Treasure found: Dead Man's Penny discovered at the rubbish tip

AFTER 40 years, a Bungalally scavenger has realised the medal he found at a rubbish tip is a First World War relic.

Barry Mackley discovered the Dead Man’s Penny while fossicking through abandoned cars at Horsham tip during the early 1970s.

The large, bronze memorial plaques were sent to families of servicemen and women who died during the First World War.

Mr Mackley said he had removed a car’s back seat, hoping to find some coins.

Instead, he found a large disc bearing the name ‘William Joseph Gordon’.

“It was lying on the floor of the car,” Mr Mackley said. 

“I didn’t know whether it had been stolen off somebody’s grave. You wouldn’t know, would you?”

Concerned, he kept his discovery quiet.

He took the plaque home, where it became lost and reappeared several times over the years.

Last month, Mr Mackley decided to investigate its origins.

He was stunned when Horsham RSL vice-president Jim Amos identified the plaque as a Dead Man’s Penny.

“It’s about 100 years old,” Mr Mackley said. 

“I haven’t even polished it, otherwise it takes value off it.”

But he has no intention of selling it.

Mr Mackley hopes the soldier’s descendants will read about his discovery and come forward.

“If someone can prove they’re the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of this person, I’ll give it to them,” he said.

Gunner William Joseph Gordon was killed in action in France on August 21, 1916. 

He was part of the 3rd Australian Field Artillery Brigade.

The Australian War Memorial lists Becourt Military Cemetery in the Somme as Gunner Gordon’s burial site.

Mr Amos said he believed there must be many Dead Man’s Pennies in the Wimmera.

Horsham RSL has two: one belonging to Trooper Norman Edward Johnson Schmidt, the other to a John Matheson.

Trooper Schmidt’s plaque is displayed alongside a snippet of his story.

He was part of the 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance Australian Army Medical Corps.

“He survived the charge at Beersheba,” Mr Amos said.

“The next day, the Light Horse was in their lines when a German plane came overhead and dropped bombs.”

Trooper Schmidt was among those killed.

About 60,000 Dead Man’s Pennies were distributed in Australia from 1922.

Families received the heavy metal plaques in second-class mail.

The Australian War Memorial said the plaques, an invention of the British Government, were intended as ‘a solace for bereavement and as a memento’.

Britannia and a lion feature prominently in the design, surrounded by dolphins and the words, ‘He died for freedom and honour’.

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