From Don Smith, Researcher at the University of Queensland.
I am conducting a research project focusing on those who enlisted under 18 years of age in the First World War; those killed in action and those who survived.
This project commenced some four years ago during the Australian Government Summer School for Teachers of Australian History. My research project was completed and published as a resource for teachers. Following that, I visited Gallipoli and the Western Front. Recently I visited the Western Front again in a more targeted manner. I have been encouraged by historians and others to pursue the study further and now is the time to do that.
Originally the area of interest was narrow – the motivation of under-age enlistees and whether this could be viewed as a rite of passage. It broadened to describe some of their characteristics and enlistment experiences.
Now, the proposed project is further broadened to investigate enlistment practices and their experiences at this time, during training in Australia and overseas, being sent to the front line, their experience in battle (many were quickly killed-in-action) and for survivors, their experience throughout the war, returning to Australia and beyond this initial time – for them and their families.
From preliminary research, it is already known that this will include issues of discipline, their activities on leave and the related 'illnesses' they suffered, shell-shock and the difficulties of repatriation and resettlement.
The motivation and experience of those who enlisted under-age is thought to be both unique and similar to those of age who enlisted. Many under-age enlistees died in the war (as did others), and having no wives or children, their legacy has disappeared with the deaths of their parents and siblings. Now 100 years later, it is time for their stories to be told while families (though one or two generations later) still hold memories and significant documents.
I am keen to find the names of as many as possible and to trace information about them. If you have any information on one of these young men (boys still many of them) or know of one, I would like to hear from you.
If you have any diaries, letters or other mementoes or know where they are located (or even kept as important memories in the family) and you are willing to let me view these, I would appreciate that kindness very much.
Contact me on email:
or on telephone 0438938409