A new plaque has been unveiled outside Crossrail’s Woolwich station featuring a so-called Dead Man’s Penny, given to the next of kin of those killed during WW1.

The Memorial Plaque about 4.75 inches in diameter, were cast in bronze, and came, rather macabrely to be known as the “Dead Man’s Penny”, because of the similarity in appearance to the much smaller penny coin which itself had a diameter of only 1.215 inches

Although initially made in Acton, production shifted to the Woolwich Arsenal a year later, in 1920, and in total some 1.36 million were made.

The new Crossrail station has taken some of it’s design inspiration from the Arsenal, with a design around the entrances that reflects the rifling within the barrel of an artillery piece known as the Woolwich System.

And, last week, a plaque was unveiled outside the station to remind people of the Dead Man’s Penny.

The design of the penny was chosen from over 800 submissions, but the commission went to the sculptor and medallist Edward Carter Preston and features an image of Britannia holding a trident and standing with a lion.

In her outstretched left hand Britannia holds an olive wreath above the rectangular tablet bearing the deceased’s name cast in raised letters. Two dolphins swim around Britannia, symbolizing Britain’s sea power, and at the bottom a second lion is tearing apart the German eagle.

Around the picture the legend reads “He died for freedom and honour”, although the design was amended slightly later to make space to add the letter S for “She died for freedom and honour” for the 1,500 issued to the next of kin of women killed in the war.

Unusually for a military memorial, the plaque did not include the rank of the solider or officer who died, it being felt that no distinction should be made between the ranks of those who died.

The display at Woolwich features a slightly over-sized replica of the plaque, with copies of the letters that were sent to recipients and an explanatory board to tell passers by about this oddly little known aspect of WW1 commemorative actions.

At the bottom of the display, images enlarged from the plaque, which have also been replicated in the facade around the sides of the future Elizabeth line station.

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5 comments on “Crossrail unveils a Dead Man’s Penny
  1. Arthur Marris says:

    Did you consider using metric units (ie millimetres) for the penny’s dimensions? I prefer metric units myself.

  2. John Simmons says:

    I’ve got one of those plaques – my grandad’s brother died in World War 1, and my dad gave it to me along with some medals after his dad died.

    I also have the medals belonging to my dad’s brother; he was a Lancaster pilot who didn’t return after a raid over Germany.

    I was born after the war so never met him, but am honoured to have been given his name as my middle name.

  3. michael william scott bundy says:

    A fascinating article about a fact I knew nothing about. It is remarkable that so many were issued. Is this because the war did not cease at the armistice, but continued into 1919 ( in Russia, for example ) or perhaps many eventually succumbed to their wounds ? Thank you for drawing this to our attention.

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