|Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery|
Credit: Royal British Legion
The expression “old men declare war, but the youth who must fight and die,” comes to mind when visiting any Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery. Rows of white tombstones mark the last resting place for a generation of young men of the British Empire. Studies of death records have found that the majority of soldiers died in their 20s, with the median age being 22-26 years old. Most of the soldiers were cut down in the prime of their lives, leaving young wives and children to cope with the loss of a missing partner and father.
|14 year old and 8 month old Anthony Skarrizi|
Researchers have come across the graves of soldiers from the Great War that were too young to marry, or even shave. Recently I have come across the story of Peterborough’s youngest fatality of the Great War, Anthony ‘Tony’ Skarrizi who died during the last days of the Battle of Passchendaele. Private Anthony Skarrizi was 16 years and 11 months old when he died on 3 November 1917 outside of Passchendaele, Belgium.
Government Records show that Anthony Skarrizi was born in Italy in November 1900. Like many Italian immigrants at the turn of the last century, the Skarrizi’s moved to Canada in 1907 hoping of finding employment as labourers. The young Anthony Skarrizi decided to join the military in August 1915. Private Skarrizi falsely attested his birth year as 1897, making the adolescent appear to be 18 to the Recruiting Sargent at the Peterborough Armouries, in all likelihood he was only 14 years and 8 months old.
|Canadian Military Police Corps (Provost)|
Private Skarrizi completed his military training in Canada, and embarked for overseas service. After sailing to Liverpool, England he was found to be underage and redeployed for permanent base duty. Military law states all soldiers must be 18 to enlist in the military and 19 years old for overseas service. Once his age was discovered, Skarrizi spent 6 months on base duty being assigned to several guard and provisional units; he became an unruly and irresponsible soldier. His young age combined long rotations in the much hated “bullrings” (reinforcement camps) likely contributed to his declining morale. By the winter of 1916-1917, Private Skarrizi had several run-ins with the Canadian Provost Corps.
|Great War Military Depiction of |
Field Punishment No 1
He was arrested and court martialed four times for: neglecting to obey an NCO, absent without leave on two occasions, and absent from parade. The young soldier was punished by being restrained, having his pay docked, and after his second conviction for being absent without leave, he was given the dreaded Field Post No 1. According to the Manual of military law, the Field Post No 1 punishment consists of restraining an individual at the feet and hands and attaching the convicted soldier to a wagonwheel, or fencepost in a public area, whereby all other soldiers could witness the punishment.
Two months after the last conviction, Skarrizi was transferred to France with the 21st Battalion. One month after landing in Boulogne, France, the young private was attached to Kingston’s 21st (Eastern Ontario) Battalion billets in Villers Au Bois. The question arises: why and how would a known underage soldier allowed to be sent overseas? No one knows. It is likely that Officers decided to send Skarrizi to France because serving at the front would stop the adolescent Italian-Canadian soldier from running away from the Canadian military camps.
|Terrain of Passchendaele|
Credit: Library and Archives Canada
Unfortunately for Private Skarrizi, he joined the 21st Battalion only several weeks before the Canadian Corps moved into Belgium to take part in the Battle of Passchendaele. The four month long British led Passchendaele offensive had almost ground to a halt. The British High Command jointly employed their “shock troops” of Australian and Canadians to help resolve the political and military mess that the British Generals had created in attempting to take Passchendaele. The Canadian Commander, Arthur Currie, planned to win the battle but slowly and in several phases in order to insure that the Canadians did not suffer needless losses of men. This article will not go into the general history of the Passchendaele campaign. It is interesting to note that during the research for this entry, I found there was a lack of contemporary historical analysis into the Canadian involvement at Passchendaele.
|Aerial Photograph of Passchendaele,|
displaying location of Crest Farm
On the night of 3 November 1917 the 4th Canadian Brigade relieved the Canadians that captured the lunar swampy landscape that was Crest Farm at 2:45 AM. The relatively fresh 21st Battalion was sent in to guard the recently captured Crest Farm by the 4th Division. On the right was the 19th Battalion, and on the left the 21st Battalion was on left of Crest farm.
|1917 Map and Location of Crest Farm|
Credit: McMaster Archives
|Contemporary Photo of location|
of Crest Farm Credit: Google Maps
|Menin Gate, Leper Belgium|
Author would like to acknowledge the assistance and great research work provided by the 21st Battalion Website. Please visit them at http://www.21stbattalion.ca