HC Deb 15 March 1916 vol 80 cc2065-7
34 and 36. Sir A. MARKHAM

asked the Under-Secretary for War (1) whether, in view of the official statement that a recruit would not be sent abroad unless the medical authorities considered that his physique was equivalent to that of a man of eighteen and a half, he will say whether numbers of recruits under eighteen years of age are still being sent to the front; what is the minimum age at which youths are sent abroad; if he will give instructions that no youth is to be sent to the front till he is eighteen years of age; and (2) whether he has had a sight of two letters addressed to Mr. Kitching, of No. 68, Nottingham Road, Mansfield, from the colonel commanding the 17th Sherwood Foresters and the Officer of Infantry Records at Lichfield, stating that his son, Private Kitching, No. 29731, 17th Sherwood Foresters, is to be sent abroad, though his age is only seventeen years and four months; whether he is aware that though Mr. Kitching sent his son's birth certificate to these officers they replied that, seeing his son's official age was nineteen years 314 days, they regretted that Mr. Kitching's request could not be acceded to that his son should be retained for Home service; if he will give instructions that this boy is not to be sent abroad till he is over eighteen years of age; and if he will at the same time issue instructions that officers are not to rely on the official age of the recruit when they have proof that this is incorrect?


I have seen the correspondence to which my hon. Friend alludes in Question 36. The answers sent by the officer in command Infantry Records at Lichfield and by the officer commanding the 17th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, were in accordance with the instructions issued, the nature of which I stated fully in the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Blackburn on the 2nd November. The question is one for the medical authorities to decide on the medical facts of each case, and I am unable to promise that it will be decided merely with reference to the question whether the lad has or has not passed his eighteenth birthday, and without reference to his physical development. I cannot say what number of recruits actually under eighteen years of age are being sent to the front, but the number cannot, I think, be large. I stated in a reply I gave to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh on the 8th March that for a considerable period now recruiting officers have been required to see the recruit's registration card, on which his real age is shown, before accepting him. There is no minimum age at which youths are sent abroad; they are sent when their physical qualifications are such as to make it suitable that they should be sent.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Lord Derby has expressed the view to the War Office that boys ought not to be sent until they are at least nineteen years of age on the ground of the waste of good material? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman make a regulation that boys of sixteen should not be sent, even if he cannot make the limit eighteen?


It all depends on the question of physical development. I cannot give the undertaking the hon. Baronet asks for because there are a certain number of lads already serving who are under the age.


Will the right hon. Gentleman give a guarantee to those not now at the front that they shall not go if they are under eighteen?


I cannot say more at the present moment than that no one is being accepted for the Army who is under nineteen years. The cases referred to by my hon. Friend are all of old standing, and the question is governed by the physical development of the boy.


Will the right hon. Gentleman say how many boys under the age of twenty have broken down at the front and have been executed by order of a British court-martial?