The Dead Man’s Penny

Update: I was thrilled to receive a response to my query on the Deleau, Manitoba Facebook page about whether there were any descendants of Fernand Colleaux in the area. Even though they now live in Neepawa, Manitoba, Denys Usunier and his wife Val replied. Fernand was Denys’s great-uncle on his mother’s side of the family and Denys jumped at the chance to have this beautiful medal back in the family. We will probably never know the circuitous route this ‘penny’ has travelled in the hundred and some years since it was awarded, but there is some satisfaction in knowing that at least a part of Fernand Colleaux is back home.

I had heard of it. My two great-uncles, Edwin and Edison Greenhow, would each have earned one. Until today, however, I had never seen one, let alone held one in my hand. Physically, the solid bronze ‘penny’ is an impressive piece, weighing over 12 ounces and 4.75 inches in diameter.

The ‘Dead Man’s Penny’, as it became known in later years, was given to the family of soldiers (male and female) who fell in the Great War. Great Britain, Canada, Australia… it seems many commonwealth countries awarded them. I’m told that the female medallions are extremely rare.

The fate of the pennies and other awards given for the valour of my two uncles is unknown, so I was quite excited to have an opportunity to purchase an example from a collectibles dealer in Saskatoon today. As a bonus of sorts, I’ve even been able to learn something of the man who earned the honour.

Private Robert Fernand Colleaux, was born in Deleau, Manitoba on 16 September, 1896. He passed away in Kent, England at the Canadian General Hospital on 7 May, 1918 at the age of 21 years and is buried in Shorncliffe, Kent, England.

Fernand Colleaux, Service Number 2178304, was a Private in Manitoba Regiment 11R. May he rest in eternal peace.


    1. It’s a mystery as to whatever happened to the pennies and medals that would have been sent to the parents of our uncles.


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