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23rd Jul 2020
World War One Spanish Flu memorial plaque estimate 2500 3500 sm

As the world wrestles with the coronavirus crisis, an extremely rare memento of an earlier pandemic will go under the hammer in Norfolk next week.

The World War One Spanish Flu memorial plaque or ‘death penny’ was one of fewer than 600 issued to women during the Spanish Flu crisis of 1918/19, and is being offered at Keys Auctioneers and Valuers two-day summer Fine Sale with a pre-sale estimate of £2,500-£3,500.

The 12 cm plaque was awarded to honour Alice Dawes of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Unit, 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 – a poignant precursor to the many healthcare workers who have contracted coronavirus while caring for patients during the current pandemic.

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

The ‘death penny’ is impressed ‘She died for freedom and honour’, and is one of fewer than 600 similar plaques struck in honour of female victims of the First World War.

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.

Oscar Crocker of 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.”

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

Keys Auctioneers and Valuers Fine Sale takes place on Wednesday 29th July and Thursday 30th July online at bid.keysauctions.co.uk.  The full catalogue is available online now.