A Boy Soldier – One of Albert County’s Fallen - Clifford Robinson Oulton Age 15

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On February 1, 1916, Clifford Robinson Oulton from Bridgedale, New Brunswick (now Riverview) joined up with the 145th Battalion out of Moncton. He signed up for the duration of the war, which for him was all too short. The remarkable thing about Clifford Robinson Oulton was that he was only 14 years old when he enlisted. Sadly, he would become one of hundreds of underage boys killed in the First World War. He was killed at the Battle of Passchendaele on November 1, 1917, aged 15 years 10 months.

Clifford Robinson Oulton was born December 2, 1901 in Moncton, New Brunswick. He was the son of George Albert Oulton and Dora (nee Chapman) Oulton of Bridgedale, Albert County, New Brunswick. His father worked as a pipe-fitter with the Inter-Continental Railway (ICR) Shop in Moncton. His father died sometime between 1911 and 1916, the exact date of his death is unknown. Very little is known of his Mother, Dora, but she probably remarried shortly after George’s death, as Clifford’s pays stubs show his money going to Mrs. Dora Hyslop of Bridgedale.  Clifford had four sisters Stella Reid Oulton, Margaret Jane Oulton, Olive Frances Oulton, Effie Lola Oulton and one older brother Franklin H Oulton, who died in 1909 at the age of 22.

The reasons for Clifford Oulton joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) so young could have been many: Was it the recent death of his father, or a sense of duty or adventure? Or was it more personal in nature, with his mother recently remarrying? Or could it have been financial, having 3 sisters and a mother to support? At this point in time we will never know. What we do know is that he lied on his attestation papers, saying he was born December 2, 1899, the bare minimum 18 years of age.

New recruits were supposed to be between 18 and 45. In fact, many older soldiers rubbed shoe polish in their hair to fool recruiters, and younger boys, before birth certificates were common, claimed an extra few years. By war’s end, at least 20,000 underage soldiers had enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

At 14 years, Clifford stood 5’4½” and weighed 120lbs with expanded chest measurements of 35½“ meeting the minimum requirements for the army.

 He trained with the 145th and sailed for France aboard the SS Tuscania arriving in England on October 7, 1916. He was then transferred to St. Martins Plain, England where he was transferred to the 9th Reserve Battalion. On October 27, 1916 he sailed for France and was taken-on-strength to the 5th Canadian Mounted Regiment on November 3. 1916. He was at the front.

He arrived just in time to see the last of the Canadian offensive at the Battle of the Somme in November 1916. He was with them during the Battle of Vimy Ridge and Hill 70 and was finally killed at Passchendaele. During the Battle of Passchendaele, the 5th Canadian Mounted Regiment fighting strength was reduced by 60% in a single day.

The Battle of Passchendaele, (or the Third Battle of Ypres), was a not a battle the Canadians wanted to fight. Lt. General Sir Arthur Currie, protested the Canadian involvement in it, prophetically saying it would cause 16000 casualties. He was right. In the end, it was a Canadian success but at a terrible cost. More than 4,000 Canadians were killed and another 12,000 wounded during the two weeks long offensive to take a section of ground which was to be given up a year later. (The greater Battle of Passchendaele lasted over 5 months).

Passchendaele was a battle that came to symbolize the worst horrors of the First World War, due to the sheer futility of much of the fighting, and the reckless disregard by some of the war's senior leaders for the lives of the men under their command. It was also a battle which displayed the sheer courage of the men facing unspeakable terrors in the worst possible conditions.

On the morning of October 31, while pressing the attack, Clifford Robinson Oulton, serial no. 832241, was shot multiple times, probably by machine gun fire. He was sent to Clearing Station 44 where on November 1, 1917 he died from his wounds. He was 15 years and 334 days old.  

You can find his complete war records by clicking here.

He is Commemorated on Page 304 of the First World War Book of Remembrance.

A virtual memorial can be found here.

More information on the Battle of Passchendaele can be found here.