The International Business Times is marking Remembrance Day with a series of forgotten stories of war.

In the Great War tens of thoussands of men deemed to short to join the British Army formed their own unique units and became known as the Bantam Battalions.

"The citizens of LeHavre weren't prepared for the bizarre sight that greeted them after a British troopship arrived in the harbour in January, 1916...They were about five feet tall, miniature Guardsmen, more like mascots than fighting men."

When these men first arrived in France that January morning, the locals must have figured the latest batch of the British army marching through their streets as proof of the extreme desperation of the British Army and reserves. Why else would these 'petit' men have been pitted into fighting against the Germans?

The smaller than average men who confused the French locals that day were The Bantams. They had arrived ready for battle after their own personal fight just to be allowed to serve their country. Over 50,000 British and Canadian soldiers fought under this battalion. Less than half of them would return home.

Unfortunately for these soldiers - whose story is one of the most unusual chapters in the British Army - the reward for their bravery and determination to fight for Britain during the Great War, as well as the constant ridicule, has largely gone unnoticed.

None of the Bantams are alive today and it is highly unlikely we will ever see their like again. Here we pay tribute to the men who deserve their recognition with the other 5 million who bravely fought for our country during the First World War.

Ban'tam. N. Small kind of domestic fowl, of which the cockerel is very pugnacious; or small but spirited person. - Oxford Dictionary.

On the morning of August 5, the day after war had been declared on Germany, thousands had gathered outside of Great Scotland Yard, eager to serve their county. When the doors closed at 4:30 pm, hundreds of men still anxiously waiting were told to come back the next day.

Among the millions of people who desperate to join, there was a group of men who were constantly left frustrated. These men did not reach the minimum height of 5 ft 3 ins. required by the army.

"You have to remember that nobody expected the war to last very long," recalled Cyril Wright, to Sidney Allinson, auothr of 'The Bantams, the definitive work on the unique group of fighting men. Wright was one of the frustrated 5 ft. 2 inchers who were originally refused the privilege to fight for his country.

"We all thought it would be over by Christmas, or the spring of 1915 at the latest; so every man Jack of us wanted to have a crack at the fighting before it was too late."

Men like Wright at first were unable to sign up regardless of health or strength and were not even asked to take a preliminary examination.

Why would the authorities take a risk in allowing these men - who are barely taller than the rifle they will be required to hold - to join when they have the pick of Britain's tallest just as eager to sign up?

Tens of thousands of these men were turned away, their hopes of fighting for their country apparently dashed at the first hurdle. A few years later, these men would eventually serve Britain proudly as members of The Bantams.

"They didn't even let me inside. They said, 'get away home titch'," explained James Robertson, a 5 ft. 2 ins. coal-heaver from North Lambeth.

"To get in there'd have to be two of you," he added.

Robertson and Wright were not the only ones to have experienced a similar story, especially those working in the mines. During the time the First World War broke out, Britain had a fair large number of under-height Britons. This has been tributed to various reasons - poor nutrition, appalling living conditions, or merely a stage of evolution as generations of the same family would have worked down the mines, particularly in Wales and Northern England.

As a result of this, there were a fairly large amount of perfectly healthy and willing men unable to be enlisted, some not meeting the minimum height requirement by less than a centimetre.

"Your King and Country Need You! Single men between 19 and 30 in good health, above height of 5 ft. 3 ins., chest 34 inch minimum, are urgently required now. Terms of service: For a period of three years or until the war is concluded. Join the army!" - Message on recruitment posters and newspaper advertisements.

Nobody knows the name of the first Bantam, but what is known is the extraordinary lengths he went to in order to enlist. The 5 ft. 2 ins. coalminer from Durham had walked the 150 miles journey to Birkenhead, visiting Manchester, Preston and Liverpool on the way hoping to find a regiment that would accept him despite his size.

He eventually met Alfred Bigland, a Member of Parliament for Birkenhead and known for persuading people to enlist using his powerful personality, in Cheshire. After once again being rejected for his height, the Durham coalminer offered to fight anyone over 5 foot three inch to prove his worth, exclaiming it was ridiculous the army would refuse to let him in due to one inch.

After realising that most available men had already signed up for the army, Bigland had an idea, an idea that eventually led to 1st Birkenhead Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment - the regiment of the Bantams.

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By early 1915, it had become painfully clear that the war will go on for much longer than previously anticipated, with the death toll sure to reach staggering amounts. Getting men to sign up had started to prove more of a challenge, with men beginning to question their chances of surviving on the Western Front. The original patriotic keenness and determination to sign up appeared to be a distant memory.

By 1915, the authorities were beginning to be persuaded to recruit people below the minimum height requirement. This led to a paper entitled "Tall men versus short men for the army" being presented to the Royal sanitary Institute in February 1915, led by DR. M.S, Pembrey.

Among the list of positives for the enlistment of small men in the army, Dr Pembrey suggested: "The short man has a smaller weight of body to carry and the weight of his clothing and equipment is less; he is lighter upon horse; he does not require so deep a trench, and offers a smaller target to the enemy."

Soon after this, the Army had begun to instruct to regimental recruitment headquarters to actively recruit Bantam troops, "so long as rigorous standards regarding medical fitness are observed."

Once the Bantams were allowed to be in the army, the British people truly took them to their hearts. Posters, poems, souvenir mugs and postcards began to surface featuring the Bantams. What is puzzling is how the Bantams, so popular at the time and dubbed "the Devil's dwarfs", have since been largely forgotten about, or even worse, deemed a failure.


These men, who had fought just as hard and as bravely as the millions of others on the Somme front and other key battles on the Western Front, have had their story wiped from memory. Very little information can be found about their heroics, with some people still doubting their existence.

Despite all the Bantams now long gone, it is still not too late to gibe respect to all those who lost their lives during the First World War, as well as the fight and determination they showed for the chance to do so.