WW1 Artefacts Project

Welcome to the Manchester Museum Youth Boards WW1 artefacts project. We are hoping to take a look at some highlights from the museum’s collection that relate to the First World war in various ways, the objects and people we are interested in don’t always relate to the events of 1914-18 in the most “traditional” sense, but have a great deal to teach us about the period never the less. Amongst the horrific losses of the war, there were many scientific, medical and socio-economic changes, and also many extraordinary characters with hugely interesting stories to tell! Hopefully through this project we can tell the stories of some of those people whose activities between 1914-18 have left their mark on the museums collections to this day!

Edward carter Preston: The Artist and medallist

Edward Carter Preston was an influential medallist and sculptor from Liverpool who revolutionized medal making for fallen British servicemen who served in the First World War. Prior to Carter-Preston, medals were decorated with images of violence and war realism, which was a macabre gift to many of the bereaved families and a continual reminder of how and where their loved ones had died.

Edward Carter Preston innovated the art of medal sculpting by depicting images reminiscent of Greek heroes, lions, doves and laurels to commemorate the dead. These ornamental designs were a far cry from the harrowing images usually displayed on medals during this period.

In 1931, Carter Preston was commissioned by Giles Gilbert Scott to produce statues to decorate the Liverpool Cathedral which was then under construction, and took him 30 years to fully complete.

There is a significant and noticeable difference when comparing Carter Preston’s innovative and new brand of ornament on medals, a heroic and idealized image of war bravery.


Francis Buckley and the Paleolithic flints at the Red Line Trenches, Coigneux.

A photocopy of a handwritten account of the excavations at Coigneux, by Francis Buckley

A photocopy of a handwritten account of the excavations at Coigneux, by Francis Buckley

Francis Buckley, educated in law at Oxford University, became known during the 1920’s and 1930’s as one of the foremost experts on the British Mesolithic – specifically the flint industries of the central Pennines, being the first person to acknowledge the two distinct industries of flint blade production in the area. He was responsible both for the re-excavation of old sites and the discovery of new ones. The majority of his finds were split across many museums, including the British Museum, and of course Manchester Museum. While this does mean that many more people are able to access the collections, it also means that the collection is highly fragmented and therefore harder to study and analyse as a whole.

Original section drawing of trenches at Coigneux by Frances Buckley

Original section drawing of trenches at Coigneux by Frances Buckley

During the First World War, Buckley served with the 7th battalion Northumberland fusiliers, as Captain Buckely and in 1920 he published a book “Q.6.A and Other Places, recollections of 1916, 1917 and 1918”. In this book he documents an encounter with a lieutenant-colonel G R B Spain while on divisional rest near St Omer. Buckley recalls that Spain taught him a great deal about the “stone ages” and that they together went looking for flint artefacts. It was after this encounter that Buckley began looking for flint artefacts, both during the war in France, and once he returned to Britain.

Most of Buckley’s flints from France came from the Red line trenches at Coigneux, near Arras, as trenches were being dug there under his command, he was able to retrieve any flint artefacts that may appear. He was also able, as can be seen from the photo above, to record the trenches as sections, which now gives us an idea of how deep the flints were buried, giving them some context they would other wise be lacking.

Palaeolithic flint flake from Coigneux

Most of the flints from Coigneux date from the Palaeolithic period, and are hand axes, flakes, scrapers or knives. Although they are spread across the country in many different musuems, Manchester is lucky enough to have several examples, some of which are on display in our Manchester Gallery, in the collectors section.

The Chinese Labour Corps

One more of our stories of World War 1 is that of the Chinese Labour Corps. These men were involved in the war from 1916 and stayed in France until after the end. Unlike other regiments formed from parts of the empire at the time, The Chinese Labour Corps had no combative involvement.

During the fighting, it was realised that additional labour was needed to supplement the work done by militants. Both the French and British governments separately began recruitment drives in China. Thomas J Bourne as sent out and soon the first ship with 1088 Chinese labourers was sent over. By the time of the armistice there were in total approximately 140,000 Chinese labourers, 100,000 with the British and 40,000 with the French plus around 100 translators.

The work that these labourers carried out varied, and ranged from unloading ships, repairing roads and railways as well as digging the trenches for the troops to fight from. The camps were segregated due to the presence of combatants and non-combatants from other parts of the empire. There were some skilled workers, who were stationed with the Tank Corps performing riveting and engine repair. However, despite this, the treatment of the labourers who had volunteered to come over was exceedingly poor. The workers were referred to by numbers which they had been given rather than by name. During the war they were given payment, however this amount was very little. After the war, labourers were not permitted to stay in Europe, however about 5,000 to 7,000 did manage to remain and this formed the part of the basis of the strong Chinese community in Paris.

In the museum we have a ceremonial umbrella, which is known to have been used by labour corps during the First World War. Little information is known about it, however due to its ornamental nature (picture below) it is likely this was awarded as a sign of gratitude, possibly to an individual or group of people. There were five Chinese labourers awarded meals of Meritious Service, as they were not permitted military medals, due to not being combatants. All of those serving in the British Chinese Labour Corps did get medals as a tribute to their service.

Ceremonial Umbrella

The umbrella is really beautiful, as although the fabric has deteriorated over time, the framework is still intact and the colours bright. It was donated in 1920, just a few years after the end of the war by Mr Thomas Walolu and is currently kept in the Anthropology stores.

umbrella 2

The lasting legacy of the Chines Labour Corps has mostly been forgotten. Though it is a story that is slowly coming to light 100 years later. If you would like to learn more about this story, visit one of these pages:




One thought on “WW1 Artefacts Project

  1. Pingback: First World War Archaeology | Ancient Worlds

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