|Photograph: AWM Collection Caption: Trench art kitchen scoop : Sapper S K Pearl, 5 Field Company Engineers, AIF|
While the name may imply that these items were being made within the trenches during battle, the majority of items were actually produced during soldiers’ ‘off time’, either between battles or recovering from serious wounds in hospitals.
|Photograph: AWM Collection Caption: Trench art photograph frame : Lieutenant W C Thompson, 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps|
1. The Alleviation of Boredom: creating trench art was a good distraction from the discomforts of war and it helped many soldiers to pass the time and occupy their minds and hands.
2. Relaxation: creating something often helped soldiers to ‘switch off’ from their fighting role and it was often implemented as a therapeutic activity for wounded soldiers recovering in hospitals. It also provided wounded soldiers with a positive way to contribute to the war effort with many of their handmade items being sold for fundraising.
3. The Creation of trophies and talismans: artworks were often created with specially chosen materials that held particular value or symbolised a military victory or success. Other items might also serve this purpose and British anthropologist Nicholas J. Saunders has studied the production of talismanic bullets engraved with a soldier’s name in the belief that it would protect him (Saunders 34).
4. Identification: Within the battlefield itself signs and ‘mascots’ were sometimes produced that stood as a symbol for a particular group or unit. For example, at the entrance to the Catacombs, Hill 63 (an extensive underground dugout) Australian troops erected a Kangaroo ‘mascot’.
|Photograph: AWM Collection Caption: A group of 7th Field Company of Australian Engineers at the entrance to the Catacombs - a system of tunnels built into Hill 63, in the Messines Sector. Note the cut out kangaroo silhouette at the top of the tunnel.|
6. The Maintenance of humanity: The desire to scribble and decorate things and to interpret the outside world through forms of art is part of human nature. Perhaps during times of war- a potentially dehumanizing activity- maintaining something innately human becomes increasingly important and as such trench art may be seen to represent an expression of humanity in extreme circumstances.
|Photograph: AWM Collection Caption: Trench art paper knife : Private A J Hinchley, 1 Battalion, AIF|
References/ Further reading:
- Saunders, Nicholas, J. “Trench Art”. History Studies 53, 11 (2003): 32-37.
- Slade, Lisa. “Trench Art: Sappers and Shrapnel”. Artlink, 35, 1 (2015): 21-25
- Bageant, Joe. “The Trench Art of World War I”. Military History, 21, 5(2004): 62-68