Book remembers old Hitchin school’s war dead

Author Jean Handley holding her father Cyril Payne's war medals during a visit to the Menin Gate in

Author Jean Handley holding her father Cyril Payne's war medals during a visit to the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, where she will return on Sunday, June 29, for a special service - Credit: Archant

A book tracing the roots of those who died in World War I is to be published exactly 100 years after assassinations in Sarajevo set in motion the events leading to the war’s outbreak.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were shot dead on June 28, 1914. Just over a month later much of Europe was at war.

One hundred years on, Hitchin Historical Society is publishing Remembered With Pride – a book which charts the family and military histories of 68 former pupils of a school in Queen Street, Hitchin, who lost their lives in the war that lasted until November, 1918.

The school has since been turned into the British Schools Museum with volunteer and author 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.

Most Read

“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.”

Originally Jean had not intended to publish the book, but she was persuaded around a year ago to do so by Scilla Douglas from the Hitchin Historical Society.

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

Jean, pictured with her father’s war medals at the Menin Gate in Belgium, will be returning to the war memorial on Sunday, June 29, and laying a wreath in the service on what would have been her dad’s 100th birthday. She will be accompanied by 53 friends and supporters who have helped the book become a reality.

The launch of Remembered With Pride also coincides with the opening of the British Schools Museum’s exhibition, A School at War.

With the support of the Western Front Association and Hitchin-based sponsors Consilium Financial Planning and Hair by Talents, the exhibition brings a global conflict into a local context, exploring its effects on one small school in one small town.

The exhibition will run until November 25.