Jack William Jones, born 1900: War & Memory

The mention of the First World War and its association with the life of Jack William Jones is evidenced throughout his memoir. Jack tells us how, when he was the young age of only fourteen, he heard of his father’s death on the 4th of August 1914, on the very same day that the War was declared. Although his father did not die in military circumstances, the early associations with loss in Jack’s life became closely linked with the War.  Jack’s elder brother, Ivor, who chose not to live with the family during Jack’s childhood, died while fighting in the War.

Shortly after his father’s death, still aged fourteen, Jack decided that he wanted to support the  cause and join the fight. For many reasons, such as, the payment of two shillings and sixpence to recruitment officers for each new army recruit that often lead to ignorance of any concerns they had about age, Jack became one of as many as 250,000 boys under the age of 18 served in the British Army during World War One [1]. Many people at the start of the 20th Century did not possess birth certificates and so it was easy to lie about how old you were if you were as dedicated as a young Jack Jones seemed to be.

Images of young British soldiers of WWI of similar age to Jack William Jones when he joined up in 1914. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news)

As such a young boy, Jack described his experience in his pre-enlistment medical examination with the military doctor in his memoir.


‘On the outbreak of the war, in 1914, I decided to help in the battle of Kaiser. So, Just before reaching my 15th birthday, I offered myself in a recruiting office in Old Street, Hoxton. On reaching the doctor I was told to strip. The doctor seemed unable to believe his eyes and asked “How old did you say you were?”, “Eighteen” I replied. “Good God” he said, “You could earn a fortune in the circus as the hairless wonder”. He was right, even today I am hardly any better.‘ [2]

Jack’s career in the Army did not last long as it was discovered that he was far below the age requirement shortly after his first appointment. Despite his lack of actual military experience it is very fair to assume that having a part to play in the war had a dramatic effect on his life both at the time and in the future of his career in transport and politics. Glen Elder, in his book War mobilization and the life course discusses how entry into the armed forces at a relatively early age ‘maximised discontinuity and facilitated a redirection of the life course through psychological development, a delayed entry into family roles and greater advancement opportunity'[3]. These experiences are seen throughout Jacks life with his frequent job changes and his various opportunities to advance in the world of politics.

Jack demonstrates in his memoir how the war was a chapter of his life that he was able to move away from with optimism: ‘The post war years were to present London busmen with many problems, but for me the post war years were never as exciting or as rewarding as the ‘twenties and thirties”. This demonstrates just how difficult the war made the life of some of those people living is a  post-war Britain, as well as those who used the war as an empowerment for a better future.



[1]http://www.bbc.co.uk/news The Teenage Soldiers of World War One . Accessed 24.04.17.

[2]Jack William Jones, Untitled, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:250, available at http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10895

[3]Glen H. Elder Jr. War mobilization and the life course: A cohort of World War II veterans. June 1987, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 449–472

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