RIFLEMAN ALBERT KNOWLES
KING'S ROYAL RIFLE CORPS
12TH OCTOBER 1918 AGE 19
BURIED: AMERVAL COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION, SOLESMES, FRANCE
Born in January 1899, Albert Knowles would have been fifteen and a half in July 1914. By implication therefore he joined up immediately on the outbreak of war. in August 1914. He was far too young. In theory you had to be eighteen before you could join the army and nineteen before you could serve abroad but in practice, in the early days of the war, if you said you were nineteen, and looked nineteen, the army took your word for it. Much is made of recruiting sergeants wilfully turning a blind eye to obviously underage boys but in fact, the army didn't want weaklings.: you needed to be able to march long distances, carrying your own equipment. But as I said, if you looked nineteen the army took your word for it.
Knowles obviously managed to convince the authorities. His medal card shows that he went to France in September 1915 when he would have been just over sixteen and a half. It was January 1918 before he became nineteen, by this time he had been in the army for over three years.
In March 1918 his eldest brother, Ernest, serving with the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, died of wounds. Six months later, on 12 October, Albert was killed as the 16th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps tried to cross the River Selle.
For all that the end of the war was only a month away, for all that the Germans were already putting out peace feelers, their soldiers were still fiercely resisting allied attacks so that by noon on the 12th the 16th Battalion, which had been charged with taking the line of the Le Cateau-Solesmes railway and the surrounding high ground, had been forced to withdraw 'disorganised' with very high casualties.
Albert Knowles may have deceived the army authorities about his age but his mother put that right on his headstone. There's a sense of pride in her choice of words, not so much pride in his deception but in the fact that even though he was only fifteen he had wanted to do his duty, and that he continued to do it "till death". There is no inscription on his brother Ernest's headstone.
[Richard Emden's 'Boy Soldiers of the Great War' is the book to read on this subject.]