Belgian historian thinks John Condon was older than 14

Belgian historian thinks John Condon was older than 14

The story of the youngest Allied soldier to be killed in the First World War has been debunked more than 100 years later – according to a Belgian historian.

The story of the youngest soldier to be killed in the First World War has been debunked more than 100 years later. Private John Condon was long believed to have joined the army aged 14 in 1914 by pretending he was 18. A year later he was killed in a gas attack at the Second Battle of Ypres and his body wasn't recovered for another 10 yearsHis headstone in Poelcapelle British Cemetery in Belgium has an inscription stating: 'Private J. Condon, Royal Irish Regiment, 24th May 1915, Age 14
Private John Condon was long believed to have joined the army aged 14 in 1914 by pretending he was 18.

A year later he was killed in a gas attack at the Second Battle of Ypres and his body wasn’t recovered for another 10 years.

His headstone in Poelcapelle British Cemetery in Belgium has an inscription stating: ‘Private J. Condon, Royal Irish Regiment, 24th May 1915, Age 14.’

But, an amateur historian believes he has discovered that Private Condon was in fact aged 18 at the time of his death – and the remains at his listed resting place do not belong to him.

From his research, retired Belgian schoolteacher Aurel Sercu believes the grave is actually the final resting place of Rifleman Patrick Fitzsimmons of the Royal Irish Rifles.

His headstone in Poelcapelle British Cemetery in Belgium has an inscription stating: 'Private J. Condon, Royal Irish Regiment, 24th May 1915, Age 14Major Hanna was delighted to find out the truth of what happened to his great uncle and share it with his family
The mistake that led to this was the misidentification of a soldier’s boot that was found close to what had been believed to be Private Condon’s remains in 1925.

At the time it was thought to have been worn by Private Condon because it had ‘6322 4/RIR’ stamped into it.

Major Hanna served in the Queens Royal Irish Reserve for 32 years. He welcomed Mr Sercu's work
But both Private Condon and Rifleman Fitzsimoons had the service number of 6322 and both had signed up for the 4th battalion of their respective regiments.

Private Condon served in the Royal Irish Regiment but their abbreviation was simply R.I or R.I REG. The RIR initials were for the Royal Irish Rifles.

Supporting his theory, Mr Sercu also found a birth certificate that showed Private Condon was born on October 16, 1896, which proves he was actually 18 when he died.

The story of the youngest soldier to be killed in the First World War has been debunked more than 100 years later. Private John Condon was long believed to have joined the army aged 14 in 1914 by pretending he was 18. A year later he was killed in a gas attack at the Second Battle of Ypres and his body wasn’t recovered for another 10 years. His headstone in Poelcapelle British Cemetery in Belgium has an inscription stating: ‘Private J. Condon, Royal Irish Regiment, 24th May 1915, Age 14.’

In the 1911 census Condon is listed as being 14-years-old, backing up the information in his birth certificate.

Mr Sercu said he is ‘more than 99 per cent certain’ that Private Condon is not in the grave at Poelcapelle War Cemetery.

He said he has received some negative reaction to his findings among some First World War amateur historians.

But his work has been welcomed by Major Kenneth Hanna, the 77-year-old great-nephew of Private Fitsimmons.

Major Hanna, who served in the Queens Royal Irish Reserve for 32 years, was delighted to find out the truth of what happened to his great uncle and share it with his family.

Maj Hanna, from Chester, Cheshire, said: ‘I started researching my family history in the early 2010s and that was when I stumbled across a post appealing to relatives of my great uncle.

‘I got in touch with Aurel and arranged to meet with him at John Condon’s grave.

‘I have complete faith in his research which proves that it is my great uncle in the grave.

‘The only option that would give me any more certainty would be to DNA test the body but that would cause unnecessary stress to the families involved.

‘All that matters to me is that I have taken my sons to the grave and that we know the truth of what happened.

From his research, retired Belgian schoolteacher Aurel Sercu (right) believes the grave is actually the final resting place of Rifleman Patrick Fitzsimmons of the Royal Irish Rifles. Above: Mr Sercu with Kenneth Hanna, Rifleman Fitzsimmons’ great-nephew

Major Hanna was delighted to find out the truth of what happened to his great uncle and share it with his family

‘Both John Condon and Patrick Fitzsimmons died for the same cause and I think we should let them rest in peace wherever they may be at this moment in time.’

Despite the weight of evidence supporting Mr Sercu’s theory the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has no plans to change the headstone.

Mr Secru said: ‘Ken and I met in 2015 at the grave exactly 100 years after Pte Fitzsimmons died and we are still in touch now.

‘I don’t believe that the error with his age or identifying him was deliberate.

‘I am 100 per cent certain that RIR does not stand for Royal Irish Regiment, it took me a while to realise that it was that small mistake that had led to all of the confusion.

‘I am more than 99 per cent certain that John Condon is not in the grave at Poelkapelle bearing his name and I am more than 99 per cent certain that the man in that grave is Patrick Fitzsimmons.

Major Hanna served in the Queens Royal Irish Reserve for 32 years. He welcomed Mr Sercu’s work

‘John Condon has no known grave and I am absolutely certain that John Condon was older than 14 when he died.

A spokesperson for the CWGC said: ‘The Commonwealth War Graves Commission cares for the graves of 1.7 million men and women around the world who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars.

‘We ensure their sacrifice is appropriately commemorated, based on the details that those individuals provided to the military authorities during their service.

‘In many cases their family verified that information prior to the headstone being engraved. The Commission continues to respect their personal wishes.’

 

 

By Harry Howard, Mailonline’s history correspondent

!— ther/para top.html

According to a Belgian historian, the legend of the youngest Allied soldier slain in the First World War has been discredited after more than a century.

Private John Condon was long believed to have lied about his age to enlist in the military in 1914 when he was 14 years old.

A year later, he was killed in a gas attack during the Second Battle of Ypres, and it took ten years to find his body.

The inscription on his tombstone in the Poelcapelle British Cemetery in Belgium reads, “Private J. Condon, Royal Irish Regiment, 24 May 1915, Age 14.”

A hobbyist historian, however, says he has discovered that Private Condon was actually 18 years old at the time of his death, and that the remains at his gravesite do not belong to him.

Aurel Sercu, a retired Belgian educator, thinks the grave to be that of Rifleman Patrick Fitzsimmons of the Royal Irish Rifles, based on his research.

The error that led to this was the incorrect identification of a soldier’s boot that was discovered in 1925 near what had been assumed to be Private Condon’s bones.

At the time, it was believed that Private Condon wore it because it bore the insignia “6322 4/RIR.”

However, both Private Condon and Rifleman Fitzsimoons had the same service number of 6322 and had enlisted with their respective regiments’ fourth battalion.

Private Condon served with the Royal Irish Regiment, whose initials were R.I. or R.I. REG. The RIR acronym represented the Royal Irish Rifles.

Mr. Sercu also discovered a birth certificate indicating that Private Condon was born on October 16, 1896, proving that he was actually 18 years old at the time of his death.

More than a century later, the legend of the youngest soldier slain in the First World War has been discredited. Private John Condon was long believed to have lied about his age to enlist in the military in 1914 when he was 14 years old. A year later, he was killed in a gas attack during the Second Battle of Ypres, and it took ten years to find his body. The inscription on his tombstone in the Poelcapelle British Cemetery in Belgium reads, “Private J. Condon, Royal Irish Regiment, 24 May 1915, Age 14.”

The age of 14 given for Condon in the 1911 census confirms the information on his birth certificate.

Mr. Sercu stated that he is “more than 99 percent confident” that Private Condon is not buried at Poelcapelle War Cemetery.

Several amateur historians of the First World War, he reported, have responded negatively to his conclusions.

Major Kenneth Hanna, the 77-year-old great-nephew of Private Fitsimmons, has praised his work.

Major Hanna, who served 32 years in the Queen’s Royal Irish Reserve, was thrilled to learn the truth about his great-uncle and share it with his family.

Maj Hanna, from Chester, Cheshire, said: ‘I began investigating my family history in the early 2010s, and that’s when I happened upon an advertisement seeking descendants of my great-uncle.

I made contact with Aurel and scheduled a meeting at John Condon’s grave.

“I have entire faith in his investigation, which indicates that the deceased is my great-uncle.

“The only option that would provide me with more assurance would be to do a DNA test on the body, but doing so would cause the families concerned undue worry.”

“All that important to me is that I buried my sons and that we know the truth about what transpired.”

Based on his study, Aurel Sercu (right), a retired Belgian educator, thinks the burial to be that of Rifleman Patrick Fitzsimmons of the Royal Irish Rifles. Above: Mr. Sercu with Kenneth Hanna, the great-nephew of Rifleman Fitzsimmons.

Major Hanna was thrilled to learn the truth about his great-fate uncle’s and share it with his family.

Both John Condon and Patrick Fitzsimmons died for the same cause, and I believe we should now allow them to rest in peace wherever they are.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has no intentions to alter the gravestone despite the abundance of evidence supporting Mr. Sercu’s theory.

Mr. Secru stated, “Ken and I met in 2015 at Pte Fitzsimmons’ cemetery exactly 100 years after his death, and we remain in contact.”

I do not believe the discrepancy with his age or identification was intentional.

“I am one hundred percent convinced that RIR does not stand for Royal Irish Regiment; it took me some time to realize that this simple error was the cause of all the confusion.”

“I am over 99 percent certain that John Condon is not buried in the grave at Poelkapelle bearing his name, and I am over 99 percent certain that Patrick Fitzsimmons is buried there.

Major Hanna served 32 years in the Queen’s Royal Irish Reserve. He appreciated Mr. Sercu’s work.

John Condon’s grave is unknown, and I am certain that he was older than 14 at the time of his death.

A spokesperson for the CWGC stated, “The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains the graves of 1,7 million men and women who died in the First and Second World Wars.”

We ensure that their sacrifice is properly commemorated based on the information they provided to military authorities during their service.

In many instances, their family verified this information prior to engraving the tombstone. The Commission continues to honor their individual preferences.

 

»Belgian historian thinks John Condon was older than 14«

↯↯↯Read More On The Topic On TDPel Media ↯↯↯

Also On TDPel Media