In early 1920 it was announced that the next-of-kin of all Australian servicemen and women whose deaths were attributable to the First World War would receive a memorial plaque and scroll "as a solace for bereavement and as a memento".
The memorial plaques were not uniquely Australian. In fact they were designed and produced in Britain and issued to commemorate all those who died as a result of war service from within the British Commonwealth.
The idea for the plaques was originally conceived mid-way through the war. In 1917 a competition was announced to obtain a suitable design and 800 entries were eventually received. The winner, Mr. E. Carter Preston of Liverpool, England, was chosen in 1918. He was awarded a prize of 250 pounds.
Mr Manning Pike directed the manufacture of the memorial plaques at the Memorial Plaque Factory set up at Acton, London. Some later plaques were also made at the Woolwich Arsenal.
The cost of manufacturing so many plaques must have been considerable. Each plaque had the name of the soldier commemorated individually embossed (some were engraved) as part of the design. The full name was given without any indication of rank or honours to show the equality of sacrifice of all those who had lost their lives.
The scroll designed to accompany the plaques was of thick paper, headed by the royal coat-of-arms, and bore the following message:
"He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who, at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those that come after see that his name is not forgotten".
Underneath the message the serviceman or woman’s name, rank, honours and unit were written by hand in red ink.
Because of the late arrival in Australia of the plaques many scrolls were sent out separately. A message from the King,
"I join with my grateful people in sending you this memorial of a brave life given for others in the Great War",
was included with the scroll.
The first plaques were distributed in Australia in 1922. Each plaque was sent out from Base Records Office at Victoria Barracks in Melbourne by second-class mail. Approximately 60,000 plaques were issued in Australia.
Families of deceased members of the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Army Nursing Service also received plaques and scrolls.