It was fitting then that Frank Uther’s Memorial Plaque was handed back to Michelle’s mother Erica when it was discovered by accident in a suburban back yard in 2014. This is that remarkable story.
Stephen Byrnes was digging in his Denistone backyard when he found an unusual round WWI plaque, also known as a dead man’s penny – so called because one was given to the family of every Commonwealth WWI soldier killed during the Great War, with the soldier’s name inscribed on it. Stephen had found Frank Uther’s dead man’s penny.
After contacting the Ryde Historical Society who in turn contacted Ancestry.com.au they found Michelle and her mother Erica. Erica’s mother Ada was a first cousin of Frank’s. The family had no photos or memorabilia of the Uthers after a robbery some years before when their house was ransacked.
On 18 October 2014, the anniversary of Frank’s death in 1917 on the WWI battlefield at Passchendaele in Belgium, Stephen handed back Frank’s memorial plaque to an emotional family. It was also Erica’s 86th birthday.
I was present that day.
Frank had enlisted in the AIF on 23 December 1915, service number 18754. He was an accountant living in Homebush. He was 24 at the time of enlistment. Young Frank was a gunner with the 26th Battery, 7th Brigade, Australian Field Artillery. Just two short years later Frank along with so many others was dead.
He and my grandfather Harold were cousins of a sort by marriage, and both fought on the battlefields of Passchendaele and were wounded on 12 October, the first day of that battle. Frank is buried in the Ypres Reservoir North Cemetery. I have just come back from Ypres but didn’t know where Frank’s grave was. I did however place a poppy in his memory in Zonnebeke at the Passchendaele Museum, and at the Memorial Wall at the Australian War Memorial in April, and laid a wreath for him at the Last Post ceremony there on Friday 27 October.
The British government issued memorial plaques 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.
The plaques were made of bronze, and were popularly known as the “Dead Man’s Penny” because of the similarity in appearance to the somewhat small penny coin. One million, three hundred and fifty five thousand plaques were issued, using a total of 450 tonnes of bronze. They continued to be issued into the 1930s to commemorate people who died as a consequence of the war.
Note: Frank's name will appear on the exterior of the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial on the following dates: Wed 27 December 2017 4.16am, Wed 28 February 2018 5.15am, Sat 21 April 2018 2.02am and Mon 4 June 2018 10.45pm.