Friday 8 June 2018

Follow the journey of one of the most unusual items in our collection, from its creation and use in the First World War, to its conservation and return to our First World War Galleries at IWM London

The First World War 'camouflage tree' – a metal observation post made to look like a tree. Image © IWM.
The First World War 'camouflage tree' – a metal observation post made to look like a tree. Image © IWM.

The Camouflage Tree

This is a First World War period 'camouflage tree'. The 'tree' was used as an observation post and was made to resemble a pollarded willow.

Photographs

A need to see without being seen

Photographs

A need to see without being seen

During the First World War, both sides on the Western Front became locked in trench warfare. These conditions made it very difficult to observe enemy movements and meant protected observation posts were very valuable. Camouflage meant observers could see without being seen and an armoured tree would protect the observer from enemy fire.

Construction of dummy tree as an observation post.
Construction of dummy tree as an observation post.
Art

The artist's sketch

Art

The artist's sketch

The British Army erected their first armoured tree in March 1916. To build the trees, a military artist would first choose a tree to sketch in no man's land.

An artist's sketch.
An artist's sketch.
Photographs

The replica

Photographs

The replica

This sketch was then used to build an exact hollow replica with a steel core.

Plan of a dummy tree observation post.
Plan of a tree observation post.
Art

Erecting the First Camouflage Tree

Art

Erecting the First Camouflage Tree

Under the cover of darkness, the original tree would be cut down and the new metal tree put up in its place.

A group of British soldiers erecting a 'camouflage tree' under the cover of night. Two men stand at the base, guiding the trunk in to the hole in the ground, while another three men are visible supporting the upper portion of the trunk. There are two men standing to the side, looking on at the task in hand, and another man crouched in the foreground.
Erecting the First Camouflage Tree, 1916, by Solomon J Solomon.
Photographs

Protected in plain sight

Photographs

Protected in plain sight

The observer could then crawl in and watch the Germans in full view, while protected by the tree's steel core.

A model of a sectioned observation post with an artillery observer. The tower is disguised as a tree.
A model of a sectioned observation post.

© IWM

Leaving the museum

The camouflage tree joined our collection in 1918 and it's one of our most unusual items. As we began transforming IWM London in 2012, the tree had to be carefully removed from the galleries.

Conserving the camouflage tree

While work continued on the new galleries, the camouflage tree was cleaned and conserved by our Conservation team.

A new home in the First World War Galleries

As we prepared for re-opening in 2014, the camouflage tree was returned to the museum, bringing its journey to an end. You can see it now in the First World War Galleries at IWM London. 

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