What was William Foster’s reaction in 1922 when he received the memorial plaque and commemorative scroll from King George V, in remembrance of his son Frederick? Most likely it was with mixed emotions – grief at the loss of his son but also possibly some pride, as the plaque has been neatly secured on a timber mount.
These plaques, similar in colour to a penny coin, were frequently referred to as the ‘dead man’s penny’. The 120 mm diameter plaques were individually cast in bronze, with the name of the deceased, and displayed symbology portraying Britain’s defeat of Germany.
Private Frederick Arthur Foster, a native of Forbes NSW, was taken at the age of nine with his two younger siblings to be raised by his grandmother at Eleven Mile Creek in Victoria, due to tragic family circumstances. There, he worked as a beekeeper and served for three years with the 16th Light Horse at Benalla.
His military life got off to a somewhat irregular start in that he enlisted twice, firstly in late June 1915 and then at Goulburn NSW on 14 January 1916. He was attached to the 55th Battalion and embarked from Sydney aboard the transport ship Barambah on 23 June 1916.
Private Foster’s war was short and brutal. On his arrival in France he was transferred to the 17th Battalion on 23 March 1917 and found himself in a counter-attack against German forces at Lagnicourt on 15 April. The frenzied action resulted in two machine guns and fifty-four prisoners being captured at a cost to the 17th Battalion of forty-three dead, eighty-seven wounded and a further fifty-one missing. Foster was one of those killed. He was buried in the trenches but his grave, though marked, was eventually lost. He is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in France and the Oxley Shire War Memorial in Victoria.
News of his death was another tragedy for Foster’s extended family. His mother Kate had drowned in the Forbes lagoon in 1898 and three of his siblings had died in infancy. He had been raised by his grandmother Ellen Kelly, who was widowed once, deserted twice and lost seven of her twelve children before her own death in 1923. Private Foster was the nephew of Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly.
Pictorial Forbes Image Library