Hitchin museum volunteer traces students’ World War I past

A article published in the Hertfordshire Express following the death of lance corporal Edgar King

A article published in the Hertfordshire Express following the death of lance corporal Edgar King - Credit: Archant

A museum volunteer is visiting a World War I battlefield this weekend as she prepares to publish a book on the subject next year.

Jean Handley began researching the Great War to find out about her uncle William Payne, who was killed in 1917 while serving in Palestine.

Spurred on by what she found, the 66-year-old has spent the last three years researching the family and military histories of 66 pupils who served in the war after attending Queen Street School in Hitchin.

Jean decided to choose the school as her focus as she volunteers at the British Schools Museum in the town – the site of the former Queen Street School.

So far she has visited the graves of 48 former pupils, with a further seven planned during a trip to the Messines Ridge in Belgium today (Sunday) and yesterday.

One of those is Edgar King, who was born in Nightingale Road, Hitchin, and attended Queen Street School from the age of eight.

Lance Corporal King was deployed in France in 1916, and was killed on the first day of the Battle of Messines, in June 7, 1917.

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Jean’s research will be published on June 28, 2014, exactly 100 years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which began the series of events leading to the outbreak of the war.

Jean said: “It has been very difficult to track down the 66 but I’m getting there and have uncovered some amazing stories. I’m determined these lads will be remembered and with the centenary coming up it’s the perfect time to do so.”

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