Couple look to solve mystery of First World War ‘death penny’ and reunite it with Portsmouth soldier’s family

A COUPLE hope to solve the mystery of a World War One ‘death penny’ found under their home’s floorboards – and believe the coin was in honour of a Portsmouth soldier who died in battle.

By Neil Fatkin
Saturday, 22nd August 2020, 11:39 am
Updated Saturday, 22nd August 2020, 11:43 am
The death penny awarded to Stephen Ray. The couple who found the artefact believe Stephen was from Buckland in Portsmouth.
The death penny awarded to Stephen Ray. The couple who found the artefact believe Stephen was from Buckland in Portsmouth.

A ‘death penny’was issued to the next of kin of fallen heroes who lost their lives during the Great War.

This one, which is engraved with the name Stephen Ray along with Britannia standing alongside a lion, was discovered by Dot and Tim Oakes while they were re-laying the floor of their larder in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.

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Dot said: ‘We were pulling up the floorboards and we saw it lying there. We had no idea what it was but when my husband cleaned it up I saw the image of Britannia and the name Stephen Ray. It was engraved with the words “He died for freedom and honour”.’

‘We asked around in the village and were told it was a death penny.’

The 12cm bronze disk, also often referred to as a ‘widow’s penny’, was sent to the deceased’s family along with any service medals and a telegram from the War Office. Having identified what the artefact was, Dot set about her quest of identifying the soldier named.

She said: ‘We looked at websites listing soldiers who died during World War One and we believe Stephen died on September 30, 1916. He was listed as Private Stephen Ray 15149 and was registered as living at 62 Seymour Street, Buckland in Portsmouth with his parents Stephen and Annie Ray.’

‘Ideally, we would like to locate Stephen’s descendants so the penny can be returned to his family.’

Dot and Tim are also keen to find out the story behind how the penny came to end up under her floorboards.

‘At first we thought the Ray family must have previously lived in this house but there’s no record of anyone with this name. It would be fascinating to solve the mystery of how this has ended up where we found it,’ said Dot.

Anyone who believes they may be related to Stephen or know his family should contact The News at [email protected] where arrangements can be made to contact Dot.

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