Monday 25 June 2007 by Dianne Rutherford. 9 comments
Exhibitions, Lawrence of Arabia and the Light Horse, Our exhibition, The Light Horse

I normally reside in the Research Centre, working with Mal and Robyn, but for the past five months I have been working in the Memorial’s Military Heraldry and Technology section (MHT). MHT's collection includes uniforms, medals, souvenirs, trench art, weaponry, vehicles and other interesting items. Some items from the MHT collection have been selected for display in Lawrence exhibition. Of the items selected, my favourites are the beadwork items made by Ottoman Prisoners of War in British POW camps.

Ottoman prisoners made many items whilst in captivity. It kept them occupied and was an avenue for them to earn money to supplement their rations and purchase items they required. Some prisoners even sent them home as gifts for family members or used them to barter with other prisoners.

The Memorial's collection of Ottoman prisoner beadwork includes snakes, lizards, bags, bookmarks and jewelry. All were handmade with small glass beads using either beaded crochet method or weaving on small looms. Crochet beaded snakes were the most popular of the beaded souvenirs created in the prisoner of war camps. Nearly half the Memorial's collection of beadwork items is made up of snakes. This is probably for two reasons, firstly a snake is basically a tube, a very easy shape to make with bead crochet. Secondly, snakes were a symbol of good luck in parts of South East Europe, so the prisoner of war snakes could have had a symbolic importance for their makers.

There are two basic designs beaded on the backs of the snakes: zigzag or diamond designs. The bellies of the snakes are generally white, with beaded text in black or dark blue. Sometimes other colours were used - the Memorial holds one snake with a gold belly and white beaded text. The text on the belly usually says ‘TURKISH PRISONER’. However this does not mean that all the prisoners who made the items were ethnically Turkish. The Ottoman Empire stretched from the Balkans to the Sinai. This means that the makers could have been Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Greek, or Eastern European.

It seems that wherever there were major prisoner of war camps holding Ottoman prisoners, beadwork items were made. Beadwork is known to have been made in camps in Egypt, Great Britain, Salonika, France, Mesopotamia as well as other locations. The Memorial holds a snake believed to have been made in Malta in 1915. Unfortunately, for most beadwork items, the information of where they were made has been lost as it wasn't passed down through the families of the people who bought them. As there are similarities in designs and technique between camps and countries, it can be difficult to know where the items were made.

The Memorial holds an example of a snake with a beaded lizard in its mouth. The lizard was made using the same techniques as the snakes. The lizard was specifically made to be sewn into a snake's mouth. When donated in 1990 the lizard no longer had its legs (although a small section of one of the legs is still attached), so it was originally mistaken for a fish.

Four beaded items have been selected for display in our exhibition. One of the more beautiful and colourful of the beadwork snakes will go on display. It has a variation on the diamond design on its back, which is similar to a traditional Turkish sock pattern. An interesting crochet beaded bag has been selected with the image of a lion rampant. The bag is associated with Mrs Eleanora Mary Eedy of Botany, NSW. Her husband, William Ferrier Eedy and four sons, Peter, George, Ronald and Neil all served in the First World War. Ronald was killed in action at Passchendaele on 22 October 1917. A loom-work bookmark belonging to Major Oliver Hogue ('Trooper Bluegum'), who served with the 6th and 14th Light Horse Regiments and the Imperial Camel Corps, has also been selected, along with a necklace collected by the Australian War Records Section in 1919.

It has only been recently that we have been able to find out more about the Turkish beadwork. In the last few years books have been published that have very useful information about the craft. The two books in question are ‘Bead Crochet Snakes: History and Technique’ by Adele Rogers Recklies and ‘Trench Art: an Illustrated History’ by Jane A. Kimball.

Dianne Rutherford

Comments

I own a turkish one like in the picture - 1915 :)

I have a beaded snake turkish prisoner 1919 mainly green pattern I believe belonged to grandpa in law. Few beads missing any suggestions for repairs please? jacquie.

Hi Jacquie, I am not a conservator so am not certain of the best way to make repairs on the snake. Depending on the situation and the item's condition it sometimes can be best to leave things as they are. If there are only a few beads missing then it may be safest not to attempt repairs. Just make sure the snake, if moved is well supported so as not to cause further damage. Make sure it is kept out of UV light and away from humid areas (e.g. in or near kitchens and bathrooms) and from areas where you have major temperature changes (e.g. on a cabinet near a heater or air conditioner). My experience of the snakes is that they are suprisingly durable, but still need to be treated with great care. However, if you would like to get it looked at and and possibly repaired. The Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material have a directory of conservators in private practise that you can search by name or location: http://www.aiccm.org.au/index.php?option=com_civicrm&Itemid=88. I think it would be your best bet as they are trained professionals. Cheers Di

Sirs, I have a snake (Turkish Prisioners 1917)approximately 1.6 meters long. I have no need for the snake and would like to sell it. Any ideas? Regards, MacKay Smith.

Interesting website, i have bookmarked your site for future referrence :)

Hi, I also have one, a beautiful large version, not flimsey like some, and it has a 4 leggard lizard with a tail in the snakes mouth. Mine is black bodied, with coloured diamonds on the back, a white belly with the date and Turkish Prisoner of War. The lizard is mainly green but has been beautifully made to with bead design work. I love it! My relative was given it by a Turkish chap he stood guard over.

Very nice sounding snake Deb! Unfortunately our little lizard (in the snake mouth) has lost its legs! Although it still looks pretty good despite that fact. I love all the snakes, even the really small ones (the smallest I saw was around 37 cm long). The large ones though are so impressive, especially when in good condition, and have an impressive weight to them. It is great to hear about other examples of them. Cheers Di

Hi Dianne, My mum and I have been researching our family history and what a lovely surprise it was when I Googled 'William Ferrier Eedy' to discover this blog. We knew that a relative of ours had donated objects to the AWM some years ago, but it was so great to read a whole blog post about them and how they were made. William Ferrier and of course Peter, George, Ronald, Neil and Eleanora Mary are all relatives of ours. William Ferrier is my great, great grandfather. Thank you Dianne. Can't wait to see what else we can find out!

Gemma, thanks for your message, it is great when things turn up unexpectedly. An image of the bag is on our collection database - you may have already come across it. If not, you can find it by searcing the name Eedy, or the accession number REL29669 in the search screen (/search/collections/ ). We also hold Mrs Eedy's Female Relatives Badge (REL29667) and Mothers and Widows Badge (REL29668) in the National Collection and you can see photographs of them on our collections database too. Cheers Di