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Image of a German spiked helmet

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8 Peculiar Battle Trophies Taken From the Front

By Paul Cornish, Senior Curator
  • 1. Wallpaper from a German dugout

    This section of wallpaper was taken from a German dugout. The handwritten inscription reads 'Taken from wall of Bosche Dug Out near Estrées, 6.2.17'. It was probably given to Lieutenant H E Etherington as a souvenir. German dugouts were generally better developed than those of the British and French. Most had electricity, telephone systems, piped water, and drainage and sewage systems – some were even heated.

    EPH 8262

  • 2. Cavalry bugle

    This German cavalry bugle of the 3rd Guard Uhlan Regiment was captured during the Battle of the Marne in September 1914. German cavalry regiments - especially the Uhlan - had fearsome reputations, so trophies like this were highly prized by British and French troops.

    EPH 5790

  • 3. 'Death's Head' lance pennant

    All German Army cavalry units carried lances fitted with a pennant. The 'Death's Head Hussars' carried lance pennants displaying the skull and crossbones, like the one pictured here. This pennant was captured during the Battle of the Marne in 1914.

    FLA 426

  • 4. Trench dagger

    This German trench knife was taken during the Battle of the Somme by British Corporal Mark Lambert of the 16th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment – the 1st Bradford Pals. Lambert engraved his initials and the word 'Somme' on the handle. Men could only keep what they could carry in their kit and often sold their battlefield trophies to officers able to send packages home or to soldiers behind the lines who had access to storage. Selling their trophies was also a way for soldiers to make extra money.

    WEA 3092

  • 5. German 'Pickelhaube'

    This German spiked helmet, or Pickelhaube, was taken by British Lieutenant Jack Best during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Trophies and souvenirs were often scavenged from the battlefield but in some of the major offensives, like the Somme, soldiers could sometimes take them directly from enemy troops. These helmets were the most sought-after trophies and could be sold at high prices.

    UNI 288

  • 6. Madsen light machine gun

    Captured machine guns were often painted with details of the unit that had taken them and then sent home as symbols of victory. This Madsen light machine gun was captured on the Somme by men of 16th Rifle Brigade.

    FIR 8045

  • 7. Drumsticks from the Battle of the Somme

    These drumsticks were taken from a German dugout at Fricourt on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. They were found by Captain Eric Carus-Wilson, a Royal Engineers signals officer in the 51st Brigade, 17th (Northern) Division.

    EPH 3143

  • 8. German Gewehr 98 Rifle

    Canadian Captain R H Webb took this rifle as a souvenir after losing his own weapon and engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a German officer. Engraved on the rifle are his name and 'Beaucourt 1916' - the place and date of the rifle's capture.

    FIR 7100