I don’t believe in ghosts. But I acquired one last week. William Bellamy. I know his name and roughly how old he is-120. He could be one of sixteen William Bellamys. Four who lived in the London area and a similar number cam from Birmingham. He is beginning to get to me,I worry about him.
William Bellamy is the name on a Dead Man’s Penny I bought in a flea market. These bronze plaques were sent to very family in the then British Empire who lost someone on the First World War. 1.35 million were made and sent. Because they were made of bronze and looked a bit like very big pennies they soon got the name Dead Man’s or Widow’s Penny. Some families were so upset at this insufficient gesture that they sent them back.
With the wonders of technology I very quickly found out on the web that sixteen English and Welsh William Bellamys died in the War to End Wars.
Before the First World War and right up until the 1960s the Boat Race was major event for entertainment starved Londoners and as many as 250,000 flocked to Putney to watch the race. Many would have walked down my road.past my house to the River. One might have been the William Bellamy who gave his life. Did he give it heroically saving a pal caught on the wire in No Man’s Land? Did he die from some disease caught in boot camp before he was shipped as meat to the Western Front? Either way his Mum or wife would have got the Penny.
Given that there are so many made at the Acton and Woolwich factories they are not valuable I bought mine for £55. On ebay you can pay more or less. There was a design competition in 1916 and 800 entered Edward Carter of Preston won and received £250. His initials are on the plaque as is the batch number.
The design includes
- Britannia is shown respectfully bowing to the named individual, her left hand is granting a wreath of leaves, symbolic of triumph, onto a rectangular tablet bearing the full name of the dead person.
- No rank is shown in the named tablet as it was intended that no distinction be made between the sacrifice made by officers and other ranks. At the very base of the plaque a lion, a symbol of British power, is shown defeating the eagle, a symbol of central powers.
- Two dolphins represent Britain’s naval power.
- The stylised oak leaves are symbolic of the distinction of the fallen individual.
- He ‘Died for freedom and honour’ was a compulsory element of the design competition.
- A lion is shown ‘Striding forward in a menacing attitude’, symbolising British strength.
The other day I was in a pub chatting to a chap. He said his name was Roger Bellamy. Yes, his grandfather had died in the Great War. I went to the loo. When I returned he was gone . His half drunk pint remained on the bar. Since you ask it was a Youngs pub.