Lawrence is just one of many men who lied about their age, in order to be able to serve during the First World War. It’s estimated that 250,000 underage soldiers joined up, which was possible because many people at this time did not have birth certificates, which was not helped by the fact that recruitment officers were paid money for each new recruit. Lawrence Nealis was born on Graham Street in Govan, where he lived with his mother Mary, his sister Mary, and his brother James Joseph.
He worked as a shipyard labourer until 1913, when aged 15 years and 2 months he enlisted. It’s likely that he was using his brother’s birth certificate, who was also called Lawrence, but had sadly died. In 1914 16 year old Lawrence was wounded in the hand whilst on active duty, and then in 1915 he was killed by a sniper whilst filling water bottles. The Evening Times reported that he was 20 at the time of his death, but in fact he would have turned 17 just a few days before.
He was posthumously awarded the British War Medal, Victory Medal and 1914 Star with Mons Clasp, and the medals were eventually purchased by the Govan Remembers Group in order to display them in Lawrence’s birthplace of Govan. You can see below an image of his will, handwritten 3 weeks before his death, in which he gives ‘the whole of my property and effects to my mother’.
Photo credit: Govan Reminiscence Group