Britain’s youngest WW1 soldier was a boy aged 12

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A schoolboy who fought on the Somme after lying about his age has been declared the youngest authenticated combatant of the First World War.

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Private Sidney Lewis joined the East Surreys at Kingston in August 1915, aged 12, and fought on the Somme front for six weeks at the age of 13. 

He was sent home in August 1916 after his mother contacted the War Office in London.

A letter addressed to Mrs Lewis on 23 August read: “I am directed to inform you that telegraphic instructions have been issued that he is to be at once withdrawn from the firing line and sent home for discharge.

“On his arrival in this country he will be discharged from the Army forwith.”

Private Lewis appeared in newspapers at the time, but only now has his story been authenticated. After examining family papers donated last month by the soldier’s only son, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) has declared Private Lewis the youngest First World War soldier.

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The papers also show Private Lewis, of the Machine Gun Corps, was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.

Anthony Richards, head of documents and sound at the IWM, said: “This is certainly the youngest First World War soldier that we hold documents for in IWM’s archives.

“His story is quite phenomenal – not only did he enlist at the age of 12 and fight on the Somme at the age of 13, but he returned to service at the end of the First World War and worked in bomb disposal during the Second World War. 

“He was obviously a very tenacious man, and undeterred by his early experiences.”

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All images © Imperial War Museum