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Child Soldier Chapter #1



(The following is the first in a series providing background for the theatre performance of 1918 Child Soldier from Hillier by Suzanne Pasternak, that will be staged at the Teeswater Town Hall on Saturday March 28, 2009. The fundraiser for the Town Hall will have 2:00 pm matinee and 8:00 pm evening performances).

Chapter 1 - Volunteer Enlistment in World War One
(See Photo Gallery For Images)

By John Thompson

World War I, or the First World War (oft referred to as The Great War or The War to End All Wars) was a global military conflict which involved the majority of the world's great powers. Over 70 million military personnel were mobilized in the largest war in history. More than 15 million people were killed, making it one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.

Catalyst for War

On June 28, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated by a Bosnian-Serb named Gavrillo Princip. Austria-Hungary's resulting demands against the Kingdom of Serbia led to the activation of a series of alliances which within weeks saw all of the major European powers at war. As a result of the global empires of many European nations, the war soon spread world-wide.

Early 20th century Canada

In August, 1914, the war was “officially” underway. Canada, like the rest of the British Empire, was a peace-loving, non-military nation, satisfied to develop her abundant natural resources. She lived in harmony with her neighbors and took scant interest in European politics and affairs. Canadians, were, in fact, a typical colonial people, with little knowledge of the strength of the ties that linked them to the British Empire. At the time, Canada had a permanent armed force of only 8,000 men.

Impact on Canada

When England declared war on Germany, it was a sense of obligation that Canada, a colony of England was drawn into the conflict. Immediately, this young nation, less than 50 years old, immediately sprang to arms. While it was true that Canada's imperial ties to Britain obliged her to participate in World War I, at the outset Canadians enthusiastically supported the Allied struggle against the “evil Hun”.

The love of country and empire, which seemed typically low-key and modest, burst forth in a genuine and spontaneous fervor.

The Canadian Government called for 20,000 volunteers -enough for a single division -as Canada's contribution to the British army. Voluntary enlistment was encouraged. Canadians, and in particular, those whose families had emigrated from the United Kingdom in the last generation, were eager to involve themselves in Britain's war.

From the Pacific to the Atlantic, from the factories and farms, Canada's sons trooped to the colours. Within the first few weeks of the war, nearly 32,000 men responded to the call for soldiers. In less than a month, the Minister of Militia was compelled to stop the further enrolment of recruits.

Canadians volunteered because they were quick to perceive that the existence of their Empire was threatened by the action of the most formidable nation-in-arms that the world had ever seen. Canadians had been stirred by the deepest emotion of a race -the love of country.

Child Soldier

It's assumed that a minimum age, perhaps 16, was required for recruitment.

In Hillier, Ontario, south of Belleville, Robert Clarence Thompson, a student at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute, was intrigued by the world-wide conflict.

The variety of enlistment posters that glorified the cause and encouraged a sense of patriotism perhaps motivated young Robert and served as his personal “call to action”.

As was custom of the time, Robert wore short pants to the collegiate. On a pivotal day that would forever change his life, he borrowed a pair of long pants for an important meeting.

The meeting was at a recruitment centre and Robert Clarence voluntarily enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces in 1915.

As one of eight sons of Robert Wesley and Eliza Thompson, who operated the Cloverdale Cheese Factory at Wellington, Ontario, Robert was born in December 1901 in Springbrook, Hastings County, Ontario.

When he successfully enlisted, he was 13 years of age.

Not surprisingly, this did not please his parents, and after 33 days, Robert Sr. convinced the authorities to release the enthusiastic teen-ager.

Not to be deterred, Robert re-enlisted at Wellington on March 16, 1916 (at age 14, using attestation papers that falsified his birth-date) with the 155th battalion. He went over-seas in September 1916.


Motivation to Serve

In a four-page penciled explanation of why he wanted to enlist, Robert Clarence provided insight into the motivation for his extra-ordinary decision.


"Why I Should Enlist"

"There are many reasons why I should enlist for overseas service. The fate of the empire is at stake and Great Britain needs all of her men to go and fight for liberty's course.

If the Allies win, which should and must be the case you will come home crowned with glory and proud to say that you have fought for your king and country.


Kitchener says that England needs men and more men and still more men. A man has got to die once and why not die a hero rather than a coward.


No fit young many can sing this in the proper spirit without feeling that it is his duty to go and help keep the flag floating. In many places you find people flocking to the colours but not so in Canada. Here people think of their own amusements, not the duty they owe to their country. Some people don't even realize that they are really at war.


Recruiting posters are often seen with the signs “Remember the Lusitania”, and “If the cap fits you join the army today”.


Can any real man look at these and think about it and run away without considering the matter. No. No real true-hearted red-blooded Canadian can be guilty of such a crime. You often hear people saying “I'm going if they need me” or “I'll go and enlist later on.”


These people are needed and needed real bad not five weeks from now or five days from but now, just as soon as you can get to a recruiting office and join the brave throng that goes marching along."