The uniform and memorabilia stored in a trunk by Lieutenant Howard Hands from Hertfordshire (Photo: © Herts at War)

Trunk discovery reveals British First World War soldier's story

Posted on on 27 January 2015
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A trunk containing the belongings of a British First World War soldier has been found at a school in the UK after lying forgotten for decades.

The collection of clothing, photos and souvenirs was carefully stowed away by Lieutenant Howard Hands, a signals officer in the Royal Engineers.

A century later, it survives as a personal testament to his service on the Great War battlefields of Europe and the Middle East.

The trunk and its contents turned up in the history department of a secondary school in Lt. Hands' hometown of Letchworth.

They're now going on display as part of the Herts at War exhibition in Letchworth, a community-led project aimed at uncovering the story played by the county of Hertfordshire during the First World War.

Lt. Howard Hands, middle row, second from left (Photo: © Herts at War)

Herts at War historian, Dan Hill, told Centenary News: "Seeing Howard's collection was one of those real 'wow' moments where the history we study almost comes back to life. 

"While many of the items in the collection are fascinating in their own right, it is the cumulative effect of the case in its entirety that is really breathtaking. 

"From his uniform to his bedpan, his trench maps and collected newspapers, we are able to track Howard's movements with an incredible degree of accuracy and begin to understand what everyday life would have been like for just one man in the Great War." 

The maps reveal details of the underground war on the Western Front, neatly illustrating the networks of tunnels and mines dug under enemy lines with the aim of trying to break the deadlock.  

Lt. Hands also kept newspapers from the many countries where he was based. They include the Balkan News, an unofficial paper for British troops similar to the satirical 'Wipers Times' in Belgium.

The Balkan News, together with Greek and Serbian papers (Photo: © Herts at War)

In 1919, Howard Hands was awarded one of Britain's highest military decorations, the Military Cross, for his service during the war. 

It's thought a relative, probably his daughter, donated the trunk to Highfield School in Letchworth.

Herts at War's Dan Hill said he was now looking forward to making the story known to a wider audience: 'We are pleased to be able to share Howard's story and hope that he would approve of his personal items going on to educate the people of his home town as to the importance of the Great War." 

To discover more about Herts at War, click here.

Information & images supplied by Herts at War

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News