The Surprising Age Of The Youngest Soldier In World War I

According to History, World War I, otherwise known as The Great War, raged on from 1914-1918. Nearly 60% of soldiers who fought in it died and it's still considered to be one of the deadliest conflicts in history (via National Geographic). The possibility of dying, however, did not deter London-bred Sidney Lewis. In August of 1915, Lewis enlisted in the East Surrey Regiment (per London Remembers). He was only 12 years old. Many young men lied about their (18 was the legal age to enlist) and Lewis was no exception. Per The BBC, it was perhaps the thought of the adventure that called for him to join. Whatever it was, Lewis ran away from home and became a soldier.

He was sent to France and by the age of 13, he was fighting in the 1916 Battle of the Somme (per Army Tigers). Lewis also fought in the Battle of Delville Wood, which saw countless casualties. An Abroad in the Yard article states that when an older friend returned home on leave, he let Lewis' mother know he was fighting with him on the Western Front. Up until that point, she had no idea where he was. Horrified, she sent his birth certificate to the war office, which revealed his true age. Lewis was discharged and sent home immediately.

His identity wasn't discovered until years later

Lewis returned to London only to re-enlist when he was older in 1918 (per London Remembers). By then the war was coming to a close and he served with the army of occupation in Austria. According to the Daily Sabah, when Lewis came home, he became a police officer, got married, retired, and ran a pub. From his marriage, he has one son, Colin.

Lewis told his son that he had fought in World War I and was at the Battle of the Somme (via Abroad in the Yard). Knowing his father was born in 1903, he thought it to be a lie; that would have meant he was 12 years while he was fighting in the Great War. He never discussed it again and his son never believed him. Lewis died in 1969 at the age of 66. It wasn't until Colin's uncle died that he discovered his father had been telling him the truth.

His uncle had saved documents regarding Lewis' service. When Colin sent his father's birth certificate and the letter from the war office stating he would be sent home due to his young age, The Imperial War Museum in London declared Lewis as Britain's youngest soldier from World War I (per Army Tigers). For a century, no one knew Lewis's identity or story. His son later said he was disappointed he couldn't congratulate his father or tell him he was proud. Although 12 is incredibly young, the BBC states that 250,000 boys under the age of 18 fought in World War I.