At the outbreak of the First World War, especially as it was expected to be over by the end of 1914, there was a huge clamour amongst patriotic young men to join up to do their service for King and country. Rules stated that to fight abroad, they had to be aged nineteen, although an eighteen-year-old could enlist and remain in the country until they reached the correct age. Despite these age restrictions, it is estimated that as many as 250,000 ‘Boy Soldiers’ under the age of eighteen fought in the conflict. Recruitment officers were paid two shillings and sixpence for each new recruit, so it was inevitable that a blind eye would often be turned.
Thomas Harold Lawrence, the sixth child of William Lawrence and Emily Parker, was born in Oswestry, Shropshire, in 1899. Baptised at St. Oswald’s, Oswestry, on July 23rd of the same year, he spent his early life at 22 Upper Church Street and 22 Pool Road. The untimely death of his father in 1909, seems to have created financial problems for the family with Emily having to take up the occupation of poultry dealer and the eldest five children all becoming domestic servants. This could explain why on 5th May 1915, aged only fifteen or sixteen, Thomas enlisted at Newtown, joining the 3/1st Welsh Horse Yeomanry.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the average height for a man aged twenty was 5 feet six inches and Thomas, still only a teenager, was already three-quarters of an inch taller. This teamed with his probable experience with horses (his uncle, Edward Parker, living with his family in 1911, was an ostler) meant that few questions would have been asked when he gave his age as ’19 years and 2 days.’
Thomas remained in the army until February 7th, 1916, when he was discharged in Dublin on the grounds of, “having made a mis-statement as to age on enlistment.” He had served for 281 days and had been passed for active service in the field.
This was not to be the end of his war, however. Obviously determined to see active service, June 5th, 1917, saw him examined at Shrewsbury and, thirteen days later, he was being vaccinated at Kinmel Park, an army training camp. Refusing other inoculations, stating he had already received them four times in May and June 1915, he eventually joined as a Class B Reserve before being transfered to the Cheshire Regiment and later the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry.
Thomas eventually saw active service in France from March 30th 1918 until December 27th of the same year when he was sent back home to the war hospital in Sunderland, suffering from the effects of an old head injury he sustained whilst on leave. On January 10th 1918, he had been thrown off a motorbike in Oswestry which had resulted in a contusion to the head causing vision problems. He remained in hospital for 39 days and, shortly after, was demobilised.