Canadian boy soldiers who fought in WWI

Newfoundland Regiment Soldiers, St. John’s. (Photo: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division, F 46-27/Holloway Studio)


Winnie was an underage soldier in the first World War. Just 17. Just a boy among men. Winnie was one of thousands of cocky Canadian kids who fibbed their way to the front. And on this Remembrance Day, we hear the untold story of Canada's boy soldiers.

At an age when most boys barely summon the courage to ask for a date, Canada expected its boys to charge the Kaiser's trenches.

France April 16. 1917

My Dear Mother,

I have not written a letter for over a week and a half as I have been in the trenches for 9 days and it is impossible to write up there.

You have no doubt heard before this of the advances of the Canadians and the capture of Vimy Ridge. I was in the whole of that battle and it was Hell. I got a small splinter of shrapnel through the fleshy part of my shoulder. It was very slight and I went through it all with it. It was some battle and I am glad to say that I was through it as it will be one of the biggest things in Canadian history.

Well mother if you can please send me some socks when you can and anything else you care to send in the line of eats.

Well mother dear, please don't do any worrying as it does no good. But remember me in your prayers. I know you do that and it helps a lot. Well mother, I will close now. Give my love to all. I remain.

As ever...your loving son...Winnie.

That was a letter, written in pencil, from Private Percy McClare. To his friends and family, he was known as Winnie. Winnie was like thousands of other Canadian soldiers fighting in France in the First World War -- too young.


Willie Dailey, from Gananoque, joined at 14
as a bugler with the 4th Battalion and was
killed on the Somme. (Ted Dailey)

He was seventeen; many of the boys dressed in Canadian uniforms were barely into their teens. But they fought like adults and many, like Winnie, never returned home.

On this Remembrance Day, we look at back at the boys of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Their stories are told by Dan Black and John Boileau in their new book Old Enough to Fight: Canada's Boy Soldiers in the First World War.

Dan Black was in Ottawa and John Boileau was in Halifax.

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This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.


Eric Parlee (L) enrolled in Saint John, NB, at 15, died of wounds in Dec 1915 while serving with the 24th Battalion. Bill Barrett (C)
from Fort Langley, BC, enrolled at 15 in the 7th Battalion. He survived the war to become a district fire chief in Vancouver. David Waldron (R) from Toronto enrolled in the 58th Battalion at 16. He survived the war. (Photo Credits: Eric Parlee/Belleisle Regional High School, Springfield, NB, Bill Barett/ British Columbia Regiment Museum, David Waldron/Ian Waldron)

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