Thomas Harold Lawrence, Boy Soldier

One of the many posters aimed at encouraging young men to enlist.

One of the many posters aimed at encouraging young men to enlist.

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.

St. Oswald's Church, Oswestry

St. Oswald’s Church, Oswestry

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.

Lest We Forget

On Remembrance Sunday, my thoughts have turned to the members of my family who fought for their country, never to return. I have already written about my grandfather’s cousin, Hubert Stanley Denson, who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and I would like to share another story of an ancestor who died in World War One.

John Stephen Mills, my great-grandmother’s brother, was born on 18th December 1890 and, due to his father being a manager of a public house, he spent the early part of his life moving from house to house, living in the Liverpool areas of Bootle, Everton and Kensington. By the age of 20, he was still living at the family home of 67 Kensington, working as a restaurant porter.

North Lancashire Regiment

North Lancashire Regiment

On the outbreak of World War One, John decided to join the armed forces and was attested at Seaforth on 9th September 1914, becoming a private in the 8th battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire regiment. After moving to Boscombe, Bournemouth, back to Boscombe and then finally to Romsey, on 22nd May 1915, he was promoted to Lance Corporal in an unpaid capacity and a month later, was in a paid position.

On 25th September 1915, just over a week after being posted abroad (to Boulogne), John did what other members of the armed forces did and wrote a will in the event of him not returning. These handwritten wills were kept in the pocket service books of the soldier and tucked into their uniforms. John’s read:

In the event of my death, I give the whole of my property and affects to my mother and if my mother be deceased at the time of my death I bequeath the whole of my property and affects to my brother Edward and if he be deceased at the time of my death to my niece Margaret Mills. Signed the 25th day of Sept 1915, John Stephen Mills, L Corpl. No 15429 8th North Loyal North Lancs.

Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais

Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais

Sadly, the instructions in this will had to be carried out as John Stephen Mills was reported missing on 21st May 1916 and, later the same day, was declared killed in action. He is remembered on the Arras Memorial in Pas de Calais. His mother, Annie Florence Mills, later claimed his medals – the 1914-18 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal.

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Battle of the Somme: A Tragic Tale

World War One witnessed a surge of patriotism around the country as thousands of men enlisted to do their service in the armed forces. In 1914,  as a result of Lord Derby’s recruitment drive, men from the offices and businesses of Liverpool established the first of what was to be called the ‘Pals’ Battalions. In just over a week, three battalions had been raised and, soon, a fourth would follow – the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Service Battalions of the King’s Liverpool Regiment.

Baptism of Hubert Stanley Denson, St. Clement's Church, Toxteth Park.

Baptism of Hubert Stanley Denson, St. Clement’s Church, Toxteth Park.

Hubert Stanley Denson, affectionately known as ‘Stan,’ the sixth child of George Denson and his wife, Clara (nee Ainsworth), was born in Liverpool on 25th May 1894 and baptized at St. Clement’s Church, Toxteth Park, a month later. Educated at Sefton Park Council School, he decided against continuing the family trade (his father was a tailor who owned a business in Renshaw Street, Liverpool), instead becoming a clerk at Calthrop Bros, oil cake manufacturers.


Private Hubert Stanley Denson, 27524

On the outbreak of war, Hubert’s brother, Edgar Ainsworth Denson, was already serving with the 10th (Scottish) Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, having enlisted in 1912. His service, however, was carried out on home soil, where he reached the rank of Lance Corporal. Hubert tried several times to join one of the battalions of ‘Pals’ but was rejected each time on account of his height. Finally, he was accepted on 14th May 1915, joining the 18th battalion. He went out to France in March 1916, never to return.

The Battle of the Somme started on 1st July 1916, and it became known as the bloodiest day in the history of the British army. Separated by only a few hundred yards, the British and German troops were preparing for artillery bombardment in their trenches. Despite their confidence, the British soldiers could not penetrate the German defences and were soon being killed in their thousands by machine gun and artillery fire. In all, there were 57,470 British casualties on the first day of fighting in The Somme, with 19,240 deaths.

It was on the first day of the campaign that Hubert lost his life. Private S R Steele, a member of the 18th battalion, wrote:

So I went along the trench, and I got up on top, and the first thing that I saw was all the dead, fellows just lying there, higgledy-piggledy all over the place, some two, three and four high, – one mass of dead men as far as you could see, right and left!

Not including those who later died of their injuries, on that first day of fighting, 7 officers and 164 men from the 18th battalion lost their lives as a result of enemy fire. This battle went on to symbolise the horrors of the First World War.


War memorial at St. Barnabas Church, Penny Lane, including Hubert Stanley Denson’s name.


On Hubert’s death, one of the battalion’s officers wrote to his mother Clara Denson (nee Ainsworth) stating that he was killed on reaching the objective and was buried with his captain near to where he fell. She later received the money that was owed to her son from the army – £1 16s 10d in November 1916 and a further £4 in September 1919.

Hubert Stanley Denson was buried at Vernon Street Cemetery, in the valley between Carnoy and Maricourt in France. His name is recorded on the family grave at Toxteth Park Cemetery and also on the memorial at St. Barnabas Church, Liverpool and the Thiepval Memorial.

A year after his death, the following notices appeared in the Liverpool Echo:

Liverpool Echo, 2nd July 1917.

Liverpool Echo, 2nd July 1917.

For further information about the Liverpool Pals, Graham Maddocks’ book, ‘Liverpool Pals’ is an invaluable resource. Credit for the St. Barnabas memorial photo goes to Paul Young and can be viewed at