The death penny commemorated fallen soldiers during the Great War
- Credit: Honiton Museum
In 1916, the government decided that a form of memorial should be established for presentation to the next of kin of all the servicemen and women who died during World War One. In 1917 a committee set up a competition to design the plaque. There were more than 800 entries. The winning design was a bronze plaque designed by Edward Carter Preston.
Production of the plaques began at Acton in West London in 1919 and later transferred to the Woolwich Arsenal and other munitions factories. Over 1,150,000 memorial plaques were issued. Among our front line troops, the plaque became known as the “Dead Man’s Penny”, the “Death Penny" '“Death Plaque” or the “Widow's Penny.”
The first a family would know of the death of one of their own would be the arrival of a telegram from the War Office. This would be followed by a white HMSO envelope addressed to the next of kin. It contained the plaque which was protected by a purpose made cardboard folder. Posted out separately in a card tube was a scroll with a message from the King which read – “I join with my grateful people in sending you this memorial of a brave life given for others in the Great War.”
Hundreds of these were delivered to addresses in and near Honiton. There are four ‘death pennies’ on display in the museum. They commemorate Captain Alban Preedy, Old Honitonian, Frederick Batten of Offwell and Charles Middlemore Teague, a journalist whose letters from the trenches were often published in the Times newspaper.
The last plaque commemorates the death of the fourth Honiton soldier to die during World War One - Private 9755 William Samuel Stone.
William Samuel (baptised William Henry) was born in Honiton in 1890. He was the only son of Samuel Stone, a platelayer/labourer and his first wife Lucy nee Turner. Lucy died two weeks before her son and Samuel later married Bertha Haycraft.
William was a mason’s labourer living in Kings Terrace when he enlisted with the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. He was killed in action on the Givenchy Festubert section of the front line on 30th October 1914 aged just 24. There is no known grave for William, but he is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial Pas De Calais, panel 8/9. His name is recorded on the Honiton War Memorial.