Trench Art - The majority of the memorabilia produced in World War 1 came from the home front, but the soldiers in the trenches filled in the time between shellings and gas attacks creating some poignant keepsakes from the chaos around them.

 

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Trench Art

TRENCH ART

 The majority of the memorabilia produced in World War 1 came from the home front, but the soldiers in the trenches filled in the time between shellings and gas attacks creating some poignant keepsakes from the chaos around them.

 World War 1 was unlike any war fought before or since. An entire generation of young men was mobilized, mainly into the infantry, and the two sides spent much of the war, particularly on the Western Front, locked in bloody stalemate.

 The front line troops, dug into their trenches, lived a life in which flurries of dangerous and inconclusive action were separated by days of numbing tedium, and there was little to beguile their off-duty hours.

 Many of the more educated young men turned to writing, and the trenches produced the greatest body of war poetry in English, while others turned their hands to crafts, using the pitifully limited materials available to them - mainly the debris of war - to construct something useful, good-looking or amusing.

 There was plenty of scrap metal to work with. Pieces of shrapnel, spent bullets and cartridges were everywhere, and brass casings from artillery shells were plentiful. Wood carvers could find plenty of wood to work on, particularly broken rifle butts and shards.

 Most of the work done at the front was necessarily rough and ready, though members of the Royal Engineers, and others who had access to tools, could make something more finished. What resulted came to be known as trench art, though now the term has been widened to mean any piece made from battlefield scrap, no matter what the war.

 
After the Armistice was signed in November 1918, a lot of equipment was collected from the battlefields and taken to the workshops of France and England, where more finished wares, many of them celebrating the victory, were made. Enthusiasts collect both types of ware, and value it both for what it is and what it represents; the triumph of human creativity and ingenuity over the destructiveness and folly of a bloody war.

 Standing testament to one of the most horrific human conflicts of all time, World War 1, these examples of trench art were made up from the debris of battle by soldiers wiling away tedious hours off duty.

COLLECTOR'S NOTES

 The value of a piece of World War 1 trench art depends on its complexity, originality and the degree to which it can evoke life in the trenches. Pieces of scrap metal fashioned into replicas of military equipment - tanks, lorries, aeroplanes even submarines - tend to fetch more than those turned into domestic objects, such as vases, ashtrays or lighters, while anything that can be authentically ascribed to a particular, named soldier - perhaps with a letter from the front accompanying it - will also carry a premium.

 The most common finds are shell cases of various sizes: tall, brass cylinders, they made good vases or spill holders, or were put by the fireside to hold pokers, tongs and the like. Some were left smooth and polished, while others were decorated by hammering the surface to create different textures, or were marked with the point of a nail to give a chased effect. The combination of smooth and pitted areas created patterns and pictures.

 Pieces of trench art still turn up on a fairly regular basis in sale rooms, specialist shops and even flea markets, a testament to the huge numbers of men and the sheer volume of hardware involved in the war. Bargains, though, get rarer every year.

 Few veterans of the fighting are alive today, but home-made souvenir pieces were often handed down, and it is worth asking older members of the family if they have any mementoes of the war.

 Trench art is one of the few areas of collecting where condition is immaterial to price. In fact, if someone offers you a mint piece of trench art, you'd do well to be suspicious. Crude welding and the odd dent are usually the most reliable signs of authenticity.

 Simple petrol lighters were commonly made from rifle cartridge cases, but beware of later reproductions or fakes.

 





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