How a discarded piece of ‘scrap’ turned out to be a poignant Great War memorial

Jack Stronach with the ‘Death Penny’ at the Castle Museum's First World War exhibition. Photographs: Emily Dunn
6 Nov 2015 @ 5.02 pm
| History

It had been discarded, just another piece of scrap metal in a pile of the stuff.

But it turned out to be an historic relic of the Great War – and is now on display at York Castle Museum.

This First World War memorial plaque, known as a ‘Death Penny’, was originally discovered back in the Sixties among scrap metal bought by dealer Tommy Stronach, based in Selby.

His son Jack Stronach had no idea what it was until visiting the York Castle Museum many years later.

It turned out to be one of the plaques given to the next of kin of soldiers who died serving with the British and Empire forces during the 1914-18 conflict.

Churchyard discovery

Jack's father Tommy Stronach, a scrap metal dealer, discovered the plaque
Jack’s father Tommy Stronach, a scrap metal dealer, discovered the plaque

Jack and his brother did some research this year, and found it belonged to the family of Lance Corporal Alfred B Clayton from Tadcaster, who died on March 26, 1918 serving with the East Lancashire Regiment.

Jack said: “It was only when we visited Tadcaster and I recognised the name in St Mary’s Church that I knew it belonged to a family from there. I never realised before.”

Jack wanted to lend it to the Castle Museum to see if an unknowing relative can claim it as part of their family history.

He added:

I’m so pleased it is here. I have great respect for all the men who fought in the wars.

I’m so glad I hung onto it for all these years… I just didn’t know. The only thing on it is the name and no reference to rank or war.

‘Everyone’s death important’

A close-up of the ‘Death Penny’
A close-up of the ‘Death Penny’

Katie Brown, assistant curator of history said this was because “there was no rank on the ‘Death Penny’ as everyone’s death was as important as each.

“All that matters was the remembrance of a life lost fighting the war. Because it is so, personal it is great for those with a story to say to be able to present their history in our museum.”

The plaque will go on show in the quiet reflection space of the museum’s exhibition 1914: When The World Changed Forever.

It will be there until March 14, 2016.