Dead Man’s Penny – Memorial Death Plaque

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director, and Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
This article was been edited from what originally appeared in the AGS Quarterly

 

The Government of Canada has designated the period 2014-2020 as the official commemoration period of the World Wars and of the brave men and women who served and sacrificed on behalf of their country. One of the most enduring examples of war commemoration  is the bronze “Dead Man’s Penny” seen on many gravestones in cemeteries across Canada. The plaques, resembling a large penny (hence their nickname), were given to families who had lost a loved one as a result of WWI.

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Garrow headstone in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery

Canada entered WWI on August 4, 1914 when the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. During the course of the war over 619 000 Canadians enlisted and almost 60 000 lost their lives.

In 1916, as the Great War waged on, the British Government felt there was a need to create a memorial to be given to the families of the war dead which would acknowledge their sacrifice. A committee was created and given the task of deciding what form this memorial would take; a bronze plaque officially known as the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque and a memorial scroll signed by the King was their decision.

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Memorial Scroll for Private Wilfred Lawrence Bancroft. Courtesy of the Whitby Archives

In 1917, a competition, open to any British born person, was held to find a design for the plaque. Instructions for the competition were published in The Times newspaper on August 13, 1917.  For example, any design had to include a symbolic figure, meaningful to British citizens.  Potential designs must also include the inscription “He died for freedom and honour” and provide space to include the name, initials and military unit of the deceased.

There were more than 800 entries submitted and Mr. Edward  Preston was the successful winner. His design, a 12 centimetre disk cast in bronze gunmetal, featured the figure of Britannia holding a laurel wreath beneath which was a rectangular tablet where the deceased individual’s name was cast into the plaque. No rank was included as it was intended to show equality in their sacrifice.  The required inscription “He died for freedom and honour” was inscribed along the outer edge of the disk. In front of Britannia stands a lion and, two dolphins representing Britain’s sea power.  A smaller lion is depicted biting into an eagle, the emblem of Imperial Germany.  With the conclusion of the war, over 1.3 million plaques were sent to grieving families throughout the British Empire. Plaques were sent to the next of kin for all soldiers, sailors, airmen and women sailors, airmen and women serving who died as a direct consequence of their service. Plaques were also sent to the next of kin of those who died between August 4, 1914 and April 30, 1919 as a result of sickness, suicide or accidents, or as a result of wounds sustained during their time of service.

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An example of the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque or Dead Man’s Penny. Photo courtesy of the Ontario Regiment Museum

The plaques soon became popularly known as “the Dead Man’s Penny”, or “Widow’s Penny” for their resemblance to the penny coin. There was no formalized etiquette for displaying the plaques.  According to Sam Richardson, assistant curator at the Ontario Regiment Museum, some families chose to do very little with the plaques, the memorial scrolls and King’s messages that came with them. Often these plaques would be hidden away in drawers or chests so as not to be reminders of their loved ones.  Others, however, went to great lengths to display it, with many families adding them to war memorials as they were built, or framed and mounted on walls in the family home or in a local community establishment the soldier was a part of, such as a church parish.  As time passed and military museums began to be established and grow, many descendants would also choose to donate the plaques to them.

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William James Garrow Jr., from the Oshawa Museum Archival Collection

The family of Oshawa resident William Garrow Jr.  decided a permanent home for his memorial plaque was most fitting and they chose to have it mounted into a gravestone.  Garrow was born on May 15, 1894 to William and Mary Garrow., the youngest of four children and the only surviving son.

At the time he enlisted, Garrow had been working as an upholsterer and living with his parents and two sisters in the family home on Albert Street. He enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Montreal on August 30, 1915 at the age of 21. He saw action overseas  in both France and Belgium.  Garrow joined up with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry as a replacement on the front lines in December 1915.  He was fighting with the Princess Pats at that Battle of Mount Sorrell when he lost his life sometime between June 2–4, 1916. The family received official word of his death through a telegram. Although the final resting place of Pvt. William Garrow is unknown, he is memorialized as one of the missing on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

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The Next of Kin Memorial Plaque received by William Garrow’s family remains today  embedded in his tombstone in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery. It remains as a testament, over a hundred years later,  to a young man’s supreme sacrifice  and the depth of pride his family felt in his service to King and country.

Where The Streets Get Their Name – Vimy Avenue

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

“The whole Empire will rejoice at the news of yesterday’s successful operations. Canada will be proud that the taking of the coveted Vimy Ridge has fallen to the lot of her troops. I heartily congratulate you and all who have taken part in this splendid achievement.”¹

There are many anniversaries being celebrated in 2017.  Canada marks 150 of confederation, which means the Province of Ontario is also 150 years old. Locally, the Oshawa Historical Society is celebrating 60, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery is celebrating 50, and Parkwood National Historic Site is 100, with construction of RS McLaughlin’s mansion completed in 1917.  Another 100 year milestone being commemorated is 100 years since the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a landmark battle in the First World War. which took place from April 7 to 12, 1917.

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The Canadian Vimy Ridge Memorial, located near Vimy, France; photographer: L. Terech, 2012

As our archivist Jennifer Weymark relayed in one of her podcasts about Vimy Ridge:

The battle at Vimy Ridge is considered by many historians to be a defining moment in Canadian history.  It was during this battle that Canadian troops were heralded for their bravery and their strength and for leading a stunning victory. This victory was not without great cost in terms of loss of life as over 10 000 Canadian were killed or wounded in this battle. Vimy Ridge was the first time all four Canadian divisions attached as together.  The battle was considered a turning point in the war and holding the ridge was important to the eventual allied victory.

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Phillip J. Phillips, from the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum

One Oshawa man, Phillip J. Phillips, was part of the 116th Battalion and fought with the 18th Canadian Infantry Battalion during the battle of Vimy Ridge. He survived the initial battle and was relived from the front line by the 24th Battalion.  At this time the 18th Battalion moved back to the divisional reserve on April 13th.  On May 6th, the battalion moved back to the front to relieve the 24th  Battalion.  The front line was under heavy shell fire.  On May 7th, 5 soldiers were killed, 13 wounded, under continuous bombardment of gas-shells by the Germans.  Phillips was one of the five that were killed that day.  He was buried at the Vimy Communal Cemetery, near Lens, France.

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Vimy Avenue was a street that was developed during the 1920s, a period of growth for the City of Oshawa.  It is found in the neighbourhood northeast of Olive and Ritson, and other streets in its vicinity include Verdun Road, Courcellette Avenue, St. Eloi Avenue, and Festhurbert Street, all named in honour of significant World War I battles.  These streets all feature a poppy on the sign.

Lest we forget.


¹ His Majesty the King to Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, April 10, 1917. War Diary, 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade. RG 9, series III, vol. 4881, folders 236-239.  Accessed from https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/firstworldwar/025005-1300-e.html 

 

For further reading about the Battle of Vimy Ridge, please visit the following sites:

Canadian War Museum, The Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-12 April 1917

Canadian Encyclopedia, The Battle of Vimy Ridge

Veterans Affairs Canada, The Battle of Vimy Ridge

Historica Canada, The Battle of Vimy Ridge (Heritage Minute)

Where The Streets Get Their Names – Courcelette Avenue

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Last November, in honour of Remembrance Day, I shared why Oshawa has poppies on certain street signs.  If you’re driving in Central Oshawa, streets like Verdun Road, Vimy Avenue, and St. Julien Street are marked with a red poppy on the corner.  Similar signs are also predominant in north Oshawa, where many streets have been named after Oshawa soldiers.

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Courcelette Avenue at Ritson Road

Found east off Ritson, between Olive and Eulalie, is Courcelette Avenue. Like Vimy and Verdun, Courcelette Avenue has been named in recognition of a World War I battle, and September 15 marked the 100th anniversary of its start.  This week long engagement was a part of the large Battle of the Somme.

"The Battle for Courcelette, 1918" by soldier and war artist Louis Weirter CWM 19710261-0788; Beverbrook Collection of War Art; Canadian War Museum. Accessed from the Canadian Encyclopedia
“The Battle for Courcelette, 1918” by
soldier and war artist Louis Weirter
CWM 19710261-0788; Beverbrook Collection of War Art; Canadian War Museum.

While the Battle for Courcelette didn’t have the decisive victory the Allies were hoping for, there were two major outcomes which forever changed warfare.   First, the ‘creeping barrage.’  Trench warfare had caused several stalemates during WWI; soldiers were careful to avoid the aptly-named No Mans Land.  With the creeping barrage, the soldiers walked behind the artillary barrage at a pace of 100 yards, or 91 metres, per lift.  As explained by the Canadian War Museum:

This barrage was not meant to destroy the enemy trench systems, although this sometimes happened, but to drive defenders into their protective dugouts. The infantry would closely follow the barrage, called ‘leaning on the barrage’, in order to cross No Man’s Land before enemy troops could emerge from cover to fire at them.

The other point of significant about this battle is that saw the use of tanks.  Only 1 of 6 of the tanks achieved its objective, and as described by the War Museum, the tanks were “mechanically unreliable and as slow as a walking person,” however, the impact of these machines were profound.  The psychological impact of tanks alone forever changed warfare.  Large, imposing and, fearsome, many German soldiers reportedly surrendered at the sight of them.

The Battle of Courcelette was the first battle of the Somme that saw Canadian participation, and in the end it saw 29,376 casualties.

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Courcelette Canadian Memorial; image from Veterans Affairs Canada

Courcelette Avenue first appears in Oshawa City Directories in 1923.


For more information on the Battle of Courcelette, please visit:

The Canadian War Museum

The Canadian Encyclopedia

Veterans Affairs Canada

Where The Streets Get Their Names – The Poppy on the Signs

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

This is the time of year when we remember.  From late October to November 11, as a sign of respect and remembrance, I wear a poppy on my left lapel, honouring those who fought for Canada’s freedom.  If you drive around Oshawa, you might notice that poppies can be seen year round, on certain street signs: Vimy Avenue, Verdun Road, Veterans Road, Spencely Drive, Chadburn Street, to name only a few.  Some streets, like Vimy and Verdun, have been named as such for several years; the poppy is a newer addition, signifying that the street’s name is in honour of a battle, veteran, or one of Oshawa’s war dead.

The poppy has been a symbol of remembrance since the Napoleonic wars, however, a poem written by Canadian soldier John McCrae helped to solidify its position in our collective memory.  After the death of a friend, McCrae was moved by his grief and his surroundings, and he penned the 15 lined poem in 20 minutes.

The poppy was adopted by the Great War Veteran’s Association in Canada (later the Royal Canadian Legion) as its official Flower of Remembrance on July 5, 1921.  Lapel poppies began being made in 1922 and are still sold every fall leading up to November 11.

Vimy & Verdun
Vimy & Verdun

In the 1920s, Oshawa saw growth in our city, not only in population, but also in urban planning, for it was during the 1920s that Verdun Road, Vimy Avenue, St. Julien Street, Courcellette Avenue, St. Eloi Avenue, and Festhurbert Street appeared.  These streets have been named in honour of significant World War I battles. Interestingly, as was seen with Phillip Murray Avenue and Gibb Street, the spelling of Festhubert Avenue has changed over the years.  The spelling was originally Festubert, which accurately reflects the spelling of the Battle of Festubert.  As well, St. Julien is no longer in use; sometime between 1954 and 1956 the City consolidated three consecutive streets into one name. Yonge Street and St. Julian St. all became known as Oshawa Blvd.

Dunkirk Avenue
Dunkirk Avenue

Located northwest of Wilson Road and Highway 401 is a cluster of streets, including Normandy Street, Dunkirk Avenue, Dieppe Avenue, Sedan Court, and Brest Court, all named for battle sites in France during World War II.  They were named in the mid-1950s.

Since 2003, it has been a policy of the City of Oshawa to name streets within new subdivision plans in honour of individuals who lived in Oshawa and died fighting for their country. Many of such streets can be found north of Taunton Rd. E. and west of Harmony Rd. N.

A nomination form can be filled out with information that includes length of service, community service and length of residency in Oshawa, and handed into City Hall to be considered for the street name reserve list; this list is used for the naming of new street subdivisions.

If used, the war dead/veteran’s name will be put on a street sign with a poppy motif. Nomination forms can be found on the City of Oshawa’s webpage.

In April 2015, Chick Hewett Lane became the 51st street named for an Oshawa Veteran, named in honour of a local veteran who flew 35 bombing missions during the Second World War.

It may be a small gesture, but by naming certain streets after battles or soldiers, this helps to keep their efforts at the forefront, and it is one of the many ways that we show our respect and remember their sacrifices.  Lest we forget.

What’s in a Sock? The World War I Sock

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement 

Those who know me know that I’m an avid knitter.  I started the hobby three years ago, am largely self-taught (thank you YouTube!), and I absolutely adore it.  There is something so satisfying about creating something with a piece of string and two needles.

Directions for Making Socks, as appeared in the Ontario Reformer, Friday Sept 3, 1915, p5
Directions for Making Socks, as appeared in the Ontario Reformer, Friday Sept 3, 1915, p5

Knowing my affinity for the craft, my interest was piqued when I stumbled across a sock pattern in the Ontario Reformer from September 3, 1915.  Simply titled “Directions for Making Socks,” I knew this was a pattern I would love to try!  As this sock pattern appeared in the newspaper while World War I was happening, it is very likely this pattern was published to encourage to homefront to make these socks and send them overseas to soldiers.

Before starting this project, I was still very much a sock newbie; I had only made one pair of socks previously.  However I was up to the challenge.  I’m always trying new techniques and bigger and better patterns.  How else is one to learn?

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My WWI Sock – Knitting the Leg

While making the sock, I found two things particularly challenging: the wording/language and my patience (or lack thereof!).   Patience is not a virtue I possess, especially when it comes to knitting.  I love bulky yarn and short patterns and the immediate satisfaction that comes from quickly completing a project.  The first step of the sock was ribbing (Knit 2, Purl 1 repeat) for 12 inches.  Twelve inches!  I estimated that my average time for knitting an inch while ribbing was about 1 inch/hour. Knitting the leg alone was a test of my dedication to this sock.  The foot was also a test, knitting ‘plain’ (knit stitch around) for eight inches.  I am faster with just an knit stitch, but it can be rather boring work.

My WWI Sock - Turning the heel
My WWI Sock – Turning the heel

The language was also challenging.  I found some of the terms slightly hard to follow, and right before I turned the heel, I called my grandmother and asked her advice on what the pattern was asking!

On and off, I was working on this sock for 7 weeks.  It would have been done faster if it was the only project I was working on, but I have to have a few things going to keep me engaged.

116th Knitting Society Notes, Ontario Reformer Dec 7, 1917
116th Knitting Society Notes, Ontario Reformer Dec 7, 1917

During the First World War, Oshawa’s 116th Knitting Society was busy making socks for the men at the front; the Ontario Reformer in December 1917 reported the Knitting Society sent 56 pairs to France.  If the socks were anything like the one I made, then I commend the members of the Knitting Society, and I’m sure they were much appreciated by the soldiers.

My finished WWI Sock
My finished WWI Sock

 

Directions for Making Socks, Ontario Reformer, Sept 3, 1915

Cast on 72 stitches; divide among your DPNs (I used 3: 18 sts, 36 sts, 18 sts), join, and knit rib (K2, P1) until the leg measured 12”.

Once 12”, knit to the needle with 36 sts – work these 36 sts plain (WS), and K1 S1 (RS) until it is 2 1/2” long.

Transfer instep sts to one needle; divide heel stitches among 3 needles, 12 sts on each – knit the 12 stitches on the first needle then follow heel shape instructions:

Shape heel:
* keep 12 sts on middle needle:
RS slip one stitch from side needle & k2tog, k10, slip 1 st from side needle and k2tog (11 sts, 12 sts, 11sts on the three needles);
WS: knit the 12 middle needle sts

* cont working 12 middle needle sts in this mannor until each side needle has 1 st each (14 sts total) – slip those 2 side needle sts to the middle needle

Pick up and knit 16 sts along heel side – knit across 36 sts – pick up and knit 16 sts from opposite heel side – divide sts among 3 needles (82 sts total – 24 on needle 1, 34 instep stson needle 2, 24 on needle 3)

Shape Instep:
Needle 1: knit to last 4 sts; k2tog, k2
Needle 2: knit
Needle 3: k2, ssk, knit to end Next round: knit -Repeat these two rounds until 68 sts total

Knit plain until foot measures 8 inches;

Decrease for toe:
First round: k6, k2tog, rep to last 4 sts which are knit
Next 5 rounds: knit plain
Next row: k5, k2tog, rep to last 4 sts which are knit
Next row: k4, k2tog, rep to last 4 sts which are knit
Next row: k3, k2tog, rep to last 4 sts which are knit
Next row: k2, k2tog, rep around
Next row: k1, k2tog, rep around
Next row: k2tog, rep around – 9 sts remain

Break yarn, leaving a tail. Draw through the stitches (I drew through 3 times) and fasten with a darning needle.