From the trophies and relics store

The following blog was written by Amy Savage, a volunteer at the Royal Marines Museum, who has been undertaking an audit of the Trophies and Relics store. She says, “it is a big task but one that I find very rewarding. It was during this project that started my fascination with next of kin memorial plaques, or death pennies as they are more colloquially known.”

Next of kin memorial plaques
Next of kin memorial plaques were produced to honour those servicemen or women who died during the First World War. They were also produced for those whose deaths between 1919 and 1921 were attributed to the war. As the name suggests, these were created for eligible next of kin but the plaques were not made if the next of kin could not be traced. The plaques were sent out with a commemorative scroll and a King’s message with a facsimile signature of King George V.

In 1917, the British Government set up a competition to design a bronze plaque but there were a few specifications the designers needed to adhere to. These included the inclusion of the words “He died for freedom and honour”; this phrase was changed to “She died for freedom and honour” for those commemorating women. The winning design was chosen by committee and was designed by Edward Carter Preston (1894-1965), who came up with a circular plaque which, according to the competition specifications, measures approximately 12 cm in diameter. The words used in the commemorative scroll were also chosen, very carefully, with the final version written by Dr Montague Rhodes James, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge.

The plaque design is hugely symbolic. It features Britannia holding a trident and laurel wreath. At her feet is a lion, as featured on the Royal Arms of England. Beneath the lion’s feet is a smaller lion with an eagle, representing Germany, in its mouth. A box on the right-hand side contains the name of the commemorated serviceman or woman. Due to this feature, each plaque was cast individually using unique moulds. Production started in December 1918 at a factory in Acton, West London but manufacturing was moved to the Woolwich Arsenal in December 1920 due to the volume of production required. Plaques produced at Woolwich Arsenal can be identified by a production mark stamped on the reverse.

Per Mare Per Terram
In order to add additional information onto the records, I researched each Royal Marine commemorated on the plaques within the collection. Much like the Royal Marine motto, they were killed both at sea and on land – from the Battle of Jutland to the Battle of Passchendaele. During my research, I also found out that you didn’t have to be killed in action in order to receive a plaque. It appears that illness and accidental death were included in the criteria for the receipt of the plaque.

Flory family
The Flory family is a good example of the range of causes of death experienced during the First World War. Sadly, within the collection there are three plaques from this family. The Flory family was a Royal Marine family with sons following in their father’s footsteps. Arthur John Flory died of influenza on 14 February 1919, aged 56. One of his sons, Frederick Cornelious Flory, died of accidental injuries aboard HMS Queen on 25 October 1915, aged 18. Another of his sons, Albert Edward Flory, was killed in action aboard HMS Castor at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916, aged 16.

What did the families do with the plaques?
Some families kept the plaques in their original state whereas others were framed. These ranged from simple circular wooden frames to more ornate crosses. One plaque in the collection was housed in an ornate wooden plinth and I can imagine it in pride of place in the family’s home as a tribute to their lost relative.

Lest we forget
I think these plaques provide a tangible sense of what was lost during the First World War, much like the “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” art installation at the Tower of London in 2014. A plaque for a life, a poppy for a life; both provide a visual representation of the number of men and women lost, an otherwise unimaginable number. These plaques are an important reminder of the sacrifices of the First World War.

HMS Hermes returning from the Falklands