George Glithero was only 14 when he joined the Northamptonshire Regiment on 1 September 1914. He was born in the Northamptonshire village of Tansor on 3 December 1899 and baptised George Harry at St Mary’s Church in the village on 22 June 1902. His education was in the tiny school at Tansor from 1903 up to his 13th birthday. A newspaper account from 1913 records his success in a parallel-bar match as a member of the 5th Oundle (Tansor) Boy Scout Troop. Perhaps being a Boy Scout had given him a taste for adventure or perhaps he was influenced by his older brother, Ernest, who had been a soldier since 1906.
It was the early days of the war and nobody could foresee what would happen. For George, and approximately 250,000 others who lied about their age, did the recruitment posters speak of an escape from an otherwise hard and dreary life? Eighteen was the official age to sign up, with 19 the age for overseas service. These youngsters invariably claimed to be 19. It cannot have helped that recruitment officers were paid 2s 6d for each new recruit. George was 5 ft 7½ inches tall, weighed 132 lbs and had an expanded chest measurement of 34 inches. His complexion was pale, his hair brown and his eyesight perfect. So, a boy of slight frame, claiming to be a tram conductor, aged 19 years and 2 months. Interestingly, he gave his name as Harry Glithero. Was this so as to escape the truth of his age being discovered? Did his mother know what he had done? Families and friends allegedly were often complicit in these too-young men joining up.
All did not go swimmingly in George’s military career. His Company Conduct Sheet reveals a litany of misdemeanours, mostly relating to not obeying orders, and he endured punishment of detention with hard labour or being confined to barracks. Colchester and Codford camps are listed on his military record with no evidence that he served abroad. A letter from his mother, dated 31st May 1915 says:
I wish to put in a claim George Harry to return home he was only 15 years old last December as you will see by his birth certificate which I have enclosed.
George was duly discharged home on 8 July 1915 to The Laundry, Little Green, Warmington having officially served 311 days in the Army. His character was said to be ‘Indifferent ’.
Another young recruit from Warmington was Robert Wright Oakley. He had been born in Stilton, Huntingdonshire, but his family moved to Warmington. His name on his military records and on the Warmington Roll of Honour is Wright Oakley. Had he also used his middle name in order to avoid detection?
Wright was 5 feet 6 inches tall, with a chest measurement of 34 inches when he joined up on 19 July 1915 at Peterborough. Perhaps he was fortunate to have flat feet as this meant he was unfit for Infantry but fit to be a driver. Wright claimed to be 19 years old and a butcher. He actually turned 15 a little over two weeks after he signed his attestation papers.
Wright became a Driver in the Army Service Corps until 25 July 1916 when he was discharged due to being underage. He had served for one year and seven days. There is no indication that he spent time overseas.
Robert Wright Oakley married Hilda Betts in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, in 1923. They lived in Norwich in 1939, where he was a butcher. Remember, he had claimed to be a butcher back in 1915? Perhaps he really had been a butcher’s assistant in those days. He died, aged 53, in Norfolk.
There is a mystery surrounding the choice of men’s names to be included on the Roll of Honour. While the two young men – Harry Glithero and Wright Oakley – have their names proudly on the list, another of Warmington’s under-age volunteers is missing. He was Frederick (Fred) Dexter and he was the younger brother of Ernest, Robert and Walter Dexter, whose names are on the Roll of Honour.
I found Fred’s military record accidentally while unsuccessfully looking for his brothers’ records. This shows that he signed his attestation papers on 26 September 1915 at Peterborough, claiming to be 19 years 11 months old and a groom. In fact, Fred was born in Warmington on 25 January 1900 so he was only 15. He was 5 ft 7 inches tall, chest measurement 33 inches and he had a scar on his left shin. His eyes and hair were brown and he had a fresh complexion. His home address was Church Street, Warmington and his next of kin was his father, Edward Daniel Dexter.
Fred served as a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, No 106683. Although the records are difficult to decipher, Fred was in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force when the authorities received a letter enclosing his birth certificate. Fred’s father, Edward Dexter, had enlisted the help of E Garfield to write on his behalf. I believe the Garfield and Dexter families were related by marriage. The original letter does not exist but the record says, ‘Asks for above to be returned to Eng on grounds of age & with Birth Cert in support showing man born 25 Jan 1900. Recd 5 Feb 16’. When Fred was discharged on 14 April 1916, his military character was considered ‘Good’ and he was steady and hardworking.
Fred married Hilda L Veasey in 1920 in Melton Mowbray. In 1939 they lived at Asfordby Hill, Melton Mowbray and Fred was a loco driver. He died in 1974.