Souvenirs and Spoils

How do we create, collect and display objects to remember our history? What can souvenirs and war trophies tell us about the experiences of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (DCLI) and Light Infantry (LI) regiments deployed abroad? This exhibition explores three different types of objects which hold memories:

Souvenirs – Objects collected by soldiers to remember places where they have served.

Commemorative objects – Objects specifically made to memorialise a campaign or battle experience.

War trophies – Objects taken, sometimes by force, and displayed by the regiment to represent a victory. These are also known as ‘spoils of war’.

Objects collected during conflict can be memorials of violent or traumatic events. Some commemorate the strength and resilience of individuals. Others are reminders of the resourcefulness and creativity of people during times of hardship. The souvenirs and spoils that soldiers have chosen to bring home play an important role in how we remember some of the most challenging moments of history.

Souvenirs

Soldiers in the DCLI and LI were deployed all over the world. For many, this was a unique opportunity to travel and experience other cultures for the first time. Soldiers took home souvenirs from their time abroad to remember where they had been and the people they met, in the same way that people do today when they visit new places. They would also send souvenirs to family and friends to assure them that they were safe and enjoying themselves whilst they were away.

Souvenirs can give us an interesting insight into the relationship between deployed regiments and the civilian population. Enterprising local civilians, aware of wartime markets for souvenirs, would sell objects to the serving soldiers, or to relatives and tourists who visited battle sites after a war. Civilian populations often endured severe economic hardship due to military occupation and ongoing wars in their homeland. Souvenirs stand as a reminder of their resourcefulness during these times.

Reflect: Have you collected any souvenirs? What memories do they bring back when you see them?

Trench Art Aerplane

Model Aeroplane

This model aeroplane is a piece of ‘trench art’ made from bullet cases. World War 1 soldiers would make decorative objects out of battlefield debris to pass the time whilst living in the trenches. A cottage industry emerged in areas devastated by war, as local civilians also made use of the huge supply of empty shells (metal ammunition cases) and shrapnel to sell souvenirs to soldiers and tourists, who came to the battlefields after the end of the war. It is likely that a skilled civilian made this aeroplane, as it is such a delicate piece of work. Trench art historian, Nicholas Saunders, has said that these objects trap “a spark of the human spirit in the extremes of total war” (2000).

 

Jerusalem Souvenir Book

Jack Martin, who served in the Territorial Army, gave his sweetheart Edna  this souvenir book for Valentine’s Day in 1918. This album illustrates several religious landmarks in Jerusalem and includes descriptions of the history of the city translated into English, German and French. Before cameras became easily portable and widely accessible, albums like this were popular to purchase to remember a place. Soldiers often sent souvenirs back home to their loved ones to comfort them. Gifts like this album make it seem as if the soldiers were on an adventurous holiday rather than fighting in a war. 

Souvenir Tin From Rouen, France

The inscription on the back of this tin reads “No. 6 General Hospital / B.E.F. / July 1915 – February 1919”. Perhaps it belonged to an injured soldier from the British Expeditionary Force who was treated at this hospital? Or perhaps someone who worked there? Rouen was one of the primary bases for hospitals that were built to treat commonwealth troops, and so would have been an exciting melting pot of people and cultures during World War 1. The lid depicts a painting by the artist Isidore Pils. Claude Joseph Rouget, an army officer during the revolutionary wars, sings La Marseillaise, a song he wrote that would later become the French national anthem. The maker of this tin might have deliberately chosen to represent the military icon to appeal to the soldiers they hoped to sell to.

Dayak Sun Hat (Kenyan or Kayan)

This hat was likely made by someone from the Kenyan or Kayan tribes, ethnic groups within the Dayak people of Borneo. It is made from palm leaves and woven rattan and decorated with delicate beadwork characteristic of Dayak craftmanship. Elaborately beaded hats, sometimes with added tassels and multicoloured fabrics sewn onto the edges, are traditionally worn during festivals or religious ceremonies. The Sarawak Rangers, which were mostly Dayak, fought alongside the 1st Battalion Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and Somerset Light Infantry regiments during the anti-communist insurgency in Malaya (1948-1960) and during the Brunei Rebellion in 1962. Perhaps this hat was given as a gift by one of the Dayak to a British soldier, to mark a shared experience? Or it might have been purchased from a local who was selling souvenirs.

Embroidered Cushion Cover

This cushion cover was made by local women in Jamaica. It was bought by Donald Howard Simmons who completed his National Service with the 1st Battalion of the DCLI. The 1st Battalion was posted in Jamaica from 1954-1957, during the transfer from British colony to independence. It has been recorded during many different conflicts and campaigns that soldiers would often make embroidered items themselves as a form of occupational therapy, whilst they recovered from injuries, or to entertain themselves in their spare time. However, this object indicates that there was also a market for civilians to sell embroidered souvenirs to the soldiers. Local women in Jamaica were able to use their domestic skills to create economic opportunities, designing embroidery with the DCLI insignia specifically to appeal to the regiment.

Locket From Ypres (Dutch: Leper)

This locket contains a paper fold-out showing photographs of historic sites in Ypres, a town in Belgium. The British troops, who had difficulty pronouncing the French name, called the town ‘Wipers’. The crest of Ypres is embossed onto the front of the locket. This souvenir was probably purchased during the early years of the war by a DCLI soldier who was stationed in the town. Ypres was the site of several battles between the Germans and Allied forces during World War 1 and was in ruins by the end of the war. This locket holds a visual memory of how the town used to look in 1913. One of the landmarks photographed was Les Halles aux Draps (The Cloth Hall), a historic building which was destroyed by shellfire.

Rhinoceros Foot

This object is a bit of a mystery. It is a rhinoceros foot, made into what may be either a wine cooler or an umbrella stand. We don’t know exactly where it is from or who collected it, but it is likely to have been brought back from South Africa during the time that the DCLI were there during the late 19th or early 20th century. Big game hunting was popular amongst wealthy European colonists in South Africa, and high-ranking officers in the regiments stationed in the area may have also joined in with the sport in their leisure time. Sometimes when soldiers were on patrol in new territories, they might encounter dangerous animals and would kill them for their own protection. It was popular amongst colonists to turn big-game prey into hunting trophies to decorate their homes and to remember the exotic animal they had faced.

Commemorative Objects

It was common for high-ranking officers to commission decorative objects to be made to commemorate a regiment’s campaign abroad. Sometimes relics would be retrieved from the battlefield and turned into ornaments to commemorate tragic events. Silver or polished brass was often used to make the mementoes look grand and celebratory, so that they could be shown off to impress people back home.

Their production required great skill and expense. Therefore, commissioning commemorative objects was a gesture of respect and gratitude for the actions of their fellow servicemen. These types of souvenirs inspire regimental pride by recording acts of heroism, teamwork and resilience. However, they can also hide the brutal and bloody reality of war behind a shiny surface.

Reflect: Which wartime events do you think should be commemorated with an object?

Horse Hoof Snuff Box

It was common during the Victorian era for the hooves of horses that had been in battles to be made into trophies. Horse hooves could be made into decorative and functional items, such as candlestick holders, ashtrays, ink wells and snuff boxes. A horse hoof trophy would memorialise a war event and serve as an affectionate tribute to the horse that died.

This box commemorates the death of the French Prince Imperial, Louis-Napoléon, who died on patrol with soldiers from the 32nd Regiment of Foot, during the 1879 Anglo-Zulu war. The inscription on the box lid matches the memorial cross erected by Queen Victoria at the site of the ambush near the Ityotozi river in South Africa. A hoof from Trooper Abel’s horse, who died alongside the Prince, was removed and made into this memorial relic. Overconfident in their artillery strength, the British vastly underestimated the Zulu kingdom’s resistance, which resulted in great bloodshed and unnecessary loss of life.

Read more about the horse hoof snuff box

Watch Sarah Waite discuss the hoof snuff box in this video

Dragon Trophy

The 1st battalion Light Infantry (LI) were stationed in Hong Kong between 1975-1977 to keep the peace in the British colony. LI soldiers worked with the Royal Hong Kong Police to control illegal immigration from China and Vietnam. Soldiers enjoyed the opportunity to practice helicopter and seaborne operations on the outlying islands, which was not part of their usual combat training programme. This trophy was made to commemorate the regiment’s time there, during the Chinese year of the Dragon. The dragon is an important symbol for many people in Hong Kong, representing good fortune, power and wisdom. It was used as a symbol of Chinese Imperial authority and was included on British Colonial Hong Kong’s coat of arms until 1997 when the region was transferred to the People’s Republic of China.

Brick From the Siege of Lucknow

This is one of the bricks from the Residency in Lucknow, India, which was under siege during the Indian Uprising (also known as the Indian Mutiny) of 1857; a conflict remembered differently in Britain and India. The Residency was a complex of buildings which housed the Resident General, the British representative within the Nawab court, who ensured colonial rule in the princely state of Awadh (Oudh). During the Siege, 32nd Regiment of Foot soldiers and their families were trapped within the walls of the Residency for 148 days. Diary entries from Lady Julia Inglis record the appalling conditions that those inside were forced to endure.

31st June “Our own room, or rather Mrs Case’s, was so oppressively hot and crowded, that Miss Dickson, the children and I slept on the roof”

27th July “Every kind of insect, fleas etc., abounded, and rats and mice ran about the room in broad daylight, the former of an immense size.”

2nd September “I went to see Mrs Cowper this morning, and heard from her that five babies were buried last night”.

Officers, Thornton, Dyer and Haines, of the Light Infantry, collected this brick as a souvenir after visiting the site in 1995. They presented it to their regiment to commemorate the experience of those who endured the siege.

Learn more about the Siege of Lucknow

War Trophies

Soldiers often took home objects as trophies of war to represent their conquests and victories abroad. Many of these objects were scavenged from battlefields. Others were taken, sometimes forcibly, from the defeated army or looted from cultural sites. Whilst this practice is illegal today, historically, it was common and even encouraged within regiments, particularly those involved with colonial campaigns. For museums today, these objects, known as ‘spoils of war’, can sometimes be controversial, representing moments of trauma and violence.

Historian Louise Tythacott (2015) argues that spoils of war promoted ideas of British military superiority and garnered support for the Empire. War trophies would be displayed in regimental museums to encourage an espirit de corps, or a zeal for battle. During 1917-1919, the British government launched official touring exhibitions of World War 1 trophies to stir up emotional support for the war and raise funds (Wellington 2019). War trophies encouraged the continuation of fighting and memorialised wartime triumph after the battles were over.

War trophies have a significant presence in our collection at Bodmin Keep. While they record our regiment’s military actions, they also prompt us to consider the experience of the defeated armies.

Reflect: How do you think museums can display war trophies without endorsing fighting or the taking of spoils in today’s society?

Burmese Reclining Buddha Statue

This statue was looted by DCLI soldiers from a temple in Wuntho in Burma (today Myanmar) in 1891. The regiment was deployed to put down local uprisings against British rule following the third Anglo-Burmese war (1885-87). The statue was taken after a military action to drive out the rebels of the leader Tsawbaw’s tribe from their heavily defended stockade outside the town. The reclining Buddha is an iconic image in Buddhist art. It represents the Buddha during his last illness, before entering the parinirvana; the final death of someone who has reached nirvana in their lifetime and has been released from the cycle of rebirth. This statue is decorated with reflective pieces and gold leaf. Although it has suffered severe damage, it was clearly made with the utmost reverence by a highly skilled craftsman. 

View the object in 3D

Boxer Pistol

This double-barrelled pistol was taken during the Boxer Rebellion in China (1899-1901), an uprising against British and other foreign presence in the country. The counter-campaign launched by an international alliance was ruthless; tens of thousands of Chinese people were killed, and their cultural treasures looted. A British officer defended their actions stating, “It is one of the unwritten laws of war that a city which does not surrender at the last and is taken by storm is looted” (Bickers and Tiedemann 2007 p.54). Weapons make particularly effective war trophies because they show the threat posed by the enemy and therefore emphasise the victorious army’s strength in overcoming that danger.

Light Switch Cover and Bell

This bell and light switch were taken from President Kruger’s private railway coach by a soldier in the DCLI. Kruger was the President of the South African Republic from 1883 to 1900. As the balance of the Second Boer War shifted in 1900, Kruger fled the South African Republic and travelled by rail into Mozambique to avoid capture by the British. However, his coach was raided and he was exiled and did not return to British occupied South Africa before his death in 1904. The National Army Museum has called the Boer war ‘the first modern war’ because of the array of new technology used. Railway lines played an important role and so were frequently attacked by both the British and the Boers.

Mau Mau Pistol

This home-made pistol was captured by a soldier either in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) or in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) during their deployment in Kenya (1955-1957) to quell the Mau Mau rebellion. The Kenya Land and Freedom Army (known as the Mau Mau) launched an uprising against the European Settlers, British colonial forces and the Kenya Regiment. They wanted to assert themselves as the leaders of an Independent Kenya and to regain land which the Kikuyu tribe, who formed the majority of the Mau Mau, had been steadily deprived of by the British colonists. To arm themselves, the Mau Mau had to make their own weapons, like this pistol. With inferior artillery, the rebels resorted to guerilla warfare and terrorism.

 

The British government has been criticised for the use, and subsequent cover up, of excessive violence, brutality and torture in response to the Mau Mau’s guerilla tactics. Official statistics indicate that 11 000 rebels were killed, with 1090 convicts hanged by the British (BBC 2011). The Kenya Human Rights Commission has stated that 90 000 Kenyans were tortured or executed, and 160 000 kept in ‘appalling conditions’; in other words, concentration camps. However, only 32 white settlers and 600 members of the security forces were killed during the emergency.

Nazi Dagger

At the end of World War 2, allied troops took home Nazi weapons, flags and equipment as trophies. This is a Luftwaffe Officer’s ceremonial dagger. The Luftwaffe was the name for the German Air Force. This dagger is probably an authentic Nazi weapon but the production of fake war trophies was a substantial new industry that developed after the end of the war. Allied soldiers who were occupying Germany would buy Nazi memorabilia made from the left-over stock produced by factories and these souvenirs could then be passed off as captured war trophies.

Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) Hat

This hat was worn by someone in the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), an organisation which fought against white minority rule during the Rhodesian Bush War (1964-1979). The bird became the symbol of independence. It appeared on sculptures found in the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe and so inspired national pride. This hat was probably captured by a soldier in the all-white Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) which was formed to put down the rebellion. However, by 1980, ZANU leader Robert Mugabe had been elected to lead a new government in the renamed country of Zimbabwe and the RLI disbanded.

Trench art for Mindfulness

Trench Painting

This painting was taken from a World War 1 German trench at the Somme. It has been painted on a piece of hessian fabric, perhaps cut from a sandbag that was lining the dugout. It is hard to make out the signature of the artist in the bottom right corner. The tranquil landscape depicted by the painter could not have been more different from the view of the ruined battleground at the Somme. Perhaps whoever made this work found an escape from the horrors of the trenches through art.

References and Further Reading

BBC (2011) ‘Mau Mau Uprising: The Bloody History of Kenya Conflict’. BBC News. [online] Available at:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12997138 [Accessed 14/04/20].

 

Bickers, R. & Tiedmann, R G. (2007) The Boxers, China, and the World. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.

 

Inglis, J. (1892) The Siege of Lucknow: A Diary. London: James R. Osgood, McIlvaine & Co. [online] Available at: https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/inglis/lucknow/lucknow.html [Accessed 09/04/20].

 

National Army Museum (nd.) ‘Boer War’. Explore: National Army Museum.  [online] Available at: https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/boer-war [Accessed 14/04/20].

 

Saunders, N. (2000) ‘Bodies of Metal, Shells of Memory: ‘Trench Art’, and the Great War Re-cycled’. Journal of Material Culture. 5:1 p.43-76.

 

Tythacott, L. (2015) ‘Trophies of War: Representing ‘Summer Palace’ Loot in Military Museums in the UK’. Museum and Society. 13:4 p.469-488.

 

Wellington, J. (2019) ‘War Trophies, War Memorabilia, and the Iconography of Victory in the British Empire’. Journal of Contemporary History. 54:4 p.737-758.