WWI Stories: Ivanhoe Avon, the Great War and the Pennies that Saved His Life

Know the story of Ivanhoe Avon, the WWI soldier who owed his life to two pennies and who, through the course of the Great War, survived being trapped behind enemy lines while helping an injured comrade and gassing.

Ivanhoe Avon signed up to fight in the First World War on the year of its outbreak — on 1914. Through the course of the said conflict, he had close brushed with death several times though in the end, he survived.

The Sign Up

Ivanhoe Avon joined the army in 1914 when he was but a mere seventeen-and-a-half lad. He went on to become a rifleman, a signalman and a Red Cross medic; one of the only thirty-six members of the Cardiff Pals to survive the First World War.

He served in the army as one of the soldiers assigned in the Royal Welch, the 11th Battalion, for five years and throughout that time span, he experienced being trapped behind enemy lines while carrying a fellow serviceman who was badly injured, was gassed, fought in the Somme and was saved by two pennies which bore the blunt of the bullets supposed to rob him of his life.

There was a time when news reached his family in Penarth that their loved one was missing and was presumed dead. But Ivanhoe Avon did not die in action. In 1919, he returned home after leaving the army.

Throughout the years that followed after the war, Ivanhoe Avon kept his silence about his wartime experiences. Though he recounted to his family the “carnage” he was able to witness while in WWI’s front lines and posed his thoughts about not understanding the point of the war at all, he kept mum about the pennies that saved his life nor the scar he had on his leg.

It was not until he died in 1987 at the old age of ninety that his son, Bill, and his wife, Marion, unlocked the story of his past as a WWI soldier, literally, through a key they found hidden in his dressing table.

That key unlocked a safety deposit box which contained all the impeccably preserved memorabilia of Ivanhoe Avon from the Great War.

The Real Story

On the day Ivanhoe Avon signed up for the army, his parents gave him a Union Jack flag. He took that piece of contraband with him in his assignments and wrote down on its edge every place he went to and fought in.

The deposit box also contained his small diaries along with a camera and several photos of comrades in the war. The photos had markings on them indicating if they, like him, had survived the war.

WWI soldier Ivanhoe Avon, the mementos he kept inside a bank's deposit box and the two pennies which saved his life during the Battle of the Somme.
WWI soldier Ivanhoe Avon, the mementos he kept inside a bank’s deposit box and the two pennies which saved his life during the Battle of the Somme.

The mementos found in the deposit box owned by Ivanhoe Avon revealed that after his first training in England, the WWI soldier was shipped off to Somme where he saw action for five weeks.

It was in 1915 in France when he had his close brush with death but was saved by the two pennies. The coins took the blunt of what was supposed to be a direct hit to him. After his assignment in France, he was, then, shipped off to Salonika in the Balkans. He stayed in the place until his homecoming in 1919.

Ivanhoe Avon broke the rules of conduct, the reason why his commission was forfeited. Nevertheless, his family saw that as a blessing; they strongly believed that his life was just saved by not becoming an officer. It was a well-known fact that the officers were the ones who went over the top, thus, making them most possibly the first casualties of whatever battle they were involved in.

His diaries were very detailed — from the meals he ate, the time he received letters from home, his bouts with dysentery and how, at one time, he was positioned only fifteen yards away from the trenches of the Germans.

However, his writings were not solely centered on the war, though. There were “breaths of fresh air” from among his entries including how he was able to attend an art class after going through an activity-packed day, how on Christmas day the monotony in the trenches got broken through a “fine feed” of ham or how he was happy at receiving two parcels from home.

The Legacy

Marion wants her father-in-law’s legacy to live on. Not only that. She also wants to commemorate those soldiers who survived the Great War.

Marion Avon and her father-in-law's Union Jack flag.
Marion Avon and her father-in-law’s Union Jack flag.

According to her, she felt that the commemorations during the centenary of the outbreak of the WWI last year focused on those who sacrificed their lives during the war and that was understandable as there were scores of families who received that “dreaded telegram”. But she also believes that for soldiers like Ivanhoe Avon, who at his young age was able to fight and survive the war, an icon needs to be put up in their honor.

They survived a very terrible war, she said.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE