THE DEAD MAN'S PENNY
In February's edition of the Digest I wrote
an article about my search for the grave of Private Arthur Houlder, a
Pontefract man who was killed on the Somme in 1917, and who, due purely
to a collision of coincidence, had lived, at the time of his death, in
the same house where I was born some thirty years later. The article
also alluded to another Somme fatality, William Henry Garforth, my
grandmother's first husband.
The article evoked two telephone calls; the first emanated from a
distant half-cousin, Pete Adlington. Pete was brought up in Pontefract
but now lives in Airedale. His mother, Annie, was Garforth's elder
daughter and my mother's half-sister. Pete told me that he had read the
article and that he might have something of interest to me. I went to
his house where I spent a fascinating hour while he unwound the research
which he had carried out into his grandfather's death. Pete believes
that as opposed to Garforth having no known grave, he is in fact buried
in Bouchoir New British Cemetery, west of Roye. He produced cogent
evidence from the official battle plan of the 2nd Battalion K.O.Y.L.I.
for 11th August 1918, the day that Garforth was killed. Pete believes
that Garforth is one of the casualties in the cemetery whose gravestone
is marked 'Known unto God'.
Pete also gave me a photograph of his grandfather and showed me his War
medals, including the posthumously awarded World War One Commemorative
The second telephone call was from David Thorpe who now lives in
Scotland. He had seen the article whilst visiting his mother who still
lives in the same house where Dave was brought up in East Drive,
Chequerfield. Surprisingly, in another collision of coincidence, I knew
Dave who, although younger than me, was a fellow pupil at the King's
School. It transpired that Dave's grandmother was the younger sister of
Arthur Houlder. His grandmother often used to talk about him. He then
went on to tell me that not only was Arthur killed on the Somme, but
also his younger brother, John Walter Houlder met his end there, but he
was not sure of the details. Following further research on the
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website I was able to let Dave know
that fourteen months after Arthur's death, John Walter Houlder of the
9th Battalion K.O.Y.L.I. was killed on 3rd April 1918. He is buried in a
marked grave in Saulcourt Churchyard Extension, just off the
Peronne-Cambrai road. The two Pontefract brothers both lie in the now
tranquil killing fields separated by approximately twenty-five miles.
As with Pete Adlington, Dave retains the WW1 Commemorative Plaques for
his two forebears. He kindly emailed to me a photograph of them. I had
only vaguely heard of the Commemorative Plaques and I had certainly
never seen one. Within the course of the last two weeks I have now seen
three of them.
The WW1 Commemorative Plaque was conceived by the British War Council in
1916. Its conception constituted a recognition by the Government that
some token of gratitude should be struck for the bereaved next of kin of
the casualties killed in the Great War. The medal or plaque comprised a
12cm disc cast in bronze gunmetal. Around its perimeter are inscribed
the words, "He died for freedom and honour". The cost of manufacture
would supposedly be met from reparations exacted from the Germans.
Production and distribution began in 1919. Approximately 1,150,000 of
such plaques were issued to the next of kin of British and Commonwealth
William Henry Garforth, Arthur Houlder and John Walter Houlder were
three Pontefract men all of whom bear the dubious honour of 'winning'
the World War One memorial plaque. At some point between 1914 and 1918 they each
took 'The King's Shilling'.
For whatever reason, be it patriotism, adventure or even unemployment,
between 1914 and 1916 they would have volunteered - perhaps responding
to the poster depicting a somewhat stern moustachioed Lord Kitchener
with his pointing finger and the exhortation, "Your country needs you".
As the war progressed and the Western Front and Flanders sausage
machines exuded more meat than they could be fed, compulsory
conscription became inevitable. In 1916, the War Minister Lord Derby,
initiated the Military Services Act which brought in creeping compulsory
conscription. This act, in turn, was the midwife of the Pals Battalions.
In order to encourage conscription, Lord Derby promised that men from
the same village, town, factory and profession who joined together,
would be guaranteed to serve together. Unfortunately, what he forgot to
add was that there was also a strong possibility that they might all die
As with Pete Adlington and Dave Thorpe I wonder how many descendants of
the Pontefract Pals have the Commemorative Plaque somewhere in their
homes. The British Tommy is justifiably renowned for the black gallows
humour he displayed and retained throughout the four years of mud and
attrition. To him, the World War One Commemorative Plaque was invested
with the mordantly ironic nickname - 'The Dead Man's Penny'
Also by David Loynes:
A Lark Rising