Object in Focus - WW1 Death Penny

Commonly known as Death Pennies or Dead Man’s Pennies, these were given to the family of a soldier who had been killed serving with the British and Empire forces. They were typically sent to families in 1919 and 1920 and came with a message from the King. The message read, ‘I join with my grateful people in sending you this memorial of a brave life given to the Great War’.

Each penny was inscribed with the soldier's name and featured Britannia and a lion, symbols of Britain's strength and power.

Dacorum Heritage has a Death Penny for Alfred Smith of 23 Mill Street, Apsley, Hemel Hempstead. Alfred died of wounds in France in the arms of his brother, Private Neal Smith, on 5 May 1916. He was formerly employed at Kent’s Brushes and was a member of the Spotted Bull Quoit Club. He is remembered on the Kent’s Brushes Memorial, the St Mary’s Church Memorial and the Hemel Hempstead War Memorial.

The design of the plaque was the result of a competition. There were more than 800 entries to the competition from within the UK and countries in the British Empire.

The winning design was by Mr Edward Carter Preston (1894–1965). You can see his initials are at the foot of the lion. The lion standing strong and proud is the symbol for Britain. If you look very closely, there is another much smaller lion under its feet. It can be seen biting the German Imperial Eagle.

Who is the woman? The goddess Britannia, the symbol of Britain, is holding a laurel wreath, which stands for victory. She is also holding a trident and two dolphins are seen jumping and each facing Britannia on her left and right sides. This is a representation of Britain's power at sea.


Latest articles

all articles