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)

Lest We Forget: Profiling Alfred Hind

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

For the past few weeks, I have been deep into research/writing mode, which admittedly isn’t out of the ordinary.  We were asked by a local Scout troop to lead a Union Cemetery tour, focusing on soldiers in honour of Remembrance Day.  We talk about the Veteran’s plots in general on many of our tours, but we did not have one looking at specific individuals.  Speaking with the leader, I became excited about the possibilities of this tour and about filling in a gap with our current program offerings.  So I turned to the archives and various online databases, and I began my research.

There are two Veteran’s Plots in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery: World War I and World War II.  Looking at the stones and learning more about these brave men and women was truly fascinating, that I could have written this post about any one of them.  There was Ernest Bush, who in WWII fought with the Princess Pats, married an English woman while stationed overseas, but succumbed to military Tuberculosis upon his return home.  There is also the mystery of Nursing Sister Hayes, for whom we need to do more research to learn more about this brave woman who enlisted and helped the wounded.  Of course, we have the story of Private William Garrow, who enlisted for WWI and was killed in action less than 10 months later.  He was 22 years old.

For some soldiers, there was little information available, but for the more prolific, like Albert Hind, we were able to learn quite a bit about him.

From the Daily Reformer, 1927
From the Daily Reformer, 1927

Albert Frederick Hind was born in England in 1877, and came to Canada in 1907.  He was a police chief constable for the Town of Oshawa at the time of the outbreak of World War I.  He earned the rank of Major with D Company of the 34th Regiment, and would serve overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  Upon returning from the war, he was promoted to Police Magistrate, a position he would hold until his death.

Certificate appointing Alfred Hind to Police Magistrate
Certificate appointing Alfred Hind to Police Magistrate

He passed away at age 53 in 1930.  His cause of death, heart inflammation, was attributed to his service during WWI; the maple leaf on his headstone is indicative of this.  His funeral was at his house on Simcoe Street in Oshawa, and he was buried in Union with full military honours.  The regiment paraded from the Armouries on Simcoe Street to the cemetery, and three traditional volleys of the gun were fired at the graveside.

Hind Headstone, World War I Soldier Plots, Oshawa Union Cemetery
Hind Headstone, World War I Soldier Plots, Oshawa Union Cemetery

Because of the position he held in the community, his death was reported in the local newspapers, and his colleagues remembered him fondly.  Magistrate Willis of Whitby said of Hind:

“He placed many an erring young man on the path of right.  His work has left the world the better for his acts of kindness in placing men on the right path.  He is a victim of the Great War, and just as much a hero as those who died on the field. He went to fight for freedom and liberty and returned broken in health.  Since his return he has not been the physical man be was before he went… Major Hind used his best judgement at all times, without prejudice of vindictiveness. He will be missed in Oshawa.”


 

Hind was only one of many men and women from Oshawa who fought for Canada.  We owe a debt of gratitude to those who came before us and those who still see action in combat.  On November 11, we will pause and remember.  Lest we forget.

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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