A friend of mine recently bought for a tidy sum Lord Kitchener’s Memorial Death Plaque. He asked me to get it valued. These 12 cm diameter bronze plaques (click picture to enlarge, although this one is not Kitchener’s) were presented to the next of kin of those that had died during the Great War in the name of Britain and her empire.
My friend has a rather macabre collection of over 3,000 of these things, including this one of Lord Kitchener’s. I took it to an auction house in London and yes, it was genuine but, given Kitchener’s status, they reckoned there are probably about five or six in existence. Nonetheless, my friend seems delighted to be the owner of one.
The British government decided in October 1916 to award a token of commemoration for the next of kin to those that had fallen in the war while serving Great Britain and her empire. They settled on a bronze plaque and set up a competition to design it. Judges included directors of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and National Gallery. The competition generated such interest that the deadline had to be extended to 31 December 1917. In the event, the judges received over 800 designs.
Three months later, they announced a shortlist of seven in The Times, each of which was put on public display at the V&A. From these seven, the winner was chosen – a design by 32-year-old, Edward Carter Preston. Mr Carter Preston’s design was that of Britannia, aside a lion, holding a laurel wreath in one hand and a trident in the other. Beneath her is another lion gorging the German eagle, and the two dolphins are meant to represent Britain’s sea power. The inscription reads ‘He died for freedom and honour’ and a space was left for the fallen’s name but not his / her rank – in death all soldiers and servicemen and women are equal in the eyes of God, regardless of rank.
A Brave Life
Production of the plaques did not begin until December 1918, a month after the war’s end. About 1,300,000 were produced, of which 600 commemorated women. The families of the 306 British servicemen executed during the war did not receive the plaque.
Families received their plaques together with an embossed letter from the king, George V, with the following words:
I join my grateful people in
sending you this memorial of a
brave life given for others in the Great War.
Rupert Colley’s novella, My Brother the Enemy, set during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, is now available.