Memorial Plaques and Scrolls - WII

Many visitors to Clandon Regimental Museum will have seen the individual bronze plaques and documentary personal scrolls commemorating those who died in the First World War. The way in which such tributes came into being is a matter of considerable interest.

Memorial Plaques and Scrolls, WWI


In October 1916 the Government set up a General Committee to consider the question of the provision of a memento for the relatives of the fallen. The Secretary of the War Office, Sir Reginald Brade MBE, JP was appointed Chairman. There were thirteen members, representative of both Houses of Parliament and of appropriate Government Departments such as the Admiralty, War Office, India Office and Colonial Office.

Having decided on the form of the plaque in principle, a competition was announced for the design. Prizes, totalling not more than £500 were to be awarded to the winner and leading competitors. The winner was a Mr Charles Wheeler of Sandon Studies Society, Liverpool who was awarded £250. The remaining £250 was divided proportionately among five other worthy contestants. The winning design featured mainly Britannia and a lion, the latter to be depicted as 'striding forward in a menacing manner'. Seemingly he did not come up to all expectations as the Chairman and the Head Keeper of Clifton Zoo, Bristol, described him as being 'a lion which almost a hare might insult', and certainly not as fine a specimen as they themselves possessed.

The scroll, headed by the Royal Arms, was worded 'He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that his name is not forgotten'. (Although both plaque and scroll were initiated in the male gender, there is reason to believe that suitable alternative versions were made for members of the opposite sex).

Production of both plaques and scrolls was delayed until after the cessation of hostilities, many of the former being later manufactured at Woolwich Arsenal and former munitions factories. On looking at these mementoes in the museum one is tempted to ponder on the physical sufferings of those who merited them and the mental anguish of the grieving relatives who eventually received them.

Regulations regarding the issue of a Memorial Plaque and scroll were promulgated in December 1919 as follows:-

"1. It has been decided by His Majesty's Government that a memorial shall be presented to the next-of-kin (as hereafter defined) of all those members of H.M. Forces who have lost their lives through the war. This memorial is to take the form of a bronze plaque of emblematic design, and a parchment scroll with appropriate wording. The plaque which measures 4 3/4 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch in thickness, will bear the deceased's christian name or names, and surname. The scroll, which measures 11 by 7 inches will bear his rank, christian names and surname, and regiment. Both the memorials will be accompanied by a letter from His Majesty the King."

The regulations then go on to state that the plaque and scroll will be given in respect of all those who died on active service (except those who suffered death by sentence of court martial) between 4th August 1914 and the official date of the end of the War as promulgated by Order in Council, including those on the home establishment, i.e. serving in the United Kingdom (which at that time, of course, included the whole of Ireland) and including all who died by sickness, accident or suicide as well as war wounds.

The next-of-kin of those who died within 7 years of the end of the war were entitled to a plaque and scroll, provided the death was directly attributable to the war, although the order went on to say that the Plaque Factory would not be kept working indefinitely , and it might not be possible to have a plaque cast specially where the death occurred after what was described as a "considerable lapse of time".

The only classes of women for whom memorial plaques and scrolls were issued were those serving under direct contract with the War Office as defined in AO 206 of 1919, e.g. members of the Nursing Services and Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps.

There followed lengthy regulations concerning the order of precedence of relations to the deceased as next-of-kin, the entitlement of widows and common-law wives, and, where no actual relatives could be traced, step-parents, guardians , and even Governors of Orphanages.

It was strictly laid down in regulations that the memorial plaque and Scroll could not be willed to any legal beneficiary except the person regarded as next of kin under these rules. If for any reason the next-of-kin declined to accept the memorials however, they were issued to whoever came next in order of relationship to the deceased.

The plaques were manufactured at the Memorial Plaque Factory, 54 / 56 Church Road, Acton, London W3, under the direction of Mr Manning Pike. The scrolls were inscribed under the direction of Mr F V Burridge , of the London County Council Central School of Arts and Crafts.

Lists of names were compiled by the Record Offices and sent to the Plaque Factory and Memorial Scroll Despatching Branch, from where the memorials were despatched directly to the next-of-kin. Any undelivered plaques were returned to the factory for storage and scrolls to the appropriate record office. The factory has, of course, long since closed. The plaques and scrolls cannot now be replaced .

The "emblematic design" of the plaque referred to above depicts Britannia standing facing right, her trident held in the crook of her right arm, her left arm extended holding out a laurel wreath. She wears a crested helmet of Grecian design, decorated with the figure of a lion. Another larger (and rather fierce looking) lion stands in front of her, also facing right, and beneath, in the exergue, yet another lion, representing Britain, is tearing to pieces an eagle, the emblem of Imperial Germany. The design also embodies two dolphins, symbolising sea-power, a very ancient symbol, as almost identical dolphins can be seen on the coinage of Greek maritime states of the 4th and 5th centuries before Christ. Around the edge of the plaque are the words "HE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR", also an oak-spray with leaves and two acorns. The christian name or names and surname of the deceased appears in an oblong box to the right of the figure of Britannia and below the laurel wreath.

The plaques are individually cast with the name on them, not struck or engraved. The Plaque was designed by Mr E Carter Preston, the designer of the General Service Medal, whose initials appear on the bottom right of the plaque, just above the exergue and to the left of the oak-spray.

The scroll is of fairly stiff parchment, slightly darkened, and has at the top a large representation of the Royal Coat of Arms with GVRI above, standing for "GEORGE THE FIFTH, KING EMPEROR (REX IMPERATOR)". Beneath, in a form of Old English script, are the moving words:-

"He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who, at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom."


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