First World War centenary: Tragic story of Bromley boy soldier highlights war's lost generation
PUBLISHED: 14:05 21 February 2014 | UPDATED: 14:05 21 February 2014
The lost generation of the First World War haunted every corner of the country, with the sheer mass of lives lost and promise unfulfilled unlike anything which had ever been seen before.
Scores of young men died on the battlefields, leaving their families with ghosts where they once stood and embodying the tragic truth that their potential would never be realised.
Among those who gave up their lives were thousands of boy soldiers, who fought on the Western Front pretending they were 18.
One was Bromley-raised George Crouch, who enlisted as a 16-year-old before being killed in 1918. His body was never found.
His great-nephew Mickey Crouch, 48, became aware of George’s story after discovering medals in his late grandmother’s house five years ago. He lives in the same street his ancestor did before he signed up to fight – Homesdale Road.
“I wasn’t aware of my great uncle as none of my grandparents spoke about him,” said Mickey.
“I didn’t know my grandfather had a brother who died in the war. His story is tragic, but I felt proud of him after I found out more.”
George and his brother Bert, Mickey’s grandfather, were adopted into the Crouch family. They had previously lived in a Barnardo’s children’s home.
Upon contacting George’s regiment, the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, Mickey discovered George had enlisted in 1916 but was sent home from France when his superiors found out he was too young to be there.
He returned to England but rejoined the battalion when he came of age.
“They realised straight away he was only a lad,” said Mickey. But when he went back he died almost straight away. You think, he could have been safe. But he went back to fight and got killed.”
George lost his life on March 28, 1918, aged 19, while fighting in Fampoux, near Arras.
The day was a bloodbath, with most of his battalion being killed.
The youngest British soldier who fought in the First World War
- Sidney Lewis, of Kingston-on-Thames, is the youngest known British soldier to fight in the First World War.
- He was just 12 when he enlisted with the East Surrey Regiment in August 1915, after allegedly running away from home.
- By June 2016, Sidney was fighting on the Western Front and saw action during the Battle of the Somme.
- He fought there for six weeks before being ordered home to his mother.
- Sidney was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal for his service.
- At the time, newspapers reported his story but his claim was not authenticated until 2013.
- The Imperial War Museum backed the claim after being shown family papers.
- Sidney joined Surrey police before later running a pub. He died aged 63 in 1969.
One of them, 2nd Lt Bernard Matthew Cassidy, was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.
Mickey said: “My gut feeling was that I didn’t think I would have been brave enough to do what he did as a 16-year-old.
“It was a very subservient time; young men did what they were told. You would probably get a very different reaction from today’s young people.
“He must have had the full support of his family, although I would love to know if he ran away.”
George was likely to have been placed in a shallow grave, although his body was never found. His name is on both the Bromley War Memorial and the Arras Memorial, in France.
Mickey believes the centenary of the war is an ideal time for people to remember the soldiers’ sacrifices.
He named his son Wilfred, now aged seven, after the famous First World War poet Wilfred Owen.
And he has told Wilfred all he knows about George’s life.
“It is important the knowledge is passed down through the generations,” said Mickey. “It was such a barbaric and futile war that it should never be forgotten.”