First World War pupils remembered in book by Royston author

Author Jean Handley during a visit to the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium Author Jean Handley during a visit to the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium

Friday, August 29, 2014
5:08 PM

As the nation continues to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, former pupils of a Hitchin school have been remembered in a book written by a former Royston primary school teacher.

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Remembered with Pride written by Jean Handley, former headteacher of Therfield School, tells the story of 68 former pupils of the Hitchin Boys’ British School – now the British Schools Museum in Queen Street – who lost their lives in the conflict.

The book, published by Hitchin Historical Society, is the culmination of many years’ research by the Sandon resident, who is also a museum volunteer.

The idea to delve into the personal lives of the boys and research their gallant military service was motivated by Jean’s father Cyril Payne, who encouraged her to find out more about her uncle William Payne, who was killed in 1917 while serving Gallipoli.

Jean Handley dedicating almost four years to the challenge of tracing students turned soldiers.

From the cemeteries of Hitchin to the battlefields of France, Belgium and beyond, Jean has uncovered the stories of the ordinary individuals and their families whose lives were thrown into chaos by the war.

“It’s taken three and a half years of painstaking research to get to this point,” said Jean.

“It has been exceedingly difficult as all I had to go on was the war memorial and the school registers so I’ve been going through all sorts of things, from medal rolls to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I call them ‘my boys’ when I refer to them now as I’ve read so much about their lives and what happened to them that I feel I know them.

“It’s exciting to see it published but I didn’t realise when I set out just how much hard work it would take. It will be amazing to see all that information in print.”

The book has been dedicated to Jean’s father Cyril Payne who served in the Second World War and encouraged her to research the military history of her uncle William Payne, who was killed in 1917 while serving in Palestine.

The book also coincides with the British Schools Museum’s exhibition, A School at War.

The exhibition will run until November 25 – visit www.britishschoolsmuseum.org.uk for opening times – while Remembered with Pride is available in the museum shop at £12.95.

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