Too Young to Die
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Too Young to Die

Canada's Boy Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen in the Second World War

By John Boileau and Dan Black, Foreword by John de Chastelain

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John Boileau and Dan Black tell the stories of some of the 30,000 underage youths -- some as young as fourteen -- who joined the Canadian Armed Forces in the Second World War. This is the companion volume to the authors' popular 2013 book Old Enough to Fight about boy soldiers in the First World War. Like their predecessors a generation before, these boys managed to enlist despite their youth. Most went on to face action overseas in what would become the deadliest military conflict in human history.

They enlisted for a myriad of personal reasons -- ranging from the appeal of earning regular pay after the unemployment and poverty of the Depression to the desire to avenge the death of a brother or father killed overseas. Canada's boy soldiers, sailors and airmen saw themselves contributing to the war effort in a visible, meaningful way, even when that meant taking on very adult risks and dangers of combat.

Meticulously researched and extensively illustrated with photographs, personal documents and specially commissioned maps, Too Young to Die provides a touching and fascinating perspective on the Canadian experience in the Second World War.

Among the individuals whose stories are told:

  • Ken Ewing, at age sixteen taken prisoner at Hong Kong and then a teenager in a Japanese prisoner of war camp
  • Ralph Frayne, so determined to fight that he enlisted in the army, navy and Merchant Navy all before the age of seventeen
  • Robert Boulanger, at age eighteen the youngest Canadian to die on the Dieppe beaches


List of Maps
Organization of the Canadian Armed Forces Overseas
Canadian Army Overseas
Principal Warships of the Royal Canadian Navy
Royal Canadian Air Force Overseas
The “Boys”


“I had no knowledge of anything military until one day my father’s oldest brother . . . appeared in uniform . . .”

Youth and Another World War

Part I

First Battles: Hong Kong and Dieppe

Chapter 1

“It had been rather an unusual Christmas day . . . one to remember . . . one never to forget.”

Hong Kong, The Battle

Chapter 2

“I thought we’d be taken prisoner and we’re not going to be that long. I thought maybe six months at the most.”

Hong Kong, The Prisoners

Chapter 3

“I want to be at peace with God.”

Death at Dieppe

Part II

Italy: The D-Day Dodgers

Chapter 4

“We were — and are — quite proud of the boy’s determination and independence.”

Italy, The Invasion

Chapter 5

“Well Mother Darling this going to be an awful surprise to you all and I sure hope and pray that you dont take it to hard.”

Italy, The End

Part III

North-West Europe: D-Day to V-E Day

Chapter 6

“This is it. I’m going to die.”

Normandy, D-Day

Chapter 7

“I would have got it right across the middle of my chest.”

Normandy, The Road to Carpiquet

Chapter 8

“Whenever we were moving we were looking for depressions in the ground — someplace to dive into.”

Normandy, Caen to Falaise

Chapter 9

“I feel like crying my heart out — half with joy, half with sorrow.”

North-West Europe, Falaise to V-E Day

Part IV

Dangerous Waters

Chapter 10

“Asleep in the deep.”

On the Sea, The First Years

Chapter 11

“I got frostbite all up the left side of my face. I didn’t have to shave for years.”

On the Sea, The Final Years

Chapter 12

“One lad was only twelve years old — so I wasn’t always the youngest one.”

The Boys of Canada’s Merchant Navy

Part V

Dangerous Skies

Chapter 13

“As I remember him, he would have found another way.”

No. 6 (RCAF) Group Bomber Command in Britain

Chapter 14

“I went away as a boy and came back as a man.”

Bombing Germany and Occupied Europe


“I wasn’t sleeping or eating well so they put me in what they called the bomb-happy ward.”

Post-war, Back Home

Image Credits

"Too Young to Die, by John Boileau and Dan Black, provides an exhaustive account of the lads, some as young as 14, who bluffed their way into the Canadian armed forces during the Second World War. They lied about their age or borrowed an older brother's identity, puffed-up their often scrawny chests and signed on the dotted line.

The work provides in-depth accounts of how underage Canadians made their way to war, fought and, in many cases, died for their country, despite not being old enough to vote."

- Chris Lambie Atlantic Books Today

"In Too Young to Die, the authors do an exemplary job of ensuring reliability to the young men...
Through Too Young to Die remains a fact-based, non-fiction work, both Boileau and Black are able to keep the attention of the reader due to the accessibility of the tales being told."

- Ryan Gallant The Chronicle Herald

"Dan Black has again brought to life the stories of underage soldiers, sailors and airmen.
To track down underage soldiers, Black and Boileau delved into the personnel files of soldiers, sailors and airmen; more specifically, the estate branch form... Too Young to Die tells the chronology of the Second World War."

- Jennifer Westendorp Inside Ottawa Valley

JOHN BOILEAU is a retired Canadian army colonel and author of twelve books and 500 articles. He is a frequent commentator on military issues for radio and television and a lecturer to service organizations and historical societies. In 2010 the Minister of National Defence appointed him Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of The Halifax Rifles (RCAC) and in 2014 he became the unit's Honorary Colonel. He lives in Nova Scotia.

DAN BLACK has written and edited hundreds of articles on Canada's military, past and present. He is the former editor of Legion Magazine. Dan lives outside of Ottawa.

GENERAL JOHN de CHASTELAIN is a former Chief of the Defence Staff for the Canadian Armed Forces and an ambassador to the United States.

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Publication Details:

Binding: Hardback, 488 pages
Publication Date: 3rd October 2016
ISBN: 9781459411722
Format: 9in x 6in
150 b&w visuals and 10 maps

Binding: Electronic book text, 488 pages
Publication Date: 3rd October 2016
ISBN: 9781459411739
Format: EPUB
150 b&w visuals and 10 maps

BISAC Code:,, HIS006020, HIS027100
Imprint: Lorimer


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