You often hear about young soldiers who added a few years to their age so they could enlist but it happened at the other end of the age limit too. These are three I’ve come across.
The AIF (Australian Imperial Force) requirements changed over time
The requirements in August 1914 were 19–38 years, height of 5ft 6in and chest measurement of 34 inches. In June 1915 the age range and minimum height requirements were changed to 18–45 years and 5ft 2in, with the minimum height being lowered again to 5ft in April 1917.
Australian War Memorial: Enlistment Standards
I think the age limit for officers was older and maybe those who had previous experience, which is how Edward Whittle was able to enlist when he was 49. A farmer from Penguin, he joined up in September 1915 at Claremont (the Tasmanian training camp in Hobart). Two of his sons also enlisted, Charles in August and Eric in October.
NAA: B2455, WHITTLE EDWARD, image 1
His wife there, Rose Ann, he married twenty eight years earlier when he was 26. If you think that doesn’t add up you might be right. I think this was his birth in 1861 and thus he was actually 54 when he enlisted. As it was, his military career was rather short.
NAA: B2455, WHITTLE EDWARD, image 15
He spent in hospital with gonorrhea and then his unit was disbanded. (He died in 1948, by which time he was 82. In his obituary it says “He served in the old volunteer force for many years and served in World War 1.”)
Edward Atkins enlisted at Liverpool, NSW in July 1918, aged 44 years and 11 months He just slipped in under the age limit.
NAA: B2455, ATKINS E, image 1
His wife found it hard going without him, so she wrote a letter giving all the reasons why he should be be allowed to return home. This is part of it:
NAA: B2455, ATKINS E, image 22
He made a mistake in his age -e is 46 on the 1st August not 44 as he thought.
Busted! The military medical guys looked a bit closer at his health and he was discharged a couple of weeks later. “Unfit for active service”. He later enlisted for Home Service as a Concentration Camp Guard.
Jabeth Johnson, from Devonport was 44 years and 3 months when he enlisted in late 1917. Two of his sons, Charles and Albert, also enlisted. (Young Albert joined up at the same time as his father and also made a mistake about his age. He was only 17 when he was killed in France.)
NAA: B2455, JOHNSON J S, image 1
Mrs Johnson wasn’t happy about her elder sons and husband all enlisting. So, she wrote a letter:
To the Head Officer
Of Military Forces
Dear Sir or Sirs
I am writing a few lines conserning my husband he is suffering terrible with his feet and legs he had had very tender feet ever since going into Camp but he wrote and told me it is just has much has he can do to keep up in March with the other men and he thinks he will fail in the long run, but is trying his best to get through and do his duty, for his country and try and help his boys in their share of the pay and proud to be a Soldier him self, I my self don’t think it right that he should go away if not fit and cost the Government the great expence of sendin him to England and then have to send him back again because he is not able to stand the trainin he is 46 next april and had no right to go at first if he thought he could not stand the trainin in camp but he was so egar to get away to do his bit instead of being a shirker please dont think I am doing this to dray[?] him out for nothing is further from my mind for I do not believe in a man turnin back when once he puts his hands to the plough my husband dose not known I am writing this although it is causeing great hardship at home the whole three of them being away but I never let Father know what a strain I am having since they all left home for their strength may be the means of Saveining our Empire, but it would beno use Father going if he was no capable of vcarryin out his duties this is a hard duty for me to perform but I feel it my rightful duty to do so if he is not fit to save the Government the further expence of Military allotment pay and otherwise would you kindly see into the matter and let my husband know at once I expect I will be roused[?] upon by him for interfering but I feel it my rightful duty he has suffered with his feet when walking always I did not want him to go in the first place and told him I did not think he would get through and put the Government to a lot of expence him having a large family but he was so determined to shoulder the gun we could not hold him back from believe me Your sincerely
For the right
Mrs Jabeth Johnson
NAA: B2455, JOHNSON J S, images 10-11
“Discharged. Making a misstatement as to age on attestation paper.”