THEY died at sea as young as 16 years old and were all but wiped from the pages of history – until now.
Hundreds of boy sailors who lost their lives in bloody Second World War battles are to be remembered when a memorial plaque is unveiled at Portsmouth Cathedral at 11am on Sunday, March 18.
In total, 534 navy boys were killed in action during the war, but their sacrifice has never been properly noted.
War veteran Jim Reed, 89, who has tirelessly researched the navy boys who never returned home, has paid £8,000 for a 3ft plaque which will go in the south-west corner of Portsmouth Cathedral in Old Portsmouth.
The former boy sailor, who joined the Royal Navy aged 15 and served with HMS Iron Duke and HMS Glasgow, said: ‘The story of the boys who were sent to war is one most people have never heard so I wanted to get it out there.
‘It’s something I’ve wanted to do for many, many years.
‘I started researching into it about a year ago and I was surprised to find out there were 534 boys who died.
‘There are memorials all over the country for ships which have gone down and for various campaigns but not for the boys who were killed aged just 16 and 17 years old.
‘It’s surprising there’s never been a memorial for them, so it’s good that this has happened.
‘It’s important to everybody and people I’ve been contacting have all said there should have been one years ago.
‘I can’t wait to see the plaque go in to the cathedral, I’m looking forward to it.’
Of the 534 boy sailors who died, 125 were lost when HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed at Scapa Flow in 1939.
A further 71 were among the 1,415 sailors who died when HMS Hood was sunk by the German battleship the Bismarck in May 1941.
Mr Reed, who lives in Hedge End, claims the deaths of the youngsters was hushed up at the time by the British government.
He said: ‘Quite a lot of people have no idea about how many boys we lost.
‘The government kept it quiet because it thought it would damage the public’s morale.
‘This memorial will mean those boys will not be forgotten.’
A book of remembrance written by Mr Reed, which contains all the names and the ships they served on, will be put on display next to the plaque at the cathedral.
The Dean of Portsmouth Cathedral, the Very Reverend David Brindley, said: ‘We’re known as the cathedral of the sea and we’ve got loads of naval memorials for various ships and campaigns.
‘There is a sense the boys in the Second World War were a forgotten part of the navy so the cathedral is the right place to put that right.’
Mr Reed has set up a fund to help pay for the memorial.
To donate, send a cheque made payable to RN Boys Memorial Fund to 10 Cheltenham Gardens, Hedge End, Hampshire, SO30 2UR.