Trench Art: Facts and Information

What is Trench Art?

Trench art is a term used to describe any decorative items made by soldiers, prisoners of war and members of the public as a result of a war taking place. Pieces of trench art wouldn’t exist if armed conflicts didn’t happen.

A massive amount of trench art was produced by the soldiers of World War 1 (and this explains where the term comes from), but trench art is not limited to World War 1. The first trench art comes from the Napoleonic Wars, and those involved in conflict from then until now have continued to produce works of art and decorative souvenirs.

During the Crimean War canon balls were fashioned into inkwells, and during the American Civil War, powder horns, snuff boxes were personalized, and game pieces were made from bone and used bullets.

Napoleonic Trench Art

Prisoners of war from the Napoleonic Wars (1796 to 1815), often locked away for years in very poor conditions, manufactured items from bone, straw and wood to trade for more food rations. Surviving examples of Napoleonic prisoner of war art include highly detailed models of ships made from bone, and decorative straw work boxes.

World War 1 Trench Art

Some of the trench art of World War 1 was created in the front line trenches themselves (for example, carvings were made in rock outcrops around dug outs), but most was made by soldiers at rest stationed away from the front line, by prisoners of war, or by soldiers recovering from their wounds.

Shell art is incredibly popular among collectors of trench art. Shell casings could be decorated by embossing and engraving, and World War 1 produced a massive range of different examples. The designs often included flowers, animals, military images. Some detailed the artist’s war record and others included inscriptions to the artist’s loved ones.

Trench Art
World War 1 soldiers creating trench art out of empty shell casings

Other popular items of World War 1 trench art included, letter openers made from pieces of brass and cartridge cases, napkin rings, dinner gongs, picture frames, finger rings, and models of aeroplanes and tanks.

Best World War 1 Books for Kids

Here is a list of some great books about World War 1.

World War 1 Fiction

World War 1 Poetry

World War 1

World War 1 Non-Fiction / Information Books

Related Links

How Long Did World War 1 Last?

World War 1 started on 28th July 1914, following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary). In response, the Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia and invaded. A web of alliances and treaties drew other countries into the conflict. Russia readied its troops in support of Serbia, and Germany (allied to Austria-Hungary), invaded Belgium as a means of launching an attack on France. Britain entered the conflict by declaring war on Germany on 4th August 1914.

Find out more about how World War 1 started by clicking this link.

World War 1 ended at 11am on 11th November 1918 (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month), when Germany signed the Armistice of Compiegne. Approximately 9 million soldiers were killed and more than 20 million soldiers were injured during the conflict.

Many hundreds of soldiers were killed and injured on the day of cease-fire. The last British soldier to lose his life in World War 1 was Private George Edwin Ellison. He died about an hour before the cease-fire began. Henry Gunther, a US soldier from Baltimore, is thought to be the last soldier to be killed in the Great War. He was shot at 10.59 during a final charge against German troops in the Argonne region of France.

Many troops lost their lives after World War 1 had officially ended. News of the armistice took days to reach troops fighting in remote regions, and skirmishes continued for several days after 11th November 1918 in places such as Mozambique and Palestine

Armistice Day
Armistice Day in London

World War 1 lasted for 4 years, 3 months and 1 week.

What next? Discover more facts about World War 1, or learn more about Remembrance Day.

Private Peaceful: Facts About the Book by Michael Morpurgo

Here are some facts about Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo.

  • Private Peaceful was published by Harper Collins in 2003.
  • It is a story about a soldier, Thomas ‘Tommo’ Peaceful. He looks back on his life from the World War 1 trenches. Each chapter moves the story forwards in time, until the reader has caught up to Tommo in the trenches. From this point on, the story is written in the present tense.

  • The book examines the horrors of war and the unfair treatment of soldiers who were executed by firing squad for desertion or cowardice.
  • Private Peaceful was turned into a film in October 2012. It was directed by Pat O’Connor and starred George Mackay (as Tommo), Richard Griffiths (as The Colnel) and Maxine Peake (as Hazel).
  • The book was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, won the Red House Children’s Book Award, won the Blue Peter Book Award and was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Best Book of the Last 10 Years Award.
  • During World War 1, nearly 300 British Army soldiers were executed by firing squad for desertion and cowardice. Many of the men were suffering from shell shock, and in 2006 they were granted pardons.
  • Many Devon locations feature in Private Peaceful, and Michael Morpurgo used the book Devon in 1914 by James Ravilious to help him visualise how it would have looked in 1914.
  • In 2009 Michael Morpurgo travelled to Ypres in Belgium to better understand World War 1. In a war cemetery, five miles outside of Ypres, he found a grave bearing the name Private Peaceful.
  • Private Peaceful isn’t the only Michael Morpurgo book to focus on the subject of war. Shadow, A Medal for Leroy, War Horse and Why the Whales Came also feature conflict as a theme. In the clip below, Michael Morpuro talks about war as a theme in his novels.

  • In 2011, Michael Morpurgo said that Private Peaceful was his favourite of all the books he’s written.

Buy Private Peaceful from Amazon

How did World War 1 start?

  • Before World War 1 started, a series of defence alliances existed between many European countries. If one country declared war against another, other countries would be forced, by treaty, to enter the conflict.
  • France, Britain and Ireland, and Russia formed an alliance known as the Triple Entente. Germany was allied with Austria-Hungry. They were known as the Central Powers.

  • When Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was assassinated in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914, it triggered a chain of events that resulted in World War 1.
  • Following the assassination, Austria-Hungary, who blamed Serbia for the death of the Archduke, threatened war unless they agreed to a set of harsh demands. Germany sided with Austria-Hungary, and Russia backed Serbia. Europe was on the brink of war.
  • On 28th July, one month after the Archduke’s assassination, Austria-Hungary (supported by Germany) declared war on Serbia. On 1st August, Germany declared war on Russia, and on 3rd August Germany declared war on France.
  • On 4th August, German troops marched on France, taking a route through Belgium. Britain had agreed to guarantee Belgium’s neutrality, and immediately declared war on Germany.
  • British and German forces clashed on 23rd August at the Battle of Mons, which took place in Belgium. This was the first battle between the British and the Germans on the Western Front.

What next? Discover some more facts about World War 1.

Red Baron: Facts and Information About the WW1 Fighter Pilot

Here are some interesting facts about the Red Baron.

  • The Red Baron was a fighter pilot with the German air force during World War 1. He shot down 80 British planes and was the most successful German ‘ace’ of the war.

  • His real name was Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen and he was born in Breslau, Germany in 1892. He began military training at age 11, joining the war as a cavalry officer.
  • Richtofen became known as the Red Baron after painting his plane bright red. His squadron became known as the Flying Circus, because of the planes’ bright colours.
  • After shooting down his first plane, he ordered a silver cup engraved with the details of the encounter. After having 60 cups made, he stopped as Germany was running out of silver.
  • He shot down 22 British aircraft in one month (April 1917). On just one day in April, he shot down 4 planes, having taken command of a larger squadron.

Red Baron

  • The Red Baron received many awards and became a hero in Germany, even appearing on playing cards. His awards included the Prussian Iron Cross.
  • The Red Baron was an accurate shot, rather than a skillful pilot. He often used the strategy of attacking his enemies from above, using the suns light to temporarily blind them.
  • Richtofen was eventually shot down on 21st April, 1918, over France. Although RAF pilot Roy Brown is credited with shooting him, it has never been fully verified.
  • He is buried in a family grave in Wiesbaden, Germany. His plane’s engine is on display in London’s Science Museum and parts of his plane are in a Canadian military institute.
  • The Red Baron has been portrayed in almost a dozen films, and a pizza brand is named for him. He featured in several hit songs by the American rock group the Royal Guardsmen.

Who was Lord Kitchener? Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Lord Kitchener.

  • Lord Kitchener was a senior British army officer, who played an important part during World War I. His face is familiar from propaganda posters urging young men to join the army.
  • Kitchener was born in Ireland in 1850.

  • He fought in the Franco-Prussian war.
  • He joined the Royal Engineers at age 20, and served in Cyprus and Egypt. He learned to speak Arabic.
  • In 1874 Kitchener made important maps of Palestine and the Holy land. He became a major in the Egyptian army, although he was worried that the sun would turn his moustache white.
  • In 1898, Kitchener and his soldiers successfully defeated the Dervishes for control of Khartoum, in the Sudan. Kitchener became known as K of K, and became more popular.

Lord Kitchener

  • Lord Kitchener became commander in chief of the Indian army in 1902. He became consul-general in Egypt in 1911, was later made an earl, and travelled to Australia and New Zealand.
  • He was appointed Secretary of State for War in 1914.
  • He appeared on several patriotically themed recruitment posters, which helped to recruit solders and volunteers to fight.
  • The most famous recruitment poster shows Kitchener with a pointing finger, with the caption ‘Your Country Wants You’. The poster has been copied and parodied many times since then, but some historians think that it wasn’t used very much at the time.

Your Country Needs You

  • Kitchener predicted that the war would last a long time, and realized the importance of having many volunteers.
  • Lord Kitchener died in June, 1916 when his ship was hit by a German mine in the Atlantic Ocean. Various conspiracy theories surrounded his death, including one saying he was killed by a South African spy.
  • He has been featured on Britain’s two pound coin and has a road in the West Midlands named after him. There is a stone memorial to Kitchener on the Orkney Islands.

More Facts About World War 1

Here are some more World War 1 facts.

  • Geoffrey Keynes, a surgeon from Britain, designed a portable blood transfusion kit. It saved thousands of lives during World War 1.
  • Over 3000 of Britain’s motor vehicles were turned into ambulances and used on the western front. Some London buses became ambulances.

  • Many World War 1 ambulances were driven by women.
  • More than 300 British and Commonwealth troops were executed for desertion (leaving the battlefield without being ordered). In 2006, these men were officially pardoned.
  •  A pigeon called Cher Ami managed to carry a message to US soldiers 25 miles away despite having been shot.
  • About 1 million dogs died in service during World War 1.
  • British soldiers in the World War 1 trenches carried lots of kit, including: a rifle and bayonet, ammunition, a respirator (to help them deal with gas attacks), washing kit, water bottle and spare clothes.
  • Each British soldier (private) received a basic salary of 1 shilling per day.
  • By 1918, more than 100,000 of Britain’s women had volunteered to help the wounded and sick soldiers as Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses.
  • The United States wasn’t drawn into World War 1 until 1916, but by 1918 more than 1 million American troops were in France.
  • The Victoria Cross (Britain’s highest award for bravery in the face of the enemy) was awarded 628 times during World War 1. Only one man, Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, was awarded it twice.
  • In 1917, due to most work-age men fighting in World War 1, the Women’s Land Army was set up to provide a workforce for farms. Over 110,000 women joined.
  • The 3rd Battle of Ypres took place in 1917 (from July to November). More then 500,000 soldiers lost their lives in just three months of fighting.
  • Songs were used to maintain good morale in very difficult circumstances. Songs such as Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and It’s a  Long Way to Tipperary were very popular during WW1.
  • In Britain, by 1916 more than 2.5 million men volunteered to fight in World War 1. A further 2.7 million men were drafted.
  • Facial reconstruction surgery developed dramatically during World War 1. A special plastic surgery clinic in Sidcup, run by Harold Gillies, treated thousands of soldiers, many having been disfigured in the Battle of the Somme.

What next? Discover more World War 1 facts or learn more about life in the World War 1 trenches.

Rupert Brooke: Facts About the World War 1 Poet

Here are some facts about Rupert Brooke.

  • Rupert Brooke was an English poet and he was once described as the most handsome man in England. He is known for his poems written during World War I.
  • Brooke was born in Rugby, Warwickshire in August, 1887. He won a scholarship to Cambridge where he helped to form a drama club and acted in several plays, including one performed in Ancient Greek.

  • He joined several literary groups. He was a member of the Bloomsbury Group, as well as the Georgian Group and the Dymock Poets.
  • Rupert Brooke suffered a nervous breakdown in 1912 and went to Germany and America to recover. While there, he wrote travel diaries for a London newspaper, the Westminster Gazette.
  • He also spent some time in Tahiti, where he wrote some of his early poems and fathered a child who died in 1990. He returned to England because of a lack of money.
  • Brooke fought in Belgium during the early part of World War I. After returning to England, he wrote 5 poems about war which would make him famous.
  • He sailed to Greece in early 1915, although German mines in the Mediterranean meant the ship went to Egypt instead. In Egypt, Brooke suffered from sunstroke and stomach troubles.
  • Rupert Brooke’s most famous work is The Soldier, written during World War I. It includes the well known lines about a corner of a foreign field forever being a little piece of England.

Rupert Brooke

  • Rupert Brooke developed blood poisoning after an insect bite, in April, 1915 in Greece. He died and was buried on the Greek island of Skyros and the original grave marker is now in Rugby school.
  • His poem The Soldier was read during the Easter Day service in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. His obituary in the newspapers was partly written by Winston Churchill.
  • Rupert Brooke’s war poetry, written at the beginning of World War 1, doesn’t dwell on the horrors of war and promotes the idea that the sacrifice of life is for a greater good. It is in stark contrast to the World War 1 poetry written by Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.

Harry Patch: Facts About the World War 1 Veteran

Here are some facts about Harry Patch.

  • Harry Patch was the last British soldier alive to have fought in World War I and, for a time, was the oldest man in Europe.
  • He was born in June 1898 and died in July 2009.

  • Patch was born near Bath, and became an apprentice plumber until World War 1 broke out. He fought in France and Belgium, returning to England in 1917 after being wounded.
  • After the war, Patch became a full-time plumber, operating his own successful business despite high unemployment at the time.
  • He was too old to fight in World War 2 so he served as a fireman.
  • Patch never really spoke about his experiences in World War I until he reached the age of 100. He always felt that the horrific loss of life was never worth it.
  • In 2004, Patch met one of the last surviving German soldiers and the two exchanged gifts. In the same year, a local cider company manufactured Patch’s Pride cider.
  • In 2009, Harry Patch wrote and published his autobiography, making him one of the oldest people to ever write a book. It was called The Last Fighting Tommy.
  • The poet laureate at the time, Andrew Motion, wrote a poem about Harry Patch when he reached the age of 110. The poem, The Death of Harry Patch, was recited on the radio on Armistice Day.
  • Patch won several medals, including the British War Medal, Victory Medal and National Service Medal. In 2008 he was given the freedom of the city of Wells.
  • Harry Patch died aged 111 and his funeral was held in Wells, Somerset. The cathedral bells were rung 111 times, and no soldiers attending were allowed to carry guns, as Patch had requested.
  • His funeral was shown on television, as there was so much interest. Some people camped out overnight to get one of 1,050 tickets to attend the funeral.