West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
 
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Pontefract Local History

THE DEAD MAN'S PENNY


DAVID LOYNES

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 Plaque.

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 casualties.

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 together.

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'

David Loynes.


Also by David Loynes:

A Lark Rising


 

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