LONDON – He lied about his age to get into the service, and was rewarded for his gallantry with an early death.
Now, on what would have been his 82nd birthday, Reginald Earnshaw's sad place in history has finally been acknowledged.
On Friday, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission officially recognized him as the youngest known British service casualty in World War II.
The lad lived just 14 years and 152 days. He died when German planes attacked the SS Devon, the ship he was on, off the east coast of England on July 6, 1941. He had only served for several months.
Officials had been slow to recognize his status because they did not have official proof of his date of birth, making it impossible to prove he was actually younger than Raymond Steed, who died at 14 years and 207 days.
Earnshaw was serving as a Merchant Navy cabin boy when he died. He had told authorities he was 15, the minimum allowable age, after leaving school to help with the war effort.
His younger sister, Pauline Harvey, placed flowers at his grave at Comely Bank Cemetery in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Friday and met with the aging relatives of other Merchant Navy sailors killed during the same attack.
"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," said Harvey, a retired teacher who is 77. "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."
She came forward with proof of her brother's date of birth after the war graves commission made a nationwide appeal for information about Earnshaw.
He had laid in an unmarked grave in Edinburgh for decades, and little was known about his case until a surviving shipmate, machine gunner Alf Tubb, spent several years trying to find out what had happened to the young man he served with.
His search was difficult because the war graves commission was never told where Earnshaw was buried, preventing him from receiving recognition for his brief service.
Based on information Tubb discovered, the war graves commission placed a permanent granite headstone on Earnshaw's grave last summer.
Officials said Harvey, who was nine when her brother died, will now be able to choose a personal inscription for her brother's gravestone.