Mystery from WW2

This small object - about the size of a lipstick - was rescued by Aida in Portugal. She cleaned it carefully and fell in love with it as she ‘resurrected’ it. Who is the beautiful woman and why is she there? Is she part of a trap to distract an unwary guard?

Aida has made enquiries to various museums around the world but the mystery remains. Can anyone out there shed light on it?

Aida and I have some theories.

Below are Aida’s images and description. Please help us.

WW2 mystery object, top removed, Biro for reference

WW2 mystery object, top removed, Biro for reference

Woman through viewfinder in cap, fingertip above for reference.

Woman through viewfinder in cap, fingertip above for reference.

GERMANY in base

GERMANY in base

Aida holds the mystery object

Aida holds the mystery object

Aida’s description.

It is a cylinder , diameter 14mm, the size of a lipstick. (it is very similar to the Goring capsule with cyanide, displayed in the book " the 3rd Reich in 100 objects" written by Mr. Roger Moorhouse)

On the upper part there is a mini lens.

Looking through this lens, we can see a lady in underwear (1930?).

This photo doesn't change, in spite of, at first sight, I considered that chance, that it would change when making turn a little wheel on the outside of the cyinder.

I was surprised by the shot I heard when I made the little wheel turn.

the shot I heard was made by a piston, inside the cylinder.

From what I describe, I thought that this could well be a weapon to explode on the face of the person looking through the lens or perhaps a poison capsule, disguised as sex toy. .

On the base of the cylinder there is engraved the word: GERMANY.

Thank you for any guidance. I am completely at a loss!

Kind regards


The disconnect

On my beach walk this morning, I thought about the disconnect between Frank Simon’s world of trauma in the Messines stunt, and his time in the real world on leave in Ireland. Did he talk to Mamie about bodies blown apart, and grown men quaking and unable to speak with shell shock? I think not.

He went on picnics and felt the hurt when his friends rejected Mamie - ‘Of Emily I hardly expected this’. Did he speak of this to his mates back in the trenches? I think not.

There was a huge emotional gap between the horrors of the trenches - unspeakable - and the painful ostracism of the one he loved. Both hurt. But both were beyond normal conversation - one too awful, the other too trivial.

He was caught in an emotional no-man’s-land. A conversational loneliness.

Perhaps that is why he writes with such tenderness about Odette. Someone to listen.

'Simply stunning on so many levels'

Fabulous feedback from Judy Bolton, Head of Information Services at St Paul's School Bald Hills. The fact that it was unsolicited made it all the sweeter. I can't stop smiling!!

On 27 Oct 2017, at 2:34 pm, Judy Bolton <> wrote:

Dear Judy

I recently purchased “Trench Art…” for our School Library. I just wanted to email you to say thank you; it is a truly magnificent book! For one who loves the printed word, I couldn’t get enough of it! I would like to forward to you the email which I sent to our Social Science department.

This book has been catalogued and will be available for borrowing in the next few days after it is processed.

 It is one of the most impressive NF books I have read. It is simply beautiful. After  a description of the object, there is a paragraph on how it was constructed, then a comment (on its unique qualities etc), then it gives information on the owner (including their service record, sometimes a letter…) I was spellbound – alternating between near-tears and then amazement at the beautiful work and the sentiments expressed therein.

 It is a winner, IMO! It should be great for the Year 9 unit, but just fascinating for a read for interest too!

It is simply amazing in so many respects, and the research that must have gone into its production is incredible. Simply stunning on so many levels.

Thank you so much

 Judy Bolton

Head of Information Services

'Over the top 4 times in 5 days' - the story behind Pearson's banjo

This is an extract from my book TRENCH ART. 

It's the story of Kenneth Herbert Pearson, a gentle youth 'of infinite good temper', who went over the top 4 times in 5 days . . .

I have his small banjo, made from pennies and brass from the battlefield. This is the story I found when I researched the inscription.

Note: I've lost the citations in the cut and paste - they're all there in the book.

Pearson's banjo

The banjo has a compartment for snuff made from five stacked pennies. It is 7.8cm in length and 3cm across the body.

The banjo is attached by a chain to a container for matches made from copper and brass and measuring 5.2cm by 2.3cm by 1.5cm. The frets of the banjo serve as the strike for matches.

A smoothed and shaped 1917 penny on the front of the match container is inscribed ARTISTS REGIMENT 1ST 28TH K H P.

The back of the fretboard is stamped with the number 766615.


The round body of the banjo is made from 5 stacked pennies. The three middle pennies have a hole cut from the centre; the top penny swivels as a lid. 

The pennies are held together by five visible rivets, with only one going through to the top penny allowing it to swivel. 


The match container is an oval cylinder made from a piece of copper joined at the front under the penny by a seam of solder; it has a curved piece of copper for the base.

The penny is cut to an oval and smoothed; the last digit of the date is blurred - most likely 1917.
The letters of the inscription appear to be done by hand rather than stamped.


This is the piece that stirred my emotions when I first held it. It is smooth and heavy,  much handled and worn. It is a beautiful piece - functional, original, handmade, and personal. I am moved by knowing that its owner once held it as I do now. 

I was intrigued by the Artists Regiment. 

I found their website and learnt that the regiment was formed by artists in the mid 1800s to face a perceived threat from France. It consisted of ‘painters, sculptors, engravers, musicians, architects and actors’. 

By the 20th century, according to Wikipedia ‘The Artists Rifles was a popular unit for volunteers.... and recruitment was eventually restricted …... It particularly attracted recruits from public schools and universities . . .'

I’d studied the war poets at university in the 1960s. I went looking for the ones I knew, and there was the most famous one of all – Wilfred Owen. He was in the Artists Rifles. He was killed in action a week before the end of the war. 

With his poetry as emotional context, I went looking for KHP who held this banjo so many years ago.

KHP 766615

The Research

Rank: Private
Service No: 766615
Date of Death: 30/08/1918
Age: 19
Regiment/Service: London Regiment (Artists' Rifles) 1st/28th Bn.
Grave Reference: VI. B. 34.
Cemetery: Bagneux British Cemetery, Gezaincourt
Additional Information: Only son of Herbert Andrew and Kate Elizabeth Pearson, of Redditch, Worcs. (CWGC)

There were initials only on the banjo so I used his serial number to find his name in the CWGC. This gave his name and next of kin which led to his records in ancestry sites before the war. 

I also found two obituaries, one in du Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour and one in The Artists Rifles Roll of Honour. 

From one of these I learnt he had gone to Felsted School in Essex. I emailed the school explaining that I was researching Kenneth Pearson. 

A few days later the archivist replied with details of Kenneth’s time at the school including his areas of study and his exam results. 

Using information from all these sources, I eventually found his story - of a gentle lad with a hearing impairment who studied the classics and died on the battlefields of Flanders.

Kenneth Herbert PEARSON 1899 - 1918

Kenneth Herbert Pearson was born in Redditch, Worcestershire on 11 May 1899, the only son of a bank manager and his wife. He had two older sisters.

He grew up in what we would call today a middle class family. His father was a bank manager in the Midlands of England. The family lived in the bank building in a respectable area of Newbury with a live-in ‘lady help’ to assist with the housework.

Education was important to the family. In 1911 twelve-year-old Kenneth was at school. And more unusually so were his  sisters, eighteen-year-old Kathleen and fifteen-year-old Dorothy. 

Kenneth was educated at Newbury Grammar School and Felsted School in Essex.

Kenneth had a scholarship to study at Felsted. In his first exams in 1915 he came top in Scripture and fourth in Maths. He also studied English, French, Latin, History and Geography - a classical education.


He was not particularly interested in sport but was actively involved in a range of other school activities.

As the war progressed his exam results began to slide dramatically and in 1917 he left Felsted to join the Artists Rifles.


Felsted School describes him in its Roll of Honour: 

Kenneth Pearson was in house d from January 1915 (age 15) to July 1917 (age 18).

Date of birth 11 May 1899.

CV: Artists' Rifles. Died of wounds received in France, Aug 30 1918.

WW1: Died.

A quiet boy, handicapped in many ways by slight but permanent deafness, but entering with zest into all the details of our routine and enjoying them with infinite good temper, K H Pearson spent his two and a half years here from January 1915 to July 1917.
Then military service claimed him and he joined the Artists.
He had been in France 11 weeks with them when the Brigade played its part in the great advance. Four times in five days he 'went over the top' with them, and on August 29th was badly wounded in the head; unconscious, he was carried into the CCS, and there died next day. 

He was the only son of H A Pearson Esq. of Redditch.


After training in England, Kenneth Pearson went to France with the Artists in June 1918. 

By August the Artists were part of the offensive that would eventually end the war – the ‘great advance’ mentioned in his school obituary. As part of that great advance, the Artists joined the attack on Thilloy near Bapaume to recapture it from the Germans.

I found three accounts of the attack on Thilloy from 21 to 30 August 1918 when Kenneth Pearson died: an obituary of a soldier in the Artists who was wounded on the same day; pages from the war diary of the Bedfords who fought alongside the Artists; and an extract from the New Zealand Medical Service describing the attack at Thilloy and its aftermath. 

This is my understanding of what happened that week, based on those accounts.


Early in the week there were heavy morning fogs. The Artists along with other regiments launched a frontal assault on the trenches around Thilloy, finding their way blind down a ravine and up a ridge on the other side. As the fog lifted, advance troops found themselves in open space - easy targets for the entrenched enemy. They were driven back by heavy machine gun fire and snipers firing from behind the ridge. 

They were surprised by the level of resistance. Some German troops were taken prisoner with little resistance but others were fiercely defending their positions to allow their fellow soldiers to retreat.
Over the next few days the story was repeated. Assaults were launched only to falter under sustained resistance from machine gun fire and expert snipers, always with heavy casualties.

Kenneth Pearson ‘went over the top four times in five days’ as attacks were repulsed by machine gun fire. Many were killed and injured.

Kenneth Pearson was wounded on 27 August, the day the battle to reclaim Thilloy came to a climax. He suffered a gunshot wound to the head and was evacuated to the Casualty Clearing Station at Doullens. 

He died there three days later on 30 August 1918.


The New Zealand Medical Service adds a sad postscript to his story.

As the shelling subsided on the night of the 28th, a strange silence fell upon Bapaume - away to the eastward was seen the glare of burning dumps, and just before dawn our patrols penetrated the town to find it abandoned.

The German troops withdrew the day after Kenneth Pearson was mortally wounded.

In his book The Hawke Battalion, Douglas Jerrold writes of that week near Thilloy: 

 . .  . it is justifiable to suggest that the idea of . . . isolated frontal attacks was itself an unwise one . . . two days later, the advanced posts, for which so much had been vainly sacrificed, fell without a shot being fired.


Wilfred Owen – deeply affected by seeing his comrades killed in battle - wrote this poem in 1918.


Move him into the sun -

Gently its touch awoke him once,

At home, whispering of fields unsown.

Always it woke him, even in France,

Until this morning and this snow.

If anything might rouse him now

The kind old sun will know . . .

When he writes so poignantly ‘Move him into the sun . . . ’ I think of Kenneth Pearson, the quiet boy ‘of infinite good temper’ who fought for his country and died of his wounds at 19.







2nd mutiny at Blargies?

Apologies for the play on words.

The first mutiny at Blargies Prison Camp is well documented. Several Anzacs were court-martialled. Two soldiers from the NZEF were subsequently  executed by firing squad. The Australians were spared because the government of the day would not approve executions. 

There are two watercolours of the British labour / prison camp in the Imperial War Museum. The one below is a watercolour on tin plate by H M Chapman, titled BLARGIES, ARMS, FRANCE, 1917.

Art.IWM ART 16557 a

Art.IWM ART 16557 a

I believe there was a second mutiny at this labour / prison camp, this time by conscientious objectors serving with the 2nd Northern Coy NCC (Non Combatant Corps).

. . . . .

I recently came by a collection of sketchbooks belonging to George Victor Stanley - schoolmaster, Plymouth Brother, conscientious objector - who enlisted in 1916 as a non-combatant prepared to serve overseas.

His sketchbooks contain signed entries from 49 men of the 2nd Northern Coy NCC who served in France from 1916 onwards.

Most were conscientious objectors - Plymouth Brethren, Wesleyans, Congregationalists. Many were well-educated, in professions that qualified for exemption but who chose to serve in the field - often expressing a preference for the RAMC. As stretcher-bearers they could come under fire but would not be required to bear arms.  

Others were non combatant because of their injuries - like Arthur Britton who was wounded at Gallipoli in 1915. He was assigned to the NCC after convalescence. 

One of the sketchbooks is particularly poignant. It was given to 19 year old conscientious objector Ernest Freer, who painted and signed 'Solitude' on 23 Nov 1917.  Was he in solitary confinement? Ten days later, there was a mutiny by the NCC at Blargies. 


The 'burnt records' show that 15 men of the 2nd Northern NCC refused to handle barbed wire at Blargies Labour Camp on 3 December 1917. This was a show of solidarity, perhaps in support of Freer. They believed barbed wire was a weapon of war. This was mutiny.

They were arrested. 

Their charge sheets were identical in essence - that 'he of Blargie on the 3 Dec 1917, when ordered by . . . to load two trucks with Barbed Wire, did not comply with the order.' 

They were held in the Guard Room at Abancourt while they awaited court martial. Abancourt was nearby, at a railway junction on the line between Amiens and Rouen.

At Abancourt, George Stanley took the sketchbook with Freer's 'Solitude' and circulated it among the men in the Guard Room. They'd taken a stand for what they believed in, risking court martial and death by firing squad. Now he wanted a lasting record of their beliefs. On the first page of the sketchbook, he begged them all to write something.

George Stanley

Please all of you put something in this book.

(I want it to be lasting.) 


And they did. They quoted Ruskin and Rossetti, Browning and Longfellow. There were extracts from the Bible and Paradise Lost.

Entries were marked Guard Room Abancourt, 7 December 1917,  Awaiting Court Martial, and signed with names and home addresses. 

Perhaps the most poignant was the last entry - a simple poem by Thomas Hood, where Nobby Clarke underlined the last two lines: 

I remember, I remember, / The house where I was born, / The little window where the sun / Came peeping in at morn; / He never came a wink too soon / nor brought too long a day; / But now I often wish the night / Had borne my breath away.

. . . . .

The sketchbooks are now on the home page. The research is moving. They held together as a group from the time they entered France in 1916 until their mutiny in December 1917. The earlier sketchbooks reflect deep conviction and strong bonds of friendship, at a time when they were rejected by many as cowards.

Comments from Guy de la Bedoyere

Dear Judy

This may interest you.

Out of the curiosity your book inspired I bought the attached item because it's so like Johnson's bracelet. It has faint traces of soldering on the edge so it was probably once an identity bracelet too. I also purchased an example of the host coin which tells me that half the thickness was removed to make the plain face for engraving.

What's instantly striking is that the depiction of the mosque is so similar yet the lettering indicates a different hand involved. The hatching also goes in a different direction. I wonder if these two pieces are evidence for a field workshop in the Baghdad area making these to individual commission? In my one's case the host coin is an Iranian 2000 dinar piece of 1911 but it's the same diameter (28mm) as yours so obviously had been chosen for the same purpose.

That the images are so similar does suggest craftsmen working together and copying a template design. I might have found the building it's based on. The picture attached shows the Sheikh Omar mosque in Baghdad. It's obviously not identical in format but the mosque has the distinctive spiralled minaret and curved palm tree found on the coins. Impossible to prove, but a possibility.

Sadly, Pte F Bates 66396 of the Machine Gun Corps seems to be a soldier with no surviving records so his story for the moment stops there, unlike all the fascinating biographies you uncovered. But you may come across other items made by whoever worked in this little workshop which may eventually tell us more about the when and where and how. These two pieces are too similar not to have been made around the same time in the same place.

Best wishes


Bates Baghdad template 2.jpg

Kolling's German sketchbook

This was an exciting find - a sketchbook by a German officer who served with the Field Artillery during WW1. It starts with his well-ordered dugout in the Winter of 1914 - 1915.



I've added the 31 sketches to my Home page, in the order they appear in the book.

I'd really appreciate help with the German inscriptions enlarged below.

Inside front cover

Inside front cover





Kolling's inscription inside the back cover.

Kolling's inscription inside the back cover.

Henry Ogle's sketchbook

I had an exciting find recently - a WW1 sketchbook with a beautiful watercolour of St Servan.

Henry Ogle sm St Servan.jpg

It was not the watercolour that attracted me most. It was the fact that the sketchbook came from the Military Hospital at Etaples. There were signed and dated sketches from 1917, including one titled 'An Anzac's Dream'.

I wondered if I could trace the artists.

And I did. I found Henry Ogle, who painted the hospital sketch on the opening page. There's a whole book about Henry Ogle and his wartime sketches and journals. It's long out of print but I found a nice first edition. In it, Henry talks about his time at the hospital and the desperate need to keep spirits high among the deeply traumatised casualties from Passchendaele.

I've added Henry Ogle's sketchbook to the home page.


Is this trench art?

This fascinating piece has been treasured by a family at Umina Beach for many years. I find it beautiful and intriguing. It is unlike any of the pieces in my collection but it has some characteristics in common - it is personal, handmade, symbolic, and unique.

Can anyone shed some light on this fascinating piece?

Do you have an interesting item you'd like to share?

If you have an artefact with name and number, I'd love to see it - particularly if it's small and personal, like the talismans in this collection.

I'd like to add a visitors' gallery to the Home page, to showcase these treasures.

I can maybe help with the research - for free of course. Or maybe someone else can if we put it in the visitors' gallery.

Send me an image through the Contact page, with the inscription. I'd love to see it. 

Research notes on Henry Hammond 771 ALH

These are casual notes from my research on Henry Hammond. The formal account is in the body of the book.

This interesting piece spans two wars.

The original piece comes from the Boer War. The WW1 items are added later.

It is part of a collection of items for H.Hammond. It comes in a beautiful old tea caddy along with three photos - uninscribed - and a small prayer book with cherubs on the front.

The collection fascinates me. I know that the trench art will point to the war story of H.Hammond 771 ALH - but what about the other items? The only handwriting is the inscription within the prayer book  'Dear Gladys, With loving wishes from Her Mama’ and the date in a different hand and different ink ‘Jany 1. 1915’

So what can I find from these anonymous items - where the only clue is that they are relevant to H.Hammond 771 ALH?
I start with H.Hammond 771 in the CWGC.

Rank: Trooper
Service No: 771
Date of Death: 07/08/1915
Age: 38
Regiment/Service: Australian Light Horse 2nd
Cemetery: Shrapnel Valley Cemetery
Additional Information: Son of Charles and Mary Hammond. Native of South Australia.
There is no official Boer War record for Henry Hammond in the Australian Archives - but his enlistment form shows he served with the Imperial Bushmen’s Corps until the Boer War ended in 1902. It’s likely that this is where he made the locket with the cutout Queen Victoria fob.
He signs up again for WW1. This is the story from his service records.
Henry Hammond enlists on 2 January 1915 in Blackall – a small town in outback Queensland. He is working as an overseer on a remote cattle station and is described as a drover on the Nominal Roll. He says he is 30 and single and gives his mother in Adelaide as his next of kin.
He joins the 2nd Light Horse and travels down to Brisbane to embark on the Itria for Egypt, where he spends several months in training. He goes AWOL in Heliopolis for three days and has his pay appropriately docked. In August he leaves Alexandria to join the Anzacs on the Gallipoli Peninsula, where he is killed in action a few weeks later.  He is buried in Shrapnel Gully.
The story unravels as I look further into his file. He is 30 when he enlists in January 1915 - but 38 when he dies seven months later at ANZAC Cove.
And it appears he is married. After his death there is a letter from a woman called Helen Scott Hammond from South Australia who claims to be his wife.
I look for a marriage between 2 January 1915 when he enlists and 9 February when he embarks on the Itria - but find none. In fact South Australian records show that Henry Hammond marries Helen Scott in Adelaide in 1910 – five years before he enlists.
I check his enlistment form. Not only does he mark ‘Single’ for marital status - he crosses out the options of leaving one third or one half of his pay to a wife. And he names his mother in Adelaide as his next of kin. He signs the form in his own strong hand. So it is more than a slip of the pen.
Helen Scott Hammond is asked to show that she was in fact married to Henry Hammond and that they were not separated or divorced. She does this and goes on to claim a war widow’s pension of one pound a week from the time of his death. She receives his medals ahead of his mother whom he names as next of kin - with no challenge from his mother when they check with her. So she knows about Helen. When Helen dies intestate in 1947 with no children, the Public Trustee sends Henry Hammond’s medals to the Australian War Memorial.
So here’s the mystery. Why did Henry Hammond leave his wife and travel hundreds of miles to work on a remote cattle station? And then say he was single?
And who was Gladys, who gave him this small prayer book - a childhood gift from her Mama - the day before he enlisted in Blackall?

. . . . .
I look for clues in the most recent photo in the group. I assume this is Henry shortly before WW1 aged 37.

Once again it looks like a family photo. I go back to the South Australian archives.
Henry has three sisters - Olive Louise born 1880, Winifred Muriel born 1882, and Hilda Marjorie born 1887 - and a brother Roy born 1885.
Olive Louise marries a distant cousin Andrew Wilson in Adelaide in 1902.
I have a sudden insight. At last - something to tie the faraway outback town of Blackall to Adelaide. When Henry Hammond enlists in Blackall he gives his occupation as ‘overseer of cattle station’ and his contact as ‘Drew Wilson’.
I check the Queensland archives and find that Olive Louise and Andrew Wilson have two children born in Queensland - Joan Ayre born 1906 and Charles Frederick Dean born 1909. So when Henry Hammond enlists in 1915 he is staying with his sister and her family on a cattle station in Blackall. That could be Olive Louise with six-year-old Charles in the photo.
I look for the second child. Hilda Marjorie marries in 1910 and has a son Jack the following year in Adelaide - he could be the four-year-old with his mother Hilda and aunt Winifred.
So where are they? It’s a real ship - the shadows show it is not a studio photo. They could be travelling down the Queensland coast to see Henry off in Brisbane - but this is my part of the world and the clothes are all wrong. No-one wears coats in sub-tropical Brisbane in January - the height of summer.
I mentally retreat to Melbourne or Adelaide where the weather is famously variable - and go looking for Roy.
Roy Hammond is one of the first to enlist after war is declared in August - he enlists in the Australian Light Horse on 25 September 1914 in Brisbane. He’s a salesman for the Pianola Company. He gives his father as Charles Hammond of North Adelaide - and I think he goes back to Adelaide to see his family and tidy up his affairs before he embarks on HMAT Borda in Brisbane on 15 December 1914.
This is what I think happens. The family - including Olive Louise from Blackall - gathers in Adelaide in late 1914 to farewell Roy. Henry Hammond - veteran of the Boer War - also applies to join the Light Horse. But he is rejected - too old at 37. His younger brother Roy is accepted - he is only 28.
Veteran Henry Hammond devises an alternate path into the Light Horse. He decides to go to Queensland with his sister Olive Louise and take on a new identity. He drops 8 years from his age and becomes an overseer of a remote cattle property. He wants to join the Light Horse instead of the infantry - so on paper he becomes a drover. To maintain his new identity he needs to be a long way from people who know him - and he needs to be single to avoid any awkward questions.

I think the photo could be Henry leaving Adelaide for Queensland and his new adventure. He is buoyant. His sisters are a little excited at what lies ahead. Only his mother beside him is subdued. She has seen him go off to war once before.
I know this is conjecture - but it makes emotional sense. The trench art locket says that Henry Hammond still loves his wife. He didn’t desert her or run away with another woman. Inside the locket is a small smoothed coin - a 1915 halfpenny - which looks like real ‘trench art’ in that it could have been inscribed by hand in the trenches. It has a small crucifix painstakingly stippled on the reverse - and either side of the cross in hand drawn ovals are the initials H H - Helen and Henry.

And the small bone-covered prayer book from Gladys? I think this came from little Gladys Stacy who was born in 1910 - the year Henry and Helen were married. They may even have been her godparents. Perhaps her mother suggested she give it to her Uncle Henry to take with him to the war - and gave it to Olive Louise to give to Henry before he enlisted. Someone wrote 1 Jany 1915 in an adult hand under the original inscription, in a different ink. Henry enlisted the next day in Blackall.
So, a love story after all - of a trooper who fought with the Bushmen's Corps in the Boer War and lost his life at Gallipoli, who carried a locket and a small prayer book with cherubs on the front.