Boy Soldier of the Great War

Every year in Ottawa two weeks before Remembrance Day, virtual poppies rain down the Peace Tower nightly to remember those who gave their life for Canada. This year, the 100th anniversary of World War I, the poppies are especially significant. One poppy falls for Private Lloyd William Tarrant, a soldier of that war and my son’s great uncle.

IMG_3336Private Tarrant was born on January 9, 1896 according to the Attestation papers he signed in Magog, Quebec before joining the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. 1 That made him nineteen years old, the legal age for enlistment. Family legend claims he lied about his age and was actually eighteen. A medical record found in his file supports an 1897 birth date, as does an old scrapbook of family records. No birth certificate was required in order to enlist. 2

Lloyd’s parents were James Tarrant and Mabel Hawley from the farming community of Bury in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. He had a sister Edith and three brothers, Laurence, Kenneth and Nelson. Their father ran a construction company made famous for its dams and bridges. 2 Lloyd listed himself as being employed as a clerk but did not state where. 1

Whether eighteen or nineteen, Lloyd was still a boy, a boy soldier sent off to do the work of a man. Between 15,000 and 20,000 underage youths signed up to fight in Canada’s armed forces in WW I. They served in the trenches alongside their elders and fought in all the major battles: Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele. Many were injured; many, many more died. 3

Why did they enlist? Patriotism perhaps, but also adventure, pressure from friends or recruiters, escape from an unrewarding job or a steady paycheque of $7/day. In August 1914, when the fighting started, it was widely thought that the war would be over by Christmas. A short trip overseas might be a lark. 3

Lloyd joined the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles out of Sherbrooke. He trained briefly at Camp Val Cartier before his unit sailed for England on July 18, 1915. His service file states that Lloyd landed in France three months later on October 24th, 1915 but records nothing in-between. The Mounted Rifles joined the 8th infantry brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division. From October 1915 to the beginning of June 1916, it would seem Lloyd fought in the trenches of France and Belgium. 1

June 2nd, 9016 found the 3rd Canadian Division at Mount Sorrell, a strategic 30 metre high hill in Belgium’s Ypres Salient. The hill overlooked an important road between the city of Ypres and the town of Menin. Heavy rain and constant shelling left the ground a soggy mess of craters with horses and men blasted apart by artillery and the injured drowning in mud. The Germans also attacked from below, detonating mines they had dug beneath Canadians positions.

The men were nothing but fodder for the enemy. One can hardly imagine the horror and terror Lloyd experienced as he pushed forward through the explosions, flying shrapnel and falling bodies.

German forces soon captured Mount Sorrel and the nearby peaks of Hill 61 and Hill 62. They were then well positioned to attack the city of Ypres itself.

It was not until June 13th that Canadian and British soldiers were able to recapture Mount Sorrel. It came at great cost. Between June 2nd and June 14th, one thousand Canadian soldiers were killed with more than two thousand men missing. Thousands more were injured. Still others were taken prisoners of war and sent to Germany where they endured years of abuse. 4

Lloyd’s story ends here, at Mount Sorrel.

His file, covering less than a year of service, describes his death as “killed in action between June 2nd and June 3rd, 1916, aged 19”. 1 Was he killed instantly or did he suffer while holding unto hope that a medic would reach him before he bled out?

Unlike so many others, his body was eventually found and identified. He was buried, and later reburied, at Bedford House Cemetery (enclosure 4) in Belgium where he lies today. The last few pages of his scant 34 page service file cover the back-pay sent to his mother along with the Mons Star medal for early volunteer enlistment and the star awarded to every dead soldier, man or boy. 1


  1. Tarrant, Lloyd William Digitized service file – PDF format: B9504-SO52. Library and Archives Canada
  2. Family scrapbook compiled by Kim Tarrant Galley, great niece of Lloyd William Tarrant
  3. Black, Dan and John Boileau. Old Enough to Fight: Canada’s Boy Soldiers in the First World War. John Lorimer Company Ltd., Publishers. Toronto, 2013.
  4. Greenhous, Brereton and Jon Tattrie. “​Battle of Mount Sorrel”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 12 September 2014, Historica Canada. Accessed 24 November 2018.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.