UK Government

Commonwealth War Graves Commission: 14 year old "boy" Earnshaw confirmed as youngest known service casualty of WWII.

Press Release   •   Feb 09, 2010 10:44 GMT

- Sister comes forward to provide confirmation of Reginald Earnshaw's birthday.

- Public appeal allows family to choose personal inscription for Reggie's headstone.

- Family to visit grave in Edinburgh on Reggie's birthday - 5 February, and meet with families of two other young men killed   in attack.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission can confirm that following a public appeal, which was made after it erected a headstone at the grave of Reginald Earnshaw in Comely Bank Cemetery in Edinburgh in July 2009, family members have been in contact to confirm that the Merchant Navy cabin boy was indeed the youngest known service casualty of the Second World War.

Reggie had lied about his age, in order to serve his country, claiming he was 15.  The youngster, born in Dewsbury in Yorkshire on 5 February 1927, was in fact just 14 when he was killed aboard the SS North Devon on 6 July 1941, when German aircraft attacked the vessel off Norfolk, whilst it was en route from Ipswich to the Tyne.

Now, 69 years after his death, Reggie's sister, Pauline Harvey, has contacted the War Graves Commission, after she became aware of the publicity generated by the erection of the headstone at Reggie's grave.  Affirmation of Reggie's birthday by Mrs Harvey means the Commission can now confirm that Reggie died aged 14 years and 152 days. Previously, the youngest known service casualty of WWII was recorded as being Raymond Steed, who was killed aged 14 years and 207 days, whilst also serving in the Merchant Navy.

77 year old Mrs Harvey, a retired teacher from Epworth in North Lincolnshire, who was aged 9 when her brother was killed, said: "Reggie's death at such a young age and after just a few months at sea came as a great shock to the whole family.  I am immensely grateful to so many people who helped research my brother's forgotten story, and to the War Graves Commission for providing his grave with a headstone."

Mrs Harvey and her great-niece Jenny will lay flowers at Reggie's grave in Edinburgh on his birthday - Friday 5 February at 1pm.  There, she will meet with Mrs Catherine Corse, sister of Douglas Crichton - one of Reggie's shipmates who was killed in the same attack and with three members of Reg Mitchell's family, who was also killed in the attack.  Douglas Crichton was cremated at Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh and Reg Mitchell is buried at Piershill Cemetery in Edinburgh.

A local church minister will preside over a short service, which will also feature a piper playing a lament and local sea cadets forming a guard of honour.

Ranald Leask of the CWGC said:  "Having last year erected a headstone at Reggie's grave, we at the War Graves Commission are very pleased that Mrs Harvey contacted us.  She will now be able to choose an inscription for her brother's headstone, and provide Reggie with a fitting final tribute."

Media interested in attending this event should contact Ranald Leask, the Commission's PR & Media Manager on 01628 507204 or 07887 860541 or

Notes for Editors

1. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for marking and maintaining the graves of those members of the Commonwealth forces who died during the two world wars, for building and maintaining memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown and for providing records and registers of these 1.7 million burials and commemorations found in most countries throughout the world. For more information visit

2.  Reginald Earnshaw was born in Dewsbury on 5 February 1927 to Dorothy Earnshaw.  On 5 August 1931, Dorothy married Eric Shires.  The couple then had two daughters, Pauline and Neva.  In 1938, the woollen mill at which Mr Shires worked closed, and in the summer of 1939, the family moved to Granton in Edinburgh, when Reggie was 12.  He attended Bellevue School and left, aged 14, to join the Merchant Navy in February 1941.

His sister Pauline was nine years old when her brother died.  His funeral was held at St David's Episcopal Church in Granton.  It was the first funeral service to take place at the recently opened church.

The Shires stayed on in Edinburgh until the mid-1950s, when they returned to England.  Reggie's stepfather died in 1969 and his Mother, Dorothy, died in 1987, aged 81.

3.  Media will find the following pictures attached:
-  Reginald Earnshaw, pictured as a schoolboy, shortly before he joined the
Merchant Navy.  No picture of Reggie has previously been available.

-  A scan of Reggie's birth certificate and death certificate.

-  Dorothy and Eric Shires - Reginald Earnshaw's Mother and step-father.

-  The SS North Devon, the ship which Reggie, Douglas Crichton and Reg Mitchell
were serving aboard when they were killed.

-  Douglas Crichton and his twin brother Albert.  Douglas is on the left of the
picture, with blond hair.  Douglas was born on 8 October 1924.

-  Reg Mitchell, in Royal Navy uniform.  He later transferred to serve in the 
Merchant Navy.  He was brought up in Woodbury Salterton in Devon and was 23
when he was killed, serving as a fireman aboard the SS North Devon.

-  Pictures of Reggie's headstone, in Edinburgh Comely Bank Cemetery and of
Mrs Pauline Harvey will be available as of 18:00 on Thursday 4 February. 
Any media wishing those pictures should e-mail Ranald Leask on


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