later that didn’t do me good.

“I was 12 when war broke out, I was 18 when it ended. People say to me, ‘that was your youth gone’. It didn’t go it was just spent in a different way. I was saving people’s lives.”

Stan Scott: “Hit the beach. Down went the ramps. Whack! Next thing I hear is someone saying, ‘Get up, Scotty, you’re not hurt’. Got up, ran up the beach…”

Enthused by the Battle of Britain, in 1941 Stan Scott, 15, pretended to be 18 in order to enlist. But halfway through training, his mother found out and he was sent home.

The following year, aged 16, he enlisted for a second time, and found himself guarding aerodromes in Kent. But he was desperate to go overseas, so joined the commandos.

Aged 18, Stan finally saw action on D-Day: “Hit the beach. Down went the ramps. Whack! Next thing I hear is someone saying, ‘Get up, Scotty, you’re not hurt’. Got up, ran up the beach.

“Two men beside me had been hit. Straight into the swamp. There were already bodies lying there – Jerry started hitting us with rockets.”

During the relentless fighting over the following weeks Stan became battle-hardened, facing death on numerous occasions, but never cracking. “I never thought I would break down – I was too streetwise.”

Weeks later, in the town of Honfleur, Stan was wounded and taken off the battlefield. By the time he recovered, his unit had returned to England.

But in 1945 he returned to the frontline for the final battles of the war – a campaign that took him to the heart of enemy territory, and to the death camp at Bergen-Belsen.

There, he met London-born Len Chester, who had applied for the marines aged just 13…

Boy Soldiers of World War 2 first aired on Channel 5 in 2014.

This article was first published by History Extra in July 2014.


Russian Soldiers WW2

The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army was the name given to the Soviet Forces that served in World War Two. It was established in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and honed its fierce and brutal qualities in the Russian Civil War. After this, the Soviet Union engaged in a series of conflicts with Poland, China, and Finland, (amongst others), meaning that the Red Army was not often inactive.

At the outbreak of World War Two, the Red Army invaded parts of Poland, making Russia a direct neighbour of Germany. This continued amiably until Hitler pushed the Wehrmacht forward to St Petersburg and Moscow in 1941, at which time the Red Army consisted of roughly 4.8 million soldiers. When Hitler invaded, the Red Army was rapidly expanded – an estimate of 30 million men were conscripted during the war – meaning that a significant proportion was not adequately trained for warfare, and the unexpected nature of the attack meant that the entire army found itself unprepared for the conflict ahead. A number of inexperienced officers were placed in the charge of divisions, meaning many strategic errors were made in the early stages of Soviet involvement in World War Two.

The machinery and equipment available for the Red Army in 1941 was inadequate next to the resources the Germans could boast. By the final years of the war, such rapid development had been made that Russian weaponry became some of the best on the battlefield – in particular, their tanks were considered vastly superior to those of the Wehrmacht.

The soldiers within the Red Army felt betrayed by Germany, since the Soviet Union had been led to believe that relations between the two countries would be cordial. As such, when the ground forces were mobilised for war, they were hungry for victory. They were also intensely nationalistic, being fed propaganda during the war years that spoke of the Motherland, and drawing on previous Russian victories dating back to the Napoleonic wars. The German Wehrmacht was ill-prepared for the harsh weather conditions they would meet on the Eastern Front, whereas the soldiers of the Red Army were hardened to the wind, snow, and sub-zero temperatures, meaning they could fight with tenacity during the Siberian winters when the Germans could not. The baptism of fire that the Red Army had during the Russian Revolution and Civil War set the precedent for brutality and ruthlessness within the soldiers, and their conduct within World War Two and the subsequent occupation of East Berlin was suitably fierce. The soldiers fought to kill, and German P.O.W.s captured in 1945 considered themselves lucky if they were captured by Western forces, since they could escape the vengeful treatment of the Red Army.

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