Sir Arthur Markham was elected liberal MP for Mansfield in 1900 and from 1898 to 1907 lived at Stuffynwood Hall before moving to Portland Place, London. At the outbreak of World War I, the minimum age for volunteers was 18 and soldiers had to be 19 before they could serve overseas, however, the online War Graves Commission records show that among the ranks of the British army were as many as 250,000 underage boys, some as young as 14, who had lied about their age in order to enlist. One of Arthur Markham's constituents was Oswald Sansom of 19 Common Lane, (Vale Road) Mansfield Woodhouse who died at Loos aged just 17. The Battle of Loos was the first battle that the underage recruits would experience and unfortunately be killed, including the MP & writer Rudyard Kiplings son, John, the story of whom has been dramatised in the film 'My son Jack'.
These teenage boys volunteered to fight for their King and country encouraged by Lord Derby's high profile, poster recruitment campaign, intentionally designed to appeal to their patriotism.
It was Liberal MP for Mansfield, Sir Arthur Markham's loan public voice that tried to persuade the War Office to tackle the issue and to secure the return of tens of thousands of boys from the frontlines of Europe.
However, the nature and scale of 20th-Century warfare took Britain by surprise and the dead & wounded were quick to mount up. By late 1914, Lord Derby's poster recruitment campaign had recruited 750,000 men in just two months. Three of the posters can be seen left and the full collection can be seen online at the Lauinger Library, Georgetown University. Markham also presented evidence in Parliament of recruitment pressgangs stalking his local consituency and deliberately intimidating underage boys.
To make matters even worse, the harsh reality of the frontline was too much to bear for some of the under-age soldiers and subsequently deserted. The army made no allowances for them and were executed.
Markham received many letters from parents desperate to have their sons home and regularly confronted the war office in parliament, however, he was stonewalled at every turn. Sir Arthur Markham died at Newstead Abbey in 1916 aged 50, where he had made his wartime base just outside Mansfield. From here he also played a major role in the war effort by ensuring that munition factories were kept supplied with coal. Arthur owned collieries in the South Yorkshire coalfield and was one of the Markham family whom pioneered the coal, iron & steel industry in England & Wales, subsequently controlling a huge labour force of 40,000 men.
On the 22nd September 1915 Sir Arthur Markham stood up in Parliament and asked the Under Secretary for War..........
".......what steps the Secretary of State for war proposes taking, if any, to prevent boys of thirteen years of age enlisting against the wishes of their parents;
Reply by Tennant, Under Secretary for War.........
......."I have stated in answer to a previous question that it is the deliberate policy of the War Office only to take those who are of proper age. If boys under the proper age have been enlisted it is their fault for having made a false declaration......."
......."Does the right hon. Gentleman speak for the Government that under the voluntary system of enlistment, boys of fifteen, who are at present in hospitals in this country wounded, have been sent to the front and the War Office knows nothing about it? Has he taken steps to see that the patriotism of these boys has not been exploited?"
On 27th Jan 1916 (25th May for married men), the year Markham died, conscription was introduced for men aged between 18 - 41 and with it tighter controls on the age of conscripts but in spite of his efforts to secure the return of underage soldiers, tens of thousands of boy soldiers already serving remained in action.
It is estimated that half of the 250,000 underage recruits were either killed or wounded.
The text below is copied from a letter Sir Arthur sent to the Postmaster General June 15th 1915 complaining about the telephone application form he was sent. A month later the country was suffering a 'munitions crisis' partly because they were not receiving adequate quantities of coal!
Sir Arthur made a further attack on the War Office and Prime Minister Asquith in the House on June 28th 1915 when he accused him of lying and not recognising the munitions crisis. In Dec 1916, after a vote of no-confidence, Prime Minister Asquith was replaced by David Lloyd-George.