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Before the Sliver Cross, there was the "Dead Man’s Penny"

1914-1918 Canadian soldiers Dead Man's Penny Hill 145 No Man’s Land Passcendaele The Battle of Vimy Ridge The Great War The Somme Treaty of Versailles trench warfare Verdun Vimy Memorial Vimy Ridge western front WWI Ypres

Information was sources from and

I was at a show recently and someone brought me a WW1 Memorial Plaque, known as the“Dead Man’s Penny”.  I was quite intrigued by it and thought I would source out the story and share it with you.


For the families and loved ones of fallen soldiers, grief and sorrow usually occurred without the finality or closure offered by having funeral rites or burials at home. Their memorial efforts might have included participation in national or local commemorative efforts, but they also involved oral traditions; maintaining and displaying cherished photos, letters, or memorabilia; and preserving physical objects as private acts of remembrance.

In addition to the personal effects or papers of the deceased, these might also have included official commemorative items. The British government, for example, issued a Memorial Plaque, along with a commemorative scroll, to the next-of-kin of every British service person who died during the war. Known informally as the “Dead Man’s Penny,” Each plaque is unique, cast in bronze and carrying the individuals name but not his or her rank as part of the medal.

In 1919, the Government of Canada instituted the Memorial Cross, more commonly known as the Silver Cross, for the mothers and widows of Canadian soldiers killed on active duty. It is still distributed.

The "Dead Man’s Penny", (which could be described as large plaquettes) were made of bronze, and hence popularly known as the "Dead Man’s Penny", because of the similarity in appearance to the somewhat smaller penny coin.  1,355,000 plaques were issued, which used a total of 450 tonnes of bronze, and continued to be issued into the 1930s to commemorate people who died as a consequence of the war.

It was decided that the design of the plaque, about 5 inches (120 mm) in diameter and cast in bronze, was to be picked from submissions made in a public competition. Over 800 designs were submitted and the competition was won by the sculptor and medallist  Edward Carter Preston using the pseudonym Pyramus, receiving two first place prizes of £250 for his winning and also an alternative design.

Carter Preston's winning design includes an image of Britannia  holding a trident and standing with a lion. (Britannia was the Greek and Roman term for the geographical region of Great Britain which was inhabited by the Britons and is the name given to the female personification of the island. It is a term still used to refer to the island today.) The designer's initials, (E.CR.P) appear above the front paw. In her outstretched left hand Britannia holds an olive wreath above the rectangular tablet bearing the deceased's name cast in raised letters. Below the name tablet, to the right of the lion, is an oak spray with acorns. The name does not include the rank since there was to be no distinction between sacrifices made by different individuals. Two dolphins swim around Britannia, symbolizing Britain's sea power, and at the bottom a second lion is tearing apart the German eagle. The reverse is blank, making it a plaquette rather than a table medal. Around the picture the legend reads (in capitals) "He died for freedom and honour", or for the six hundred plaques issued to commemorate women, "She died for freedom and honour".

They were initially made at the Memorial Plaque Factory, 54/56 Church Road, Action, W3, London from 1919. Early Acton-made plaques did not have a number stamped on them but later ones have a number stamped behind the lion's back leg.

In December 1920 manufacture was shifted to the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. Plaques manufactured here can be identified by a circle containing the initials 'WA' on the back (The "A is formed by a bar between the two upward stokes of the "W") and by a number stamped between the tail and leg (in place of the number stamped behind the lions back leg).

The design was altered slightly during manufacture at Woolwich by Carter Preston since there was insufficient space in the original design between the lion's back paw and the H in "HE" to allow an "S" to be inserted to read "SHE" for the female plaques. The modification was to make the H slightly narrower to allow the S to be inserted. After around 1500 female plaques had been manufactured the moulds were modified to produce the male version by removing the S.

The plaques were issued in a pack with a commemorative scroll from King George V; though sometimes the letter and scroll were sent first.

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