Sunday, 7 April 2013

Dead Man's Penny

Thanks to our friend Sue, I learned recently that the Dead Man's Penny awarded to my Great Great Uncle has been lodged in the museum in the town where he spent his short life.  He was born in 1890 but died on 5 November 1916.
Casualty Record Detail
Photo: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Where in the Somme he fell and where he lies is unknown but he is remembered on this memorial between Bapaume and Albert, and in his home town.

The Thiepval Memorial was designed by Edwin Lutyens as the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme: it bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916.

Photo courtesy of Fi at Chesham Town Museum
The WWI Death Plaque to  use its correct title was issued to the next of kin of servicemen (and later, women) who had fallen in the Great War between 1914-18. Cast in bronze its colour was reminiscent of the old penny and was commonly called the Dead Man's Penny.
People of my age will remember using coins to measure:  the tanner was 3/4 inch in diameter; the ha'penny was one inch and the penny was 1.25 inches.  This plaquette is about five inches in diameter. It would have been accompanied or preceded by a memorial scroll and a letter from Buckingham Palace.  In the panel to the right of Britannia holding an oak twig is cast the name of the deceased.  No rank is indicated as no distinction is made in the sacrifice made.  This principle is continued by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who maintain war graves all over the world. Below the lion, and rather difficult to see on this photo,  there is another lion tearing to pieces the German Imperial Eagle.
1,355,000 plaques were issued using 450 tons of bronze and continued to be issued until 1930 to commemorate people who died after 1918 but as a consequence of the war.  Of the total made, 600 were for women and the inscription which runs round the rim - HE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND FOR HONOUR - had to be modified as there was insufficient room on the original to add the letter S .  This was achieved by making the H narrower. Until 1919 the casting was carried out in Acton but from 1920 the work moved to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. These later castings can be identified by WA and a number on the back.

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