Strictly speaking, trench art is a phrase that describes folk art created by soldiers who were stuck in the trenches during World War I. But trench art as a more broadly defined genre includes all sorts of art objects made during numerous military conflicts going back to the early 1800s, including items produced by prisoners of war.

Leaving aside the question of era, there are several generally accepted categories of trench art. Some of the earliest examples are wooden boxes made by French prisoners captured by the English during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).

By World War I, prisoners on both sides of that struggle were engraving and carving everything from spent shell casings to soup bones, transforming them into poignant mementos and useful historical records of the war to end all wars. Some pieces are particular to certain battle zones. For example, Turkish prisoners were known for their beaded snakes.

Those soldiers who did not have the time or tools to engrave spent artillery shells in the trenches often brought them home, where they would be embossed, fluted, and flared. Engravings on canteens and mess kits were probably done in the field, as were paintings on helmets.

Other examples of trench art include letter openers and knives made from bullets and shells; presentation plates hammered and engraved from flattened casings; lighters formed out of enemy belt buckles; and inkwells carefully crafted from fuse caps.

Soldiers recovering from their wounds also made trench art, usually in the form of embroidered badges and belts. Similar pieces made by wives and girlfriends waiting for their loved ones to return home are also considered trench art.


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Recent News: Trench Art

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Hunt for war art
Henley Standard, September 1st

It is looking for items of trench art, which soldiers crafted from debris when they were on leave. These included jewellery, ashtrays, cutlery and models of tanks or aeroplanes. Many were handed down through families. If you can help, call Janet Hurst...Read more

First World War trench artist's son presented with family history book
Epsom Guardian, August 31st

A First World War trench artist's son was "overwhelmed" to receive a book bringing together research into his father's life. Back in May a couple from Ewell presented Ronald Turtle with a piece of trench art created from the case of a shell by his dad...Read more

World's Fair of Money top exhibiting honor awarded to Mack Martin
CoinWeek, August 30th

American Numismatic Association member Mack Martin won the Howland Wood Memorial Award for Best-in-Show in numismatic exhibiting at the 2014 Chicago World's Fair of MoneySM in Rosemont, Illinois. Martin's exhibit, “Baby Bonds,” featured notes ...Read more

Top five things to do this weekend in south Bucks
Buckinhamshire Free Press, August 29th

Meet members of the Western Front Association and view a display of personal artefacts and documents, including trench art. Discover more in the Museum's First World War Wycombe exhibition and experience wartime songs and entertainment from The ...Read more

Discover trench art at Compton Verney
Leamington Courier, August 25th

Compton Verney gallery near Kineton is displaying a selection of Warwickshire-based 'trench art' - items made from the by-products of 20th and 21st century warfare. The collection includes decorated shell cases, carved sections of a propeller, rifle...Read more

Trench art: relics from a grim reality
Edmonton Journal, August 23rd

The veteran is gone, but the souvenir sits in the collection of the National War Museum in Ottawa and is a favourite of historian Tim Cook. It's one of the many pieces of trench art that survived the war, mementos fashioned by soldiers from the...Read more

Warwickshire gallery exhibits a different take on the First World War ...
Coventry Telegraph, August 22nd

A different take on the First World War commemorations can be seen at a Warwickshire gallery which shows the creativity of people in the worst conditions. From Ammunition to Art: Trench Art from the First World War is on at Compton Verney art gallery...Read more

First World War soldier's son "overwhelmed" to receive his trench art
Your Local Guardian, August 19th

Almost a century after it was created, a piece of trench art made by a soldier during the First World War has finally been presented to his son. Corporal Ernest Turtle, from the Royal Engineers, crafted a guard house from the case of a German shell...Read more