Private Reginald West, and the unusual Dead Man’s Penny

Whilst approaching the parish church of Emberton, Buckinghamshire, my eye was caught by a very unusual sight; that of a `Dead Man’s Penny’ used as a grave memorial.

Reginald West death penny.jpg

The bronze plaques, about 5 inches in diameter, were issued at the end of the war to the relatives of those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. In all over 1.3 million were cast, and issued right up to the 1930s as men continued to die of wounds caused by their war service.

To my knowledge, and that of the very well-informed lady who was on duty at the church, this was the only example of the medal being used as a grave memento. However subsequent feedback on social media has revealed examples in Alton, Anglesey and Stirling. I would been keen to know of others. Unfortunately some have been stolen, an act akin to  the decapitation of the memorial of Pte George Jackson, about which I have previously posted.

Private Reginald West had enlisted at Northampton, his occupation being recorded as a farm labourer, and was killed on 12th May 1917 whilst serving with the 8th Battalion, King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment).

His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, as well as the village memorial in nearby Clifton Baynes. This plot is said to be the family grave, although no other inscription could be found.

If you would like to find out more about the links between warfare and religion in the twentieth century, you may be interested in my books:

Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War

Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War

Fight the Good FightFight the Good Fight2


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