Trunk Containing Uniform, Other Memorabilia of WWI Officer Found in School’s History Dept.

A trunk containing the personal things like uniforms and other memorabilia of a WWI officer was found recently in storage in a Hertfordshire school’s history department.

The “time capsule” trunk was said to have belonged to WWI officer Lieutenant Howard Hands. In it were found Hands’ neatly pressed uniform from the Great War along with his officer’s cap, belts, cigarette case, several photos and newspapers and even his bedpan. There were also important documents found in the said trunk like trench maps which detailed the series of secret tunnels and mines found underneath the positions of the enemy in the Western Front.

It was the WWI officer himself who placed these items inside the trunk before sealing it shut a century ago. However, how the trunk ended up in storage in the Highfield School’s history department in Letchworth, Hertfordshire is a mystery.

Lieutenant Howard Hands with his comrades
Lieutenant Howard Hands with his comrades

Lieutenant Howard Hands was able to serve in every major theater during the Great War including the Western Front, Iraq, Egypt and Palestine. He was responsible for laying out vital communication cables and mine galleries as well as maintaining the communication links throughout the front line trenches.

Hands, who was from Letchworth, had the habit of collecting the newspapers from every country he was assigned to. Inside the trunk was found a rare edition of the Balkan News, a satirical publication aimed at the British troops, which was very similar to the Wiper Times though it was not as popular as the latter.

The school’s head of the history department, John Grant, was the one who uncovered the “time capsule” trunk and he, himself, doesn’t know how the trunk came into the school’s possession. It is now believed that someone from the WWI officer’s family donated the trunk to the school more than three decades ago.

However, Mr. Grant expressed that the whole school administration is pleased with the existence of the trunk as it’s a great help in children’s education especially in regards to history and the Great War.

On the other hand, Dan Hill of Hertfordshire at War said that the items contained inside the century-old trunk offer an amazing glimpse of a soldier, a war hero. He added that the trunk was a rare find especially as the items contained in it are all in good condition even after a hundred years. The pieces just bring history to life.

The 'time capsule' trunk
The ‘time capsule’ trunk

Lieutenant Howard Hands, who was awarded the coveted Military Cross during the 1919 New Year Honors list, went on to become a designer in the aircraft industry after serving in the First World War. Eventually, he set his own oilfield engineering company out — the Hands-England.

He died at the age of 69 in Zimbabwe while he was on a holiday trip.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE