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Rod Bardell tells the story of the 12-year-old who went to war

PUBLISHED: 11:39 13 March 2014 | UPDATED: 11:47 13 March 2014

Sidney Lewis in his army uniform

Sidney Lewis in his army uniform

Archant

Boy soldiers enlisting to fight in the First World War before the age limit of 19 was a constant issue for the British armed forces.

Rod's uncle Sid Lewis was the youngest known soldier to have fought in WWI. Sid Lewis was 12 years old and eight months when he signed up to join the British army.
Rod Bardell  holding a photo of Sid LewiRod's uncle Sid Lewis was the youngest known soldier to have fought in WWI. Sid Lewis was 12 years old and eight months when he signed up to join the British army. Rod Bardell holding a photo of Sid Lewi

Boy soldiers enlisting to fight in the First World War before the age limit of 19 was a constant issue for the British armed forces.

It’s hard to imagine now but, desperate to fight for king and country, boys would often lie about their age to recruitment officers in order to sign up.

However, even by those standards the story of Sidney Lewis, from Tooting, south London, is extraordinary.

Born in March 1903, Sidney was 12 when he enlisted to join the army in 1915 – making him the youngest authenticated serving soldier in the First World War.

He was sent for 10 months of training before joining the front line in France the following year where he would fight in the Battle of the Somme.

According to his nephew, Rod Bardell, 73, of Parrock Avenue, Gravesend, it was months before his mother Fanny discovered exactly where he was.

The feeling of dread which washed over her when a friend of Sidney’s told her the news was overwhelming.

Fanny immediately sent his birth certificate to the authorities to try to secure his safe return.

Sidney’s war ended when he was discharged in Lincolnshire after returning from France.

After the war he served in Austria as part of an occupation army with the aim of keeping the peace.

Colin Lewis, 80, Sidney’s only son, said his father “was a great dad”.

“We always did quite a lot of things together,” said Colin.

“He said he had been in First World War but I didn’t believe him.

“But it was only after he died that all his stuff was sent by my grandmother to his younger brother.

“I was very proud of him as it was a wonderful achievement. But I can understand that it was a bit foolhardy at the time.

“In 1915 these recruitment sergeants were stirring up national pride and Sidney was quite a tall guy.

“They were the two main reasons why he got away with it.”

Sidney later joined Surrey police in the 1940s and Rod remembers visiting him from the age of seven or eight.

“He was just a great big, tall guy,” said Rod. “At the age of 12 he must have looked about 20. When I met him he was just a typical copper.”

Rod says neither he nor his family were aware of Sidney’s story until after his death in 1969.

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