The North East’s First World War Trench Art

Our Servicemen made trench art for a number of reasons. For some it provided a distraction when not in action, and some pieces may be little more than conflict graffiti, but even graffiti can be a very informative art form. For others it became a much consuming hobby. And for the skilled it could present an opportunity for making a bit of spare cash. Trench art was also made in hospitals, and metalwork turned into domestic ware was often used to raise funds for the wounded.


A bullet and dice pendant

Some trench art, such as rings, brooches or crucifixes, may have been highly personalised, treasured and even talismanic. Larger pieces which eventually made their way into homes across the region acted as both household items in the kitchen, fireplace or on the mantelpiece, as well as souvenirs of the war. The original owners have now passed away and the story of the war’s trench is now mostly held in family oral histories.


Local Research

Regional research may shed light on some important aspects of conflict and social history.

How did these pieces come to the North East and who really did make them? Were they intended as gifts, souvenirs or memorials to lost comrades or friends?

What has been the story of these items over the past 100 years? Were they prominently displayed or used by the veterans or their kin? How did extended family members feel about these reminders of the war?

And what happened to them as the war-generation passed away and as people’s views of the war changed during the 20th Century? One hundred years on are they now a useful and valued means of engaging with the war and its sailors, soldiers and airmen, and also perhaps the women who served overseas?

Where to See Trench Art

Trench art can be seen in a number of museums across the region. Four are well worth a visit, each presenting its trench art differently and in very contrasting and interesting locations:

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At the Heugh Battery, Hartlepool, there is an interesting array of donated trench art. You can also learn about locally made trench art commemorating the German naval bombardment of the town on 16 December 1914, killing 130 people and injuring another 500.