The Art of War & the Art of the Military Sword

Posted by Bryan on 3/7/2012 to Military Sword History
There is something romantic in the figure of a soldier bent over his task creating beauty from the ugliness of war, and for centuries soldiers have passed the slow times of war by doing just that. These pieces of war memorabilia and art are commonly called trench art. Outside of the margins of eras and names examples of this art date back long before trench warfare was established, early examples include wooden boxes, marquetry boxes, carved items from soup bones and items of plaited straw created by prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars. During the American Civil War soldiers decorated personal equipment such as canteens, powder horns, weapons and more. With the production of shells with brass casings engraved shell casing art became popular during the Spanish-American War and the Boer War. Large shells were often transformed into vases, but most often they depicted details of battles or held inscriptions.

Trench warfare emerged during the First World War when soldiers from both sides dug in battle lines were drawn and trenches dug for defense. This left soldiers much time in the trenches and much war debris to work into art. Whereas aluminum could be easily melted and worked into rings and other items,and bones from meals could be carved, but there was not much hammering and engraving down in the trenches, the noise brought unwelcome attention and shells.

During World War I and II much of the "trench art" was produced far from the front lines by prisoners of war and convalescing soldiers. Decorating gear like helmets, mess kits, and spent artillery shells were popular items to create. Trench Art continued after the war's end by locals ready to cash in on the tourist market near battlefields, and by commercial firms that found a steady market for war memorabilia.