"Regret I am unable to put a verse on the headstone as I am only a poor widow and my means can’t afford it just now." Fanny Pitcher, mother of Walter Pitcher, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, May 1920
How do you measure the cost of a war? What words could ever capture what had just happened?
These were questions on everyone’s mind once peace was declared. It was easy to know who was missing. But what had the effort cost us?
The numbers of lost and wounded were staggering. And every addition to the statistics—each a mere number—represented someone’s heartbreaking loss.
Official recognitions of service and loss were sent out. Memorial scrolls, medallions and a letter from the King for each life taken. Some families proudly displayed these tokens, the acknowledgements of sacrifice. Others put them away and spoke no more of absent family members. How could paper and metal stand in for a loved one now gone?
A Penny for a Life
A memorial plaque was sent to every family in the British Empire who lost a loved one in the First World War. Featuring the same Britannia figure as British one-cent coins, the plaques were soon known as “death pennies.” No ranks were used, making all deaths equal.
"Tell dad that I would rather be in the condition I am now in, than have failed to fight for my country." Private Walter Tucker, Newfoundland Regiment, near Gallipoli
Died October 25th, 1915
"I am going to do my duty, and if I get killed, take it like this, and feel proud of it that you had a son killed while doing his duty for his king and country or for the safeguard of his Mother and family." Seaman Stephen Dicker, Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve, HMS Clan MacNaughton
Died February 3rd, 1915
"It is very sad to know that the brightest young man he was will never return, but God’s will must be done." William H. Simms, father of Private John Henry Simms, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Fogo
John died August 7th, 1918
"It is quite lonesome here, now all my chums are gone. I suppose it will be my turn next. I don’t much care. I am satisfied to die for my King and Country." Private Victor Carew, Newfoundland Regiment, France, 1916
Died November 20th, 1917
A memorial plaque, scroll and letter from the King. Official recognition of sacrifice—small reminders standing in for the achievements, dreams and life of a loved one.
When David Winsor received these acknowledgements sent to honour his son George, he wrote, “how dear these emblems are to me.”
Tokens of Sacrifice
The Government of Newfoundland’s Department of Militia sent a commemorative scroll signed by Governor Sir Alexander Harris to families who had lost a family member in the war. The Commonwealth Graves Commission also sent a booklet with a photo of the grave that many families would never see.
"Prices started to drop and I saw a 100 pounds of flour here for $2.50." Recollections of Seaman John Chaisson, Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve, on the post-war economic downturn, August 8th, 1977
The effects of the Great War echo in the halls of business and government. Our booming economy slows while demands on the public purse grow, especially for care and pensions for veterans. The fishery collapses, the government purchases the railway and coastal steam services and our public debt mounts just as government resources dwindle. Our legislators wrangle and people protest— but no lasting solutions are found.
Beyond our shores, life is also troubled. The 1920s end as the Depression begins. We give up self-government in 1934, then war returns in 1939. Talk of Confederation rises again. Is there a thread linking each challenging event to the next?