We often read about teenagers who lied about their ages in order to serve their country during war. But this story is about an old man who lied about being young enough to enlist. To be sure, it’s common for a military to recruit older people with specialized knowledge for the war effort, but they are rarely put on the front lines. John William Boucher just wanted to serve.
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Boucher was a Canadian citizen who enlisted in the Union Army in America’s Civil War at either age 18 or 19, even though it took three attempts for him to get in. After the war ended, he went back to Ottawa and continued his life. But when Boucher approached age 70, World War I broke out, and he wanted to serve his country. The upper age limit for enlisting in the Canadian military was 45, and Boucher was rejected three times. By 1917, the upper age limit was raised to 48, but Boucher was 72 by then. He showed up at a different recruiting office and adamantly insisted he was 48 years old. The doctor didn’t believe it, but he passed the physical and became a sapper. As a member of the 257th railroad battalion, he constructed railways across Europe and gained the nickname “Dad.” After his time in Europe ended, Boucher continued to serve in public relations by telling his story. Read about John William Boucher and his service in two widely-spaced wars at Smithsonian.
(Illustration credit: Meilan Solly)