Few conflicts arouse such passionate debate and emotive feeling as the Great War. This section seeks to cut through some of the myths and clichés to examine artefacts that tell stories about a specific time and place relevant to the conflict. We have trench art, militaria and collection sets relating to various individuals who served or were involved in the war, allowing fascinating snapshots of aspects not often covered by standard historiography. Below is a small selection from the collection.

The run-up to Total War

Understanding the British empire is key to understanding why this country went to war in 1914. This selection of artifacts from our WW1 show (coming to Collingbourne Ducis in November 2016) provides a great hands-on look at the period. The hat is Napoleonic, and the postcards were handmade in 1914 in France, within miles of the area the British troops fought over 100 years earlier.

Censored Postcards from the Western Front

Iconic postcards from the Western front, 1918. These letters were produced by the government when strict censorship was in place. As you can see, soldiers were only allowed to cross off sentences that didn't apply, they couldn't actually write anything to their family at home. The handwritten example is from Nottingham and dates from March 1918. We also have a period blank example for comparison. 

British Army Cavalry Gymnasia Practise Sword

Made by Wilkinson, these swords were used by the army to train cavalry troopers and officers and were usually kept by select regiments and training establishments like Sandhurst. As curved blades were declared obselete, straighter 'thrusting' blades were adopted and were in service by 1914. Cavalry warfare, and swords along with it, was in turn made obsolete by the First World War, so we will never know whether the new design was more effective or not...

Battlefield relics from the

Western Front (1914 - 1918)

Boer War/First World War trenchart

Almost universally recognisable, trench art has attracted a huge following in recent years. These pieces, however, are not what they appear… They were part of an auction won by the museum and feature WW1 period items but the shells stand out. If we unscrew the shells themselves we can have a look at the head stamp which tells the story of this piece. What we have is a Mark II 6 inch BLC naval shell from the Boer war period (1899 to be exact). Both these items are the same type of shell, the other has a date of 1904. By 1915 the British army was rapidly depleting its stockpile of artillery ammunition and production could not keep up with demand. Any serviceable shell in storage was dragged out and re-used, these naval shell were converted to 8 inch howitzer shells. Since the shell crisis had largely ended by the end of 1916 by increased production, we can guess at a date of 1915 or 1916 for the creation of the vases. 

WW1 Medal Trio

This trio, often referred to as ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ after the popular contemporary cartoon, was the standard trio awarded to most soldiers of the Great War. From left to right: The 1914-15 star, the war medal, and the victory medal. The recipient was Spr Ravenscroft, who seems to have been promoted to LCpl towards the end of the war.

Medals and Dog Tags belonging to Amy Hollins

Thanks to a generous donation by the British Red Cross museum in Hampshire, we are able to display this collection of possessions of Amy Hollins, BRCS VAD. She served as a nurse on the Western Front during the First World War, and received a Mention in Dispatches in 1917. (BRCS proficiency medals, WW1 dogtags, Order of St John medal). 


Our collection of military uniforms charts the development of personal equipment from the Great War to modern conflict. We have uniforms from the Great War, WW2, Falklands war, Gulf war and Afghanistan. We also have a period nurses uniform that was worn by Volunteer Aid Detachment members of the Red Cross during the Great War. 

Trenchart Lighter


This is the India General Service Medal, issued to Charles Blyth in 1919. In recognition of service on the Frontiers of India, this example has the Afghanistan NWF 1919 clasp, denoting the recipient fought in the third Afghan war. A pertinent piece given the present conflict, but not an especially unusual one. What is unusual is the amount we know about Charles Blyth, whose career in the militia began in 1901. He served in the Royal Field Artillery, fought in the Middle East during the First World War and was invalided to India in 1916. The research was done by its previous owner, a collector in Denmark. This item has now come home, and will be displayed in our 'History of the British Military' exhibition, along with Charles' fascinating story.

Somme Bullet

This is a .303 round recovered from the Somme area of Northern France. It's one object of many that are routinely picked up from the ground on the battlefields of the First World War. A conflict close to many people's hearts, the war evokes many emotions and it's good to have such a stark image to represent that terrible time.

Christmas 1914 tins

These are examples of Christmas tins that were sent en masse to frontline troops in Christmas 1914. There was an enormous response to support initiatives for the frontline, especially as most people thought this would be the only Christmas soldiers would miss…


Top: Tobacco Christmas gift tin, an idea instigated by the 17 yr old Princess Mary. It was also sent out in 1914, although many servicemen did not receive it until Jan 1915, when it was re-branded a ‘happy New Year'. 

Bottom: Chocolate tin sent by Cadburys. It contains a paper note wishing soldiers a happy Christmas, 1914. 

German banknotes and stamps showing Hyperinflation

These items trace the catastrophic process of hyperinflation in Germany between 1917 and 1921. The banknote, dated 1917, is for 5 marks. 4 years later, the stamps are marked 1000 marks, 100 000 marks, 1 million marks and 20 million marks. The ruin of the economy contributed to the rise of extremism.

WW2 Postcards of a WW1 Memorial

A rather sad reminder that the Great War was not, as Lloyd George had hoped, the end of all wars. This postcard was bought as a keepsake by Cpl Norman Smith, REME, as he prepared for his part in Operation Market Garden in Holland, September 1944.

18 Pounder Artillery Shell

A grisly but compelling image of the First World War remains the artillery shell, and nearly as much has been said about it as any other aspect of the conflict. A relatively new concept in 1914, indirect fire shrapnel (that is, shells that were fired into the air to fall on an enemy, rather that being fired directly at them) was untested in large scale warfare. It was to prove monstrously effective on tightly packed squads of men in trenches. This example is from Ypres in Belgium, it is British and is dated 1916. Unexploded 18 pounder shells are still routinely dug up in the fields of Northern Europe, and occasionally still cause injury.  

Our collection also includes a number of battlefield finds, which are helpful for comparison. Here you can see the shell as it would look after being buried for nearly a hundred years. Don't worry, all our battlefield finds are safe!

1917 US vaseline Bottle

(Ypres, Belgium)

Medical care was not as rudimentary during the Great War as some people suppose. Great care was taken to ensure soldiers were well looked after, as much for military efficiency as humanitarian reasons. Volunteer medics were sent by the thousand to the battlefield and supplies were brought in from all over the world. This vaseline jar dated 1917 was used by British soldiers in Belgium. It was produced in the United States. Tens of thousands of items like these were left behind after the war, and can be located with relative ease at the markets of Belgium and Northern France.

1916 Edition of 'The War Illustrated'

A popular illustrated newspaper, "The War Illustrated" began 18 days after the start of the war and released regularly throughout. It was published by William Berry, owner of the Telegraph. It is interesting to not the difference in tone between the early, patriotic editions and the later, more carefully researched editions.


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