The Hunt for Harry James Payne

Of all 60 names on the College Chapel Memorial, none proved a more difficult research task than Harry J. Payne. The path was long and frustrating. Apart from the detail of the search itself, it provides an insight into some of the general research tools used and may be of help to others undertaking similar exercises for relatives, whether they were teachers, war-dead or simply relatives. A list of resources and tools is available at the end of this article.

Our start-point is, obviously, the chapel rail, giving his name but only the middle initial. To this we can add one further piece of information: in June 1916 the College published a War Supplement, listing all former students serving the armed forces of the Great War, and their whereabouts. All Winchester Training College archives (including those of its later identities King Alfred’s College and University of Winchester) are held at the Hampshire Records Office. Having no budget for the project, almost all work had to be undertaken on-line, but harvesting data from these records was old-fashioned leg-work, ably undertaken by Dee Sayers, one of our three researchers, who lived closest to Winchester. The result, however, was not encouraging: he was simply listed as Pte. H.J. Payne with no location or Regimental information. He was included in the list of men who left college in 1904.

We need to mention at this point that researching every other student was helped tremendously by the previous sterling work of John Hartley (Student 1963-1966). The results of his painstaking work, carried out in pre-Internet days, was committed into the care of others and was tragically lost. The one item which did survive was a spreadsheet summary of his findings, giving most of the following details: Full names, Date of Birth, Date of Death, Date of Studies, Regiment, Service Number, Rank, How Killed, Area of Death, Burial Location. However, Harry J. Payne’s entry is the only one that is blank. There is a note against it which says No details – prob not a war casualty. We were on our own.

As two of the researchers had pre-existing subscriptions to the genealogical website Ancestry, this became a major tool in trying to track down information on all our men (for other similar providers, paying and free, see the Resources section at the end).

Because we did not know his middle name, searches had to be based on Harry J Payne. However, some records do not carry full or middle names, so results had to include Harry Payne, H J Payne and simply H Payne. Reversing names is also common and so J Harry Payne and all of its variants are also possibilities. We also had to bear in mind that Harry may have been a familiar (hypocoristic) name for Henry and that officialdom would tend to record the formal birth name, again with all variations. To add further to the confusion, we knew that there were mistakes made in the carving of one or two of the names in the Chapel Memorial, but this last consideration was something beyond our knowledge or control and had to be discounted.

Narrowing things, if he were a casualty of War, his death must have been in the years 1914 to 1919 inclusive. Although his name had been published in the War Supplement of June 1916, we could not assume he was still alive at that point as it was clear that the College did not have any news about him from his enlistment (into an unknown Regiment at an unknown date) onward. At the least, the year 1919 needs to be included as many soldiers died of wounds or disease after the Armistice of 11th November 1918.[1] In the Ancestry search engine, specifying the year of death as 1916 ±2 years would therefore not cover the period and the next nearest option available is ±5 years, so results covering 1911 to 1921 were included.
While we turned up many possibilities looking at Military deaths (Commonwealth War Graves Commission records, Soldiers Effects records, etc.), these were of little help as we couldn’t tell if they were the man we were looking for. The only way we could narrow it down was to look at Civil records and use the only other piece of information to hand: the fact that he was a teacher. The Census records were therefore the place to look as these carry the occupation of each person. Harry, having left College in 1904, should therefore appear in the next Census (1911) as a Schoolteacher. When a likely candidate was found, a more focused search could be carried out (using the year of birth and place of birth details from the Census form) to see if that man died in the requisite period and had a military record.

The work was tedious and was fitted around other research to break the monotony. Candidates were found which sooner or later did not connect with valid death details. Phrases passed between researchers on our messaging thread such as too many results, flogging a dead horse and getting nowhere.

Meanwhile, further visits to the Hampshire Archive were being undertaken to gather more information from the considerable store of College documents. One piece of information that turned up was of Harry being listed as a teacher at the Rothschild School in Brentford, Middlesex. This was both helpful and puzzling. At least it pinned Harry down to a geographical area, but further searches yielded no matching person within reasonable distance of Brentford. The nearest that could be found was a Harry James Payne, a teacher, living in Esher, Surrey. In each Census he showed as living there with his family”not reasonable commuting distance for the early 1900s.
Around the same time as this new information came to light, a spreadsheet was drawn up of the leading contenders based on searches for Harry J Paynes, containing what we knew about each man. They included some military searches as well as civil data. These were eliminated one by one as incongruous data was found that didn’t fit what we knew of our man. In the end we were left with two: our Esher man, and another Harry James Payne, a soldier in the 4/8th Middlesex Regiment. The striking feature about the data found on these two men was that one (the Esher man) had a fairly full set of civil but no military data, and the Middlesex Regiment man, who had some military but no civil data. They were probably one and the same man. So a profile was coming together. But was this our man?
Simply because there was no better candidate, we put the Esher/Brentford distance issue to one side and looked to see if there was any local information on Rothschild School. A contact with Brentford History Project led to a newspaper article that proved that the two records were indeed one (see image below), and this was confirmed by a Major Derrick Harwood of Middlesex Regimental Museum, who further established that his father lived in Esher.

Middlesex Chronicle – Saturday 12 June 1915 (see also British Newspaper Archives in Resources list below)

Looking for one thing often throws up another: in Harry’s case the newspaper searches also helpfully showed us (a) his all-round athleticism in multiple sports carried in numerous articles, (b) a connection with teaching at a school in Tonbridge (still as yet unidentified and dated but almost certainly pre-dating College) and (c) his death details.

Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser – Friday 28 February 1919

It was the latter which was to prove the most surprising as, in conjunction with his military records it showed that Harry had died long after his discharge from Army service. It also explained why there was no Commonwealth War Grave or other military death record for him:

Extract from Army Soldiers Effects Register

Further searching in Ancestry found his full Army Pension Records. Quite why this hadn’t shown in many previous searches over a long period of time is not known, although it is something we have noted a number of times, where one researcher can find an item and then another, even knowing exactly what they are looking for and using the same search parameters, cannot. There are also significant variations between results of searches carried out on mobile devices and computers/laptops. A similar late find was the location of his grave, which again had not yielded to extensive searches.

But what of the unresolved Esher/Brentford problem? It was during an otherwise fruitless examination of a headmaster’s school diary from Tonbridge that the solution presented itself. The diary included the dates for the beginning and the end of each school term. Cross-referencing these with the dates of the census days, it became clear that the census data was gathered in the Easter school holiday. It had presumably been Harry’s habit to travel home to spend time with his family each Easter break.

Harry’s story was an enigma from beginning to end. It is in keeping therefore that he leaves us with unanswered questions about his time in Tonbridge and, more importantly, why he was included on the Memorial Roll.

The full jigsaw is pieced together in the narrative of Harry’s life.


Researcher and Author of this and the main Harry Payne narrative: John Vickers


All are free to use unless otherwise stated (£)

This Article
Brentford High Street Project (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018].

Hampshire Record Office, Sussex Street, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 8TH Tel 01962 846154. Searchable catalogue online available at:

National Union of Teachers. (1920). War Record 1914“1919. A Short Account of Duty and Work Accomplished During the War. London: NUT. Also available online through FindMyPast (see below).

Rose, M. (1981). A history of King Alfred’s College, Winchester 1840-1980. London: Phillimore.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission, (2018). Home page. [online] Available at [Accessed 2018].

Great War Forum, (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018].

Imperial War Museum (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018].

The London Gazette. (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018].

The Long Long Trail, (2018). Welcome to the long long trail. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018].

The National Archives (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018].

Wikimedia (2018). Category: World War I – Index to images. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018].

National Library of Scotland (2018). Search page – Historic maps of UK and WWI trenches. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018].

University of Leicester (2018). Historical Directories of England & Wales – including Kelly’s Directories. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018].

Genealogy Websites
FamilySearch is free to use but is almost entirely text-only based (document page images are not available). FindMyPast has excellent search interfaces and is often preferred for military queries. Results are better organised than Ancestry though servers are often slow at peak times. Ancestry interface has a more rounded feel to it and is more generally more intuitive. Free access may be found through Library Services

Ancestry (£)

FindMyPast (£)


The British Newspaper Archive (£)