Souveniring (a polite term for pilfering) was a widespread pastime for soldiers. Some soldiers claimed souvenirs of the battlefield as a means of entertaining themselves during long, inactive hours, while others wanted to take something of their experiences home with them. Battlefield souvenirs were usually smallish items that were either kept as they were found or turned into trench art, but sometimes they could be substantially larger – Exhibit A:
Soldiers pose beside a seized 4.2 inch gun following the capture of Grevillers by the New Zealand Division, 25 August 1918. © IWM (Q 11243).
Some smaller battlefield souvenirs found their way to museums in New Zealand. Here are a few of the interesting ones that have been shared on All That Remains.
Cambridge Museum’s Turkish bayonet was brought back from Gallipoli. Unfortunately the museum doesn’t have a record of the soldier that returned with it, but they note that this bayonet is unusual as they were often shortened during WWI.
The museum has some provenance information about this gun sight, which was brought back to New Zealand by a Cambridge resident called Jim Watson, who served in Egypt during WWI.
This German Army field telephone handset is from the collection of Waimate Museum & Archives. Originally the handset would have been attached to a wooden box and would have been powered by a wind-up generator. Field telephones allowed communication between front lines and command operations during war.
This German belt buckle, from Te Papa’s collection, was brought back to New Zealand by Sergeant William Richards. This standard military issue belt is stamped with ‘Gott Mit Uns’ (God With Us), a phrase commonly used on German military accoutrements at the time.
Waimate Museum & Archives has this set of sword tassels in its collection. They previously belonged to a captured German soldier. Sword knots and decorations varied in style and colour depending on a soldier’s rank or unit. I’d love to know more about the rank of the soldier these tassels might have belonged to, and I’m sure Waimate Museum would too. Can you help?
Both Te Papa and Owaka Museum have shared gas masks acquired by soldiers. Disabling and disorienting poisons like mustard gas were used by both sides during WWI. Owaka Museum’s gas mask still has a box respirator attached to it by a hose. The box filter contained chemicals that neutralised gas and allowed the wearer to breathe clean air.
This German military gas mask, from Te Papa’s collection, was collected by a New Zealand soldier. It is possible to date this gas mask to later in WWI based on its material – leather rather than rubber. A shortage of raw materials in Europe during WWI meant that leather gas masks were introduced by the German Army from late 1917.
Intrigued by battlefield souvenirs? Here are eight unusual ones from the Imperial War Museum, London.
Does your museum hold battlefield souvenirs in its collection? We’d love to hear about them!
Tamara Patten, Communications Officer, National Services Te Paerangi