Journey home takes 100 years

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Home at last . . . Ian Martyn presents Alexander McMillan's Death Penny to Patsh McMillan, 100 years after Alexander ws killed on the first day of fighting at Passchendaele. Photos: Amanda Bowes

By AMANDA BOWES

Alexander McMillan died on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele.

One hundred years later his Death Penny – a Memorial Plaque 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 – has been reunited with family in Waikari.

Where the Death Penny has been for the past century is a mystery, but it was found in the effects of an elderly man who died alone, with no family, in Hamilton.

Ian Martyn, from Medals Reunited New Zealand, says he received the bronze Death Penny – which took the name because of the similarity in appearance to the somewhat smaller penny coin – in the mail from an anonymous source, asking him to reunite it with Alexander’s family.

“I have no idea who the gentleman was who passed away in Hamilton.

“I only know he was a war pensioner who had no family, so maybe the RSA

In Memory . . . A death penny or Memorial Plaque sent to families who lost a loved one during the First World War. Alexander McMillan’s took 100 years to be united with the servicemen’s family.

cleared out his flat.”

Ian was thrilled to get the plaque and set about tracking down Alexander’s relatives.

Fast forward to Waikari and Patsy McMillan, who received a call from Ian.

“I was absolutely delighted,” says Patsy.

“I had just come back from overseas doing the rounds of war cemeteries and had been to the New British Cemetery in Passchendaele where Alexander is buried.

“To get home and find someone had his Death Penny was amazing.”

Alexander Watt McMillan was born at Saltwater Creek and was the great uncle of Patsy’s husband Ivor McMillan. Two of Alexander’s brothers also went to fight, but returned home.

The McMillan family never received their parcel for Alexander which would have had a scroll and a letter from the King and photos of the grave in it. The plaque is all that remains today.

Made of bronze, the large plaque bears the soldier’s name. Ian Martyn says very few of the scrolls or letters remain and many of the Death Penny’s are reproductions. Alexander’s is the original and has been well looked after.

Ian started Medals Reunited New Zealand a few years ago when he came across a medal on Trade Me being listed by a trader. He bought it and set about finding its family.

“I saw a challenge in getting it home. Since then I have reunited 186 medals or plaques with families, where they belong.”

If anyone has medals or plaques they don’t know the history of, or don’t belong to the family, Ian can be contacted on medalsreunitednz@gmail.com or visit www.medalsreunitednz.co.nz.