Thursday, January 26, 2006


Age Limits

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 (H.R. 1815, Public Law 109-163), Section 543 (Increase in Maximum Age for Enlistment), provides that:
Section 505(a) of title 10, United States Code, is amended by striking 'thirty-five years of age' and inserting 'forty-two years of age'.
In World War I, as in other wars, those under and over the age limits tried to enlist, with more or less success. Among these patriots were the brothers Fowler, Frank and Henry, known in literary circles for their translation of Lucian and for The King's English. Ernest Gowers, in the introduction to the second edition of Henry Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage, tells the story:
When war broke out Henry was 56. He emerged from retirement to take part in the recruiting campaign. But he found himself more and more troubled by the thought that he was urging others to run risks which he would himself be spared. So he enlisted as a private in the 'Sportsmen's Battalion', giving his age as 44. His brother, aged 45, enlisted with him. Their experiences are fully told in letters from Henry to his wife, now in the library of St. John's College, Cambridge. It is a sorry story, summarized in a petition sent by the brothers to their commanding officer in France in February 1916.
[Your petitioners] enlisted in April 1915 at great inconvenience and with pecuniary loss in the belief that soldiers were needed for active service, being officially encouraged to mis-state their ages as a patriotic act. After nine months' training they were sent to the front, but almost immediately sent back to the base not as having proved unfit for the work, but merely as being over age -- and this though their real ages had long been known to the authorities. . . . They are now held at the base at Étaples, performing only such menial or unmilitary duties as dish-washing, coal-heaving and porterage, for which they are unfitted by habits and age. They suggest that such conversion of persons who undertook purely from patriotic motives the duties of soldiers on active service into unwilling menials or servants is an incredibly ungenerous policy. . . .
This petition secured Fowler's return to the trenches, but not for long. Three weeks later he fainted on parade, and relegation to the base could not be resisted. This seemed the end. 'By dinner time', he wrote to his wife shortly afterwards, 'I was making up my mind to go sick and ask to be transferred to a lunatic asylum.' This drastic measure proved unnecessary, for in a few days he was to go sick in earnest. He was sent back to England, and after some weeks in hospital was discharged from the Army, having spent eighteen dreary months in a constantly frustrated attempt to fight for his country.
Another English man of letters, Hector Hugh Munro, who wrote under the pseudonym Saki, was also over the official age limit when war broke out, but he was not frustrated in his attempt to fight for his country, despite illness and injuries. He died near Beaumont-Hamel in France on November 14, 1916, killed by a German sniper in the early morning darkness. It is said that his last words were, "Put that bloody cigarette out."

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