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When soldiers turned weapons into war art

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 26, 2014

  • Shell casings by the thousand would pile up rapidly, such was the amount of shelling going on at the height of the war on the Western Front

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OUT of the death and desolation of the First World War frontline came the most unlikely of things – works of art from the men in the thick of it, fashioned from whatever they could get their hands on in those desperate circumstances.

Trench Art, as it became known, was not new – there are items fashioned by soldiers and sailors dating back to the Napoleonic Wars – but the phenomenon peaked with the Great War, no doubt due to the huge numbers of men involved.

One of the most commonly used items was the brass shell case, there were literally millions of them scattered around on all sides, and many a soldier of an artistic bent threw himself into converting them into a work of art, or a memento of his time in the fields of France or Flanders.

A particularly fine example was brought to Bugle House recently by Kinver reader Jonathan Shakespeare Taylor. It was made by his great grandfather William Wood, originally from Pershore in Worcestershire.

According to William's medals, he served with the Royal Horse Artillery, and Jonathan knows that he was a shoeing smith. But as so often happened, men were moved to whichever regiment needed them, and it seems he also served at some stage with the Royal Field Artillery, at which time he made the jug shown here.

"The story was he made it himself," Jonathan told us. "He made some other items as well, but much of it was destroyed in a fire years later. And as his military records were lost in the Blitz, we can't find any details of his change of regiment."

William used the bottom end of the shell case, creating a fine-tooled image of the RFA insignia, topped with the British and French flags, and with the added wording 'Souvenir of Ypres, 1914-1915'

A thin brass bar has been riveted on as a handle, and the top edge smoothed and shaped into a spout. But despite the quality of the work, there is no forgetting this fine jug's origins.

If you take a look at the base, it is unmistakably a shell, with its various stampings. We think it was probably an 18 pounder artillery shell, and the CF stamped on the bottom stands for Cordite Full Charge, and the 1916 stamp suggests it was made after the Ypres campaign to which William dedicated it.

Do you have examples of Trench Art you'd like to share with our Bugle readers? Bring them in to Bugle House, send us photographs, give us a call if you'd like us to come to you, or email gjones@blackcountry bugle.co.uk.

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