“Trench art” is a term used to describe objects made from battle field debris and by-products of modern warfare. The term “trench art” was coined during World War I, although similar items have been produced in other conflicts too, and World War II was no exception.
The material used in trench art usually depended on what was available, and the ingenuity of those individuals making the trench art. The most common materials used for trench art are shell casings and bullets, although other battlefield debris was used as well. While a lot of trench art is decorative, some trench art has utility, such as shell casings made into to candle stick holders, ash trays, vases, tea pots, pitchers, cups or beer steins.
While trench art suggests that it was made by front line soldiers to pass the time between battles, it would appear that most of it was made behind the lines by servicemen who had access tools and were experienced in the craft of metal working. Prisoners of war also manufactured trench art from available materials as way of passing the time.
Trench art was also made by local civilians for sale to soldiers (i.e. cigarette lighters, matchbook covers, etc . . .), and other individuals. This cottage industry arose during war, continued after the war, with trench art-type objects being created for sale as souvenirs to the visitors to battlefields and cemeteries. This cottage industry continues to this day.
A good friend of mine was attending an air show, and saw the above 50 caliber bullet being sold as a souvenir, and picked one up for me. It is a spent shell casing with a milled bullet that serves as a bottle opener. Great conversation piece when having friends over for a beer. Trench art? Absolutely. Trench art does not need to decorative.
7th Fighter Command officers, pilots, ground crews, and support staff had their own special trench art as shown below. It is a casting of Iwo Jima with Mt. Suribachi, the words “Iwo Jima” and a P-51D Mustang. Inscribed across the wings of the P-51D are the words “Sun Setters” and the 7th Fighter Command insignia.
Initially, these castings were made from aluminum from wrecked Japanese planes on Iwo Jima. The aircraft aluminum was melted down and poured into a mold. After that supply was exhausted, aircraft aluminum from wrecked American aircraft was used. It is not known how many of these castings were made, but it is safe to assume that if you were stationed on Iwo Jima, and wanted one, you were provided with one.
The 7th Fighter Command named themselves the “Sun Setters” because they saw their VLR missions as an integral part of bringing an end to World War II.
These castings appear periodically on eBay and normally sell for some where between $100.00 to $200.00, although bidding can sometimes exceed $200.00. They are a nice piece of trench art, and a unique piece of World War II history for the historian, collector, or aviation enthusiast.