Rare ‘Death Pennies’ donated to Ilkeston museum

Erewash Museum Service Manager Helen Martinez and local historian Keith Oseman pictured with the Death Pennies in the museums War Gallery.
Erewash Museum Service Manager Helen Martinez and local historian Keith Oseman pictured with the Death Pennies in the museums War Gallery.

A chance find in Canada has led to Ilkeston’s Erewash Museum taking possession of two extremely rare First World War memorial plaques.

The two artefacts – commonly known as ‘Death Pennies’ - commemorate an Ockbrook brother and sister who died during the war and feature the wording they ‘died for freedom and honour’.

The Death Pennies

The Death Pennies

Very few Death Pennies were issued for female war casualties, which makes the donation to Erewash Museum even more valuable, and the brother-and-sister plaques are likely to make the museum an important destination for war historians and researchers.

The donation has been made by the Royal British Columbia Museum which found the two plaques in its vaults and got in touch. It is thought the two historic items were donated to the Canadian museum by another brother who had emigrated, Frank Reginald Hassé, who died in the early 1970s.

Councillor Mike Wallis, Erewash Borough Council’s lead member for culture and leisure, said: “We are absolutely honoured to have these rare plaques in our collection.

“It feels absolutely right that they have ‘come home’ to Erewash Museum.”

They were originally presented after the war to the parents of nurse Margaret Helen Hassé and her younger brother Edwin Ridgley Hassé. Margaret was a Red Cross nurse who died of influenza at a Southampton military hospital in October 1918, just weeks before the Armistice.

Her brother, who had emigrated to Canada in 1913, served with the Canadian Infantry and died in July 1916.

The family home was in the Moravian settlement in Ockbrook and Margaret was buried with full military honours in the Moravian Burial Ground in the village, while Edwin was buried at the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground near Ypres in Belgium.

The donation was made possible thanks to research carried out by local historians Keith Oseman and Peter Ball for the ongoing Heritage Lottery funded ‘Unexamined Lives’ history project, which provides an insight into the 20th Century lives of the residents in Ockbrook’s neighbouring village Borrowash.

Project director and writer of the individual lives, Helen Clark, extended it to incorporate the stories of the First World War victims whose names appear on various local war memorials.

By chance, the Canadian museum staff discovered the two uncatalogued Death Pennies and it was through the ‘Unexamined Lives’ website that they were able to identify the Hassé brother and sister’s home village.

The two plaques can currently be seen in Erewash Museum’s War Gallery.