Press release issued: 15 April 2009
Anthropologists, historians, collectors and manufacturers from around the world will be meeting this week in Ypres for the first ever conference on trench art and other such war souvenirs, co-organised by Dr Nicholas Saunders of the University of Bristol.
Such items could be sent home to parents and sweethearts, traded with comrades, or sold. Some were simply memorabilia, others were deeply spiritual objects that embodied the soldiers’ wartime experiences or expressed their religious feelings.
Dr Saunders said: “Despite popular opinion, the majority of First World War trench art items were made by civilians during the inter-war years (1919-1939), mainly by returning refugees who produced them from battlefield scrap in order to raise money.
“These objects were sold mainly to battlefield pilgrims and tourists, particularly the bereaved widows who had lost their husbands and sons during the conflict. Today these objects are being revalued, and studied for the silent memories they have kept hidden for almost a century.
“The Ypres Conference is the first ever to be held, and its international coverage demonstrates the importance of these long neglected objects.”
Although trench art takes its name from the trenches of 1914-18, it has been made from ancient times until today. The conference will also consider souvenirs from the Second World War and the Bosnian conflict.
The conference, Collecting War: Trench art and souvenirs manufacture and representation, takes places from Friday 17 April to Sunday 19 April at the In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres.