As Malcolm Doolin’s book ‘The Boys of Blackhorse Lane’ was launched this month, Douglas Patient looks at the life of a young student who was killed in the Great War.

At the breakout of the war in 1914, the area around Blackhorse Road School, now Willowfield Humanities College, had become the most densely populated in Walthamstow.

Rows of housing were built to accommodate the workers of newly built printing and engineering factories, and Blackhorse Road School was built in 1901 to teach the children of these families.

This contrasted to the picture just 20 years before this in 1894, as the Ordnance Survey documents the area as mostly being fields.

The memorial, which can now be seen in the foyer of Willowfield, commemorates the 52 boys and three teachers who died in the war from the school.

The average age of the people named is 20 years and 3 months, with 20 of them having no known grave.

Author Malcolm Doolin said: “The memorial has survived 100 years and this is very unusual.

“It was unveiled in 1920 and moved into the hall in the 1960s, finally being moved to the new school last year.”

One of the names on the memorial, James Vickery, was born in October 1897 in Walthamstow and was living in Pasquier Road with his parents and five older siblings.

He joined Blackhorse Road School in 1905 and left at the age of 14 in 1911, working in a Post Office at the GPO Eastern District Office in Whitechapel Road where his name is on its war memorial.

James went to France on August 11, 1915, to join the 7th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.

It was not clear why he joined this kilted regiment but he would have been involved in the Battle of Loos from September to October 1915, a major British attack in France.

James was promoted to Lance Corporal and in June 1916 was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The reason why he was awarded the medal was documented in a Daily Express article from June 24, 1916, which said James played a mouth organ to rally his fellow troops for an attack.

He visited his old Walthamstow school on February 15, 1917, to show his medal to pupils but was reported missing on September 13 and his body never recovered.

His death at the age of 20 was reported in the Walthamstow Guardian on September 29.

James was awarded the 1915 Star as a Private and the Victory and War Medals as a Lance Corporal.

Mr Doolin said: “I got stuck researching about James but got a stroke of luck by googling ‘James Vickery medal’.

“I found that his story, medals and mouth organ are now in the Highlanders Museum, given to it by James’s nephew in 1985.

“Quite where he was and how he died is a mystery.

“Mouth organs were very popular then and were not an unusual thing for soldiers to carry.

“The Daily Express actually ran a campaign to send mouth organs to soldiers in 1916 and James’s is one sent to him from the paper.”

This is only one of 55 individual stories which could be told about the “Blackhorse Road Boys”.

Mr Doolin added: “These are more than just names on a memorial.

“No one expected the boys of Blackhorse Road School to change things but these boys lived in exceptional times.

“They were asked to do something special. 

“If they had lived who knows that they could have achieved but we will never know.”