Great War Memorial Plaques: – Some New Sources/Information On Their Issue

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The Woolwich produced Memorial Plaque of 136290 Sapper Aaron Hathaway of the 173rd Tunnelling Company.  His C.W.G.C. entry can be found here. The form W.5080 (dated 20 October 1919) sent to confirm which of his next-of-kin was entitled to the Plaque, completed by his sister, can be found in his surviving service file.

This post focuses on some useful documents which help to explain how Great War Medal Plaques were issued.

The following extract comes from a War Office file in which the re-introduction of the Plaque and Scroll for World War Two casualties was considered, partly through looking at the experience of issuing these items after the First World World War. It is a good summary of the regulations under which Memorial Plaques for the Great War were awarded.

‘APPENDIX C

MEMORIAL PLAQUE AND SCROLL

…It was laid down in paragraphs 1 – 4 of “Regulations regarding issue of Memorial Plaque and Scroll” of December 1919, that these were to be issued to the next of kin of all members of His Majesty’s Forces who died on active service between August 4th 1914, and the official date of the end of the war (i.e. 10/1/1920 for Western Europe and 30/4/1920 for other theatres of war, except those who suffered death by sentence of Court Martial. “Active Service” included those on Home Establishment, and those who died from sickness, accident, or suicide (except under particularly disgraceful circumstances); and all whose deaths were attributable to the war and died within 7 years of its end . Only those women were eligible who were under direct contract with the War Office (e.g.. Q.A.I.M.N.S.. and Q.M.A.A.C.) as defined in A.O. 206 of 1919 – i.e. women eligible for the King’s Certificate of Discharge.

It is clear from the records that next of kin of members of the Mercantile Marine were eligible. Between April and December 1929, 19 plaques were issued in respect of such men.

Departments concerned in the issue were the War Office, Admiralty, Air Ministry, Dominions, Colonial and India Offices and the Board of Trade.

Procedure was as follows: –

List of names were submitted by the War Office in the case of Officers, and by the Record Offices in the case of other ranks, to the Plaque Factory and to the L.C.C. Schools of Art. The plaques were sent direct from the factory to the next of kin, and the scrolls direct to the next of kin through the Officers i/c Records…

October, 1939.’

[Editor’s note: The writer of the summary does not mention the British Government legal date for the termination of the War ‘…those who die from causes attributable to the War where the death occurs within seven years of the official date of the end of the War, i.e. 31st August 1921… (from Army Estimates of Effective and Non-Effective Services, For The Financial Year 1926 [Presented To Parliament By His Majesty’s Command], London: HMSO (1926). p. 210)].

From The National Archives (TNA) WO 32/4678 MEMORIALS AND GRAVES: Memorial Plaque and Scroll (Code 36D): Consideration of proposal to re-introduce award

The summary of the regulations for Plaques and Scrolls raises the question of how Plaques were ‘issued’ to service personnel who had been discharged from the Army, been awarded a War Pension but had died of causes ‘attributable to the War’ in the seven years after 31 August 1921.

The Ministry of Pensions

Deaths of those who were current War Pensioners had to be recorded by the Ministry of Pensions, responsible for paying War Pensions, but the problem of the Ministry not being aware of the death of ex-War Pensioners due to War related causes is referred to in Medical Services: Casualties and Medical Statistics of the Great War (T.J. Mitchell & G.M. Smith (1931) History of the Great War Based On Official Documents: Medical Services: Casualties And Medical Statistics Of The Great War. London: HMSO. pp. 316 to 317):

‘…The Ministry mortality statistics refer only to those pensioners who died whilst in receipt of some continuing monetary compensation.. (Ibid. p. 317)’

Next-of-kin could not receive the Memorial Plaque (and Scroll) if neither the Ministry of Pensions or the War Office knew that a death was attributable to the War.

The History explains the nature of the three main groups of pensioners dealt with by the Ministry of Pensions and it is clear from this explanation that Class I who made up the majority of early postwar claimants, were (with the exception of 70,000 who had much more serious injuries) much less likely to die of War related causes before the cut off date for receiving a Plague. They were also the group most likely no longer to be in receipt of a War Pension:

‘…The total number of disabled ex-service men who have received some form of gratuity or pension as the result of war service may be taken up to 31st March, 1929, in round numbers, as 1,600,000.

This total can be sub-divided as shown in Table 4.

Class I of this table comprises the cases which became medically stabilized within a short time after discharge from service. The medical records concerning them are, in the main, not susceptible to any useful analysis, as the conditions were mostly slight, often merely temporary, and such cases can thus be ignored in estimating the real effect of the war from a medical standpoint. About 70,000, however, consisted of wounds, amputations and injuries of serious degree.

The medical stabilization enabled the extent of war disablement to be appraised finally, and consequently the early stabilised grants came in due course within the scope of the War Pensions Act of 1921.Table 4 War Pensions p. 317* This figure is approximate only, as it contains a certain proportion of duplication.

The figures in Class II represent the cases, not included in Class I, to which, as medical stabilization occurred, final awards were given in accordance with the War Pensions Act, 1921. Together with Class I, they comprise the total of all final awards in the technical sense of that Act.

Class III comprises those cases in which a stabilised condition had not been been reached by 31st March, 1929, and in which, therefore, the award of compensation remained unstabilised at that date.

The Ministry mortality statistics refer only to those pensioners who died whilst in receipt of some continuing monetary compensation. They do not, therefore, include deaths amongst those whose award had taken the form of a gratuity or of a temporary allowance which had expired at the time of death, the number of these and the cause being generally unknown. Broadly speaking, therefore, these 120,000 deaths occurred amongst Classes II and III, but they were not all either due to or hastened by the disability for which pension was being paid. The extent to which this was so necessarily varied with the nature of the war service disability, but it has been estimated that in some 60 to 70 per cent. of the total 120,000 the pensionable disability was a major factor in the cause of death….’

Ibid. pp. 316-317

Whether the Ministry of Pensions was able to accurately individually identify or attempted to identify the estimated 60 to 70 per cent of War Pensioners from Class II and Class III who died from war related causes, or how far it attempted to separate out non-war service deaths in these classes from its submissions of names for Memorial Plaques is not known.  Some of the deaths mentioned in the extract would have come after the cut-off point for eligibility for the awards of a Plaque and Scroll on the 31 August 1928, as the figures in the extract from the Medical History run to 31 March 1929. Class III where the wounds caused by war never healed would obviously be most likely to meet the conditions for the Plaque.

This leaves the problem of which Government department or departments issued the Plaques to the families of deceased pensioners who the Ministry of Pensions believed (possibly all who died whilst in receipt of a War Pension) were eligible for a Plague and Scroll.

The answer lies in part in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission file (C.W.G.C. Archive WG 219/4 Memorials to the Missing: Nominal Rolls & Battalion Ledgers: Lists Of) which includes two letters discussing how the Army Record Offices could be relieved of the burden of verifying casualty details and providing next-of-kin addresses required by the then I.W.G.C. (Imperial War Graves Commission) for its work of putting together the lists of names and registers for the Memorials to the Missing.

In the first letter Major Chettle (the I.W.G.C. Director of Records) was told by General George MacDonogh (then Adjutant General at the War Office) in April 1922 that the War Office might let the I.W.G.C. have the copies of Plaque and Scroll lists available to the War Office division C. 1, which contained ‘accurate’ details for the casualties as well as the names and addresses of their next of kin (Ibid. General MacDonogh to Chettle (5 April 1922). Whether C.1. already had accurate copies of Plaque and Scroll lists from the Army Record Offices (perhaps copies of those sent on to Woolwich), as well as for Officers (the War Office acted as Record Office for most officers), or would have had to approach Record Offices or Woolwich to send copy Plaque lists to I.W.G.C. is not known.

In the 1920 War Office List directory entry for C.1, a ‘Memorial Scroll Section’ is listed (on p. 78) which almost certainly dealt with Plaques as well as Scrolls, possibly being responsible for the issue of Plaques to officers. In the list of divisional functions for C.1 it lists ‘…Award of the Plaque and Scroll…’.  The numbers of staff involved were small,  with just three Ex-Soldiers Clerks (Grade B) to work in the Section. In the War Office List for 1921 (p. 88) no specific staff are mentioned other than F.J. Fahy an Ex-Soldier Clerk listed in the previous year as being in charge of the Section. By the 1925 War Office list no C.1 staff were identified as being allocated specifically to the ‘Award Of Plaques and Scrolls’ (p. 55) but the function remained with C.1 Division.

The second of the letters from the War Office to I.W.G.C. concerning the possible use of Plaque and Scroll information by the Commission answers the question of how Plaques and Scrolls were sent on to the next-of-kin once the Ministry of Pensions (M. of P.) knew of a war pensioner’s death and felt them to be eligible. In a letter from the then head of A.G.1 (R) Lieutenant Colonel Cornish Bowden (who features elsewhere on this site because of A.G. 1 (R)’s oversight of the compilation of Soldiers’ Died In The Great War (S.D.G.W.) and other matters to do with Army Record Offices in the 1920s) to Major Chettle at the I.W.G.C., Cornish-Bowden mentions contact between the Army Record Offices and the M. of P. The particular contact he mentioned happened after the death of those in receipt of War Pensions, with the M. of P. supplying the Record Offices with current addresses for the next-of-kin. Cornish-Bowden states that this is to allow the distribution of ‘war medals’, presumably meaning Plaques (and Scrolls) (see Ibid. Lt. Col. Cornish-Bowden War Office A.G.1 (R) to Major Chettle I.W.G.C. (17 June 1922).

What happened to this arrangement between the War Office Army Record Offices and the Ministry of Pensions once the Great War Service Documents of the British Army had been mostly centralised at Isleworth by late 1926 (click here for more information on R.(Records) holdings at Isleworth and from 1934 Arnside) is not clear. The likelihood is that the distribution and commissioning of Plaques for all eligible ex-Army deceased War Pensioners (whose death occcurred by 31st August 1928) became entirely a War Office responsibility (once informed of a death by the M. of P.) with the relinquishing by the Army Record Offices of their main records of the soldiers of the Great War.

In the list of the items destroyed in the Arnside Fire of 8 September 1940 we find:

‘…AG4 Medals Bronze Plaques and King’s Certificates unclaimed…(see The National Archives (TNA) WO 32/21769 Records Destroyed at Arnside Street: Records Destroyed At Arnside Street (list). p.2).

The Plaques and Scrolls mentioned in the list were perhaps completed examples that were not able to be delivered after production at Woolwich to next-of-kin and then at some point had been passed to to A.G. 4 (Medals Branch)?

However within the War Office the ‘Award of Plaques and Scrolls’ remained C.1 Division’s responsibility (War Office List 1939. p. 74).

 

 

 

 

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