Almost one in three sailors who served in Britain’s Royal Navy in the First World War were aged just 14 to 17, a study of records showed on Friday.
The legal combat age at the time was 18, but military recruitment officers were paid per recruit and would often ignore suspicions volunteers might be lying about their age.
The figures emerged from an analysis of the Royal Navy Registers of Seaman’s Services 1900-1928, which include name, service details and date of birth, by website Ancestry.
“It’s hard to comprehend that nearly a third of these records pertain to young adolescent boys who despite not being old enough to vote were prepared to risk their lives at sea to help Britain win the war,” said Miriam Silverman of Ancestry.
Around 100,000 boys enlisted after the outbreak of the war in 1914, many lacking the experience and training of older men.
The young volunteers were 16 percent more likely to die than adult sailors, the analysis showed.