King George V established Armistice Day, also known as Remembrance Day, in 1919 to commemorate the anniversary of the conclusion of the First World War and to honour military personnel who lost their lives doing their duty.
The Tank Museum’s Archive holds a copy of the actual telegram sent by the 5th Tank Brigade to the 8th Tank Battalion notifying its troops of the end of hostilities on the 11 November 1918.
This armistice merely meant that fighting would cease for the present, not that the war was over.
The men of the brigade were ordered to maintain defensive precautions but not to engage in combat with the Germans. They were also told that there would be no intercourse of any description with the enemy until further instructions had been received from higher command.
We now know that fighting did not restart, and four years of war were over.
Despite hostilities ending on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, this did not end the suffering of men of the Tank Corps wounded days or weeks before.
Even as the guns fell silent for the last time, 39 year old Private James Dickinson died of his wounds in a hospital bed in England. He is buried in Stockport Borough Cemetery, the only member of the Tank Corps to die on this historic date.
A memorial scroll signed by the King and a memorial plaque were given to the surviving relatives of British and Dominion servicemen and women who have fallen in the war, and those whose deaths were attributable to the war as a solace for bereavement suffered and as a memento.
Often referred to as the ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ or ‘Death Penny’, the plaques were cast in bronze and were 12cm in diameter. They carry an image of Britannia holding a laurel wreath (a traditional symbol of victory), a lion, two dolphins (representing Britain’s naval power), and an eagle, an emblem of Imperial Germany being torn to pieces by another lion.
There is also a rectangular section where the name of the deceased was cast in relief into the plaque. Ranks were not used in order to represent the equality of each sacrifice. On the outer edge of the disk can be read ‘He died for freedom and honour’, plaques in memory of women read ‘she’.
Around 1,365,000 Memorial Plaques were produced, but it is not known how many were actually sent to the families of those who lost their lives in the Great War (many men’s next of kin could not be located). It is believed over 1,000,000 were issued, with around 600 sent to the families of women.
Because each plaque was unique, they had to be sand cast individually from molten bronze. The process was described as ingenious but a slow and a weary business. Most were made in 1919 and 1920. Over time, many of the details of how it was made have been lost.
This Memorial Plaque is just one of the many reminders of the sacrifices made by men of the Tank Corps and all their Royal Armoured Corps antecedents, now proudly displayed at The Tank Museum.