Remembering a different Valentine
Today is Valentine’s Day when you show your feelings of love. But do take a moment to remember a different type of Valentine… Rifleman Valentine Joe Strudwick was aged 15 when he died on 14th January 1916 and is one of the youngest British casualties of the Great War. Valentine Joseph “Joe” Strudwick (No. 5750) was born on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1900, which gave him his name.
A major embarrassment to the military authorities during the First World War was the presence of boy soldiers at the Front. Officially, the minimum age for Army recruits was 19 but those as young as 13 are known to have joined up, lying about their age in order to fight in the trenches of the Western Front. Valentine was one such recruit.
Struck by the persuasive recruitment campaigns of the British Government from 1914 onwards that were designed to encourage men to join up and serve their country, hundreds of thousands answered the call. Many youngsters like Joe must have thought that army life would provide opportunities for travel and work that were not available at home.
In January 1915, aged just 14, Joe enlisted at a recruitment office in Lambeth, London. Being tall and strong he concealed his true age from the recruiting Sergeant. After six weeks training, probably at Winchester, he joined his regiment, the 8th Battalion, Rifle Brigade, 14th (Light) Division on the Western Front. Shortly after his arrival he lost two of his chums who were standing near him – both instantly killed. The shock was such and with the addition of being badly gassed, he was sent home for three months to recooperate in hospital at Sheerness. At any time Valentine Joe Strudwick could have owned up to being under age and not eligible to serve his country and leave the horrors of war behind him, but he did not. He also chose not to visit his family while in England and to rejoin his battalion, now manning the trenches at Boezinge near Ypres in Belgium.
Valentine was killed on the 14th January 1916. Not in any major battle but in the daily rounds of firing between the Germans and the Allies. He was just 15 years, 11 months old. His mother received the following letter from his commanding officer, dated 15th January:
‘I am very sorry indeed to have to inform you that your son was killed by a shell on Jan 14th. His death was quite instantaneous and painless and his body was carried by his comrades to a little cemetery behind the lines, where it was reverently buried this morning. A cross is being made and will shortly be erected on his grave. Rifleman Strudwick had earned the goodwill and respect of his comrades and of his officers, and we are very sorry indeed to lose so good a soldier. On their behalf as well as my own I offer you our sincere sympathy.’
Valentine Joe Strudwick is buried in Essex Farm Cemetery, near Ypres. His grave is probably the most frequently visited in Essex Farm Cemetery and many will say he was the only 15 year old at Ypres. He wasn’t, in fact there were loads. Many of them lay beneath headstones that say ‘Known Unto God’. So spare a thought for this special Valentine and the many youngsters who died in ‘The Great War’.
If you would like to visit Essex farm and Valentine’s grave, Rifleman Tours has a two day tour designed to do just this; a Taste of Flanders and the Great War at only £209 per person.