Rare ‘death penny’ expected to fetch up to £3,500 at Norfolk auction

The World War One Spanish Flu memorial plaque, with an estimated value of £2,500-£3,500. Picture: Ne

The World War One Spanish Flu memorial plaque, with an estimated value of £2,500-£3,500. Picture: Newman Associates PR - Credit: Archant

A century-old ‘death penny’ with an eerie resonance to our current times is to go up for sale at auction.

The memorial plaque is described as ‘extremely rare’, being one of fewer than 600 issued to women during the 1918 flu pandemic, also known as the Spanish flu.

The item, with a 12cm diameter, will be auctioned off at Keys Auctioneers and Valuers in Aylsham, and is expected to fetch £2,500-£3,500.

Oscar Crocker, from Keys, said: “As the world experiences the Covid-19 pandemic, it is poignant to look back and realise that medical staff have always been the most vulnerable in such episodes, often paying the ultimate sacrifice.”

The plaque was awarded to honour Alice Dawes, who died in October 1918 at the age of 29 from influenza and pneumonia after contracting Spanish flu working in close contact with sufferers she was caring for.

Her death was a poignant precursor to the many healthcare workers who have contracted coronavirus while caring for patients during the current pandemic.

Ms Dawes had enlisted in the army in October 1917, and was posted to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Vincent Square, London, to work in the Spanish flu ward.

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She died almost exactly a year later, and is buried and remembered with honour at Bedford Cemetery in Bedfordshire.

Memorial plaques – known as ‘death pennies’ or ‘dead man’s pennies’ because of the similarity in appearance to the contemporary penny coin – were issued after the First World War to the next-of-kin of all British and Empire service personnel who were killed as a result of the war.

A total 1,355,000 such plaques were issued, but fewer than 600 were made to honour female deaths.

The lot also includes photocopies of the registration report form, Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate, comprehensive report of a headstone inscription, and death register documenting her death.

The Spanish flu killed tens of millions of people, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.

Despite its name it is not known where the disease originated from, but the first known case was reported at a military base in Kansas in the USA on March 11, 1918.

The auction takes place on July 29 and 30, online at bid.keysauctions.co.uk.