Artworks created by soldiers in the field by using expended artillery shells, bullets, wood, bone and unit badges etc. is known as ‘Trench Art’.
The custom can be traced back to at least the Napoleonic Wars, and is often associated with the long hours of boredom between combat being filled by creative troops fashioning items for family or sweethearts back home.
The detritus of warfare surrounding soldiers such as shell and bullet casing s are often the most common ingredients for Trench Art. Quality ranges from ingenious hand crafted items literally made in the trenches, to those made in field workshops behind the lines by engineers and mechanics or airfield maintenance crews.
Unit or National badges are often also added as embellishments to innovative vases, ashtrays and sculptures made from all manner of battlefield debris.
Many Australian homes have been decorated with such items of Trench Art either sent from overseas during the war, or brought back to Australia upon their return.
There are also many fine post war examples made from authentic shell casings etc, but without a known provenance it’s often impossible to tell what year it was made, by whom and what unit they may hail from (unless of course the unit badge is featured).
It’s often bittersweet to see Trench Art for sale, as whilst delightful and quite personal pieces of militaria to have in a collection, their intended purpose was often bridging the sad gap between loved ones separated by war and now long gone.
Like service medals, it would be far better to see these stay in families, but if for any reason the family no longer values the history behind them, then collectors certainly will.
The dichotomy of that lovely vase with the Rising Sun badge on Grandma’s sideboard, having been made from a shell that was perhaps used to blow some people to smithereens, is also one of those quirky aspects of collecting militaria.