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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The humour and romance from the dark days of war in Southam exhibition
Leamington Courier, January 13th

Also part of the display is what is known as Trench Art – where troops fashioned things such as military ware into art – are two old shell casings with poppy decorations that were passed on to Mr Cadogan's wife Jill by her family. He said: “They've...Read more

Town's military figures honoured with a bang
Belfast Newsletter, January 5th

When it comes to the effect this focus on the town's military ancestors has their pupils, 44-year-old maths teacher Mr Forbes said:“With our kids, it's generated an interest in their family history. “We have kids who, as part of their art projects, are...Read more

John Sewell's This Old Thing
Windsor Star (blog), January 2nd

A: You have a wonderful memento in the form of “Trench Art” which is any military item converted to a useful or decorative purpose. It's a very simple but effective depiction of an olive branch and dove, a well-recognized symbol of peace. The large...Read more

WWI collection displayed at Nicholas-Beazley Aviation Museum
The Marshall Democrat-News, January 2nd

Slanker began his synopsis of the collection displayed in the Museum describing what is known as "trench art," which were pieces of artillery shells fashioned into various depictions created by soldiers fighting during WWI. "You has all this brass from ...Read more

Injured soldier's own thigh bone used for First World War 'trench art'
ITV News, December 11th

Injured soldier's own thigh bone used for First World War 'trench art'. A brooch crafted from a piece of human thigh bone is among the items selected for an exhibition about the First World War at the University of Leeds. Share · Tweet · Plus · Reddit...Read more

'Trench art' displayed ahead of Remembrance Day
Royal Gazette, October 27th

Emblems of respect for soldiers who lost their lives in war, some 12,000 remembrance poppies have been brought to the Island by the Bermuda Legion — and they will be given out, starting this Saturday, in the buildup to Remembrance Day on November 11...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

Trench art: Creativity an escape for soldiers
Lincolnshire Echo, April 30th

But the golden age of trench art, as the name suggests, came in the Great War. Scraps of brass, wood and copper could be found all over the place and with some spare time and a little imagination, these things could be turned into just about anything...Read more