The Express & Star of 2 December 1914 tells the story of a young lad who “attained his ambition after rebuffs which would have shattered the hopes of many an adult.”
He and his friend (who was apparently less keen) presented themselves at the local recruiting office for enlistment. The “less enthusiastic patriot” successfully passed the examination and was accepted, whereas his friend was rejected. The rejected young man tried again at Walsall and again at another town, with no success. He cycled to Birmingham and tried again at one of the recruiting offices, but was still deemed unsuitable.
While he was doing the rounds of the recruiting offices, he saw a group of young man marching along one of the main thoroughfares. He found out that these men were from “a local educational institution” and were being marched to one of the recruiting offices for enlistment. Following this group he was able to observe that in their physical examination, there was no measuring of height or chest expansion; these would-be recruits were simply weighed and had to undergo a sight test.
While he was loitering around the recruitment office he was able to stroll up to the sight board and memorise it. He then filled his pockets with spanners and other items from his cycle bag that couldn’t be detected from the outside. This meant that he was able to pass the weight and sight test, and was considered fit and accepted into the army.
When he went home to tell his mother, she queried how he was able to pass the sight test, as she was aware of this weakness in her son. After his explanation, “what ensued thereafter is unknown”. His only regret was that he was separated from his friend, but he had “attained his object, and a youth with the spirit and perseverance of this young man is bound to make a real soldier”, according to the Express & Star. For obvious reasons, the newspaper article does not give the young man’s name, so we are not able to trace further what happened to him, but it gives us an indication of the lengths some people would go in order to join the army, particularly in the early days of the First World War.