Thursday 22 February 2018

Schoolchildren track down family of soldier killed in WWI after incredible seven-month hunt

'Widow's Penny' of Edward Lynch
'Widow's Penny' of Edward Lynch

Zainab Boladale

A group of school students have solved a World War 1 mystery by tracking down the relatives of a soldier killed in 1914.

Sixth class pupils and their teacher have spent the last seven months trying to track down the relatives of Sergeant Edward Lynch.

His family were presented with a death plaque, also known as a 'Widow's Penny' after his death in December 21, 1914 but this fell out of their possession and ended up being auctioned online.

Teacher Cathal Crowe has a passion for history and when he spotted the bronze death plaque for sale on eBay he purchased it so that his class could undertake the project.

Both Mr Crowe and his students decided to investigate and see if they could find out who Edward Lynch was, where he fought and how he died. They especially wanted to track down surviving members of Edward's family so that they could be reunited with the plaque.

The research involved looking at Edward's will, his medal records, his baptism record and old maps.

According to the teacher, phone calls were made and letters were written by the children to the Mayor of Cork, Cork City Library, Shandon Historical Society, the Irish Army and the British National Archives among others.

Mr Crowe said: "The class discovered that Edward was born around 1880 in Co Cork and that he came from a family of soldiers, six of his family served in the British armed forces before Ireland achieved its independence."

He explained that Edward joined the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers at Kilworth Camp and moved with his regiment to Aldershot, England in 1914 to prepare for combat in the battlefields of France and Belgium.

"The students discovered that he was shot and killed outside the village of La Bassée in northern France on December 21st 1914. He was a sergeant at the time and while he doesn’t have a grave, his name is listed on the Le Touret Memorial at Pas-de-Calais."

After some early success the project met a brick wall at the start of the year when the children had an abundance of information relating to Edward but no leads as to where his family now reside.

They decided reach out through local and national media and the class engaged in a number of radio and television interviews.

Rita Ahern, an elderly woman from Togher, Co Cork, was shown an article about the Edward Lynch project and it instantly resonated with her as she is Edward's grand-niece and knew about her uncle who went to war but never returned.

A week or two after Edward's death, his family would have received a black envelope with a standard letter of sympathy from King George V and a death plaque. How this death plaque ended up out of the family's possession and sold online remains unknown.

The school are now in continuous communication with Rita and are working on plans to reunite her with Edward's long lost death plaque at a solemn ceremony to be held at the school in the coming weeks.

A group of 18 pupils, together with four teachers will now make a once in a lifetime trip to Belgium to retrace the steps of the fallen soldier.

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