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Wilfred Owen school records online

A snapshot of war poet Wilfred Owen's school life is revealed in newly published records.

An insight into the school days of many First World War soldiers, poets and artists, many of whom did not return home, forms part of the 1.7 million historical files including handwritten registers, log-books and diaries detailing absences, illnesses, visitors and holiday and attendance records which have been brought to light for the first time.

Unlike many boys at his Birkenhead school, Owen did not pay an extra fee to do gym but his father, who worked as a station master, paid extra for his son to take Latin, the documents say.

The new collection, the National School Admission Registers 1870-1914, is online at the Findmypast family history website.

It was built from work with 25 archives and schools in England and Wales. The historical records come from 1,500 schools.

Owen did not return from battle but his poetry about the horrors of war on the Western Front lives on.

He was killed on November 4 1918 while attempting to lead his men across the Sambre canal at Ors, France. The news of his death reached his parents on November 11, Armistice Day.

Edited by fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon and published in 1920, Owen's single volume of poems contains some of the most poignant English poetry of the First World War including Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth.

The records show that classes including responsibility, duty, sympathy and self-sacrifice alongside criticism, sewing and objects were taught in schools in 1914.

Standards in the education system took a blow as many teachers went to the front in Belgium and France.

One record notes a teacher commenting "no real progress can be made by these classes under the circumstances".

Details of children leaving school early can also be found, including those for pupils at Harris Orphanage School in Preston. In the "cause of leaving" field, reasons include "discharge owing to impending blindness" and "died in workhouse hospital".

Just like in modern-day Britain, parents who did not send their children to school could face fines.

One report records that "last week a parent was fined ... his boy being absent 139 times out of a possible 139".

Current attendance rates stand at 95.7% but one official notes in a 1890 school log that serious illnesses had seen attendance plunge at to 58% at times. They said they had just had the "best days attendance for a whole year" at 90%.

The official school leaving age at the time of these records changed from 10 to 14 but it is clear from the records that many children left even earlier.

John Chambers, the chief executive of the Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland), the lead membership body for archivists, records managers and conservators, described it as a "significant new resource for family historians - and for all interested in the history of education".

Findmypast family historian Debra Chatfield said it was "a fascinating collection", adding: "Not only do these records reveal the details of our ancestors' daily school lives, but they also give an insight into the last days of innocence for many young soldiers.

"Never before have so many archives and schools from across the country collaborated in a project like this, so that from today anyone can go online and search for the names of their ancestors or even their old school in these records."

The records are to be released in three phases. The first release includes records from 1,500 schools from counties across England and Wales - Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Devon, Huntingdonshire, Lancashire, Middlesex, Surrey, Wiltshire and Glamorganshire and Westminster.

More releases are to follow in spring and autumn next year.

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