The Trench Art of Sapper Pearl

12 October 2011 by Sue Ducker

The Memorial holds a fantastic collection of First World War trench art made by Sapper Stanley Pearl, who served in the First World War and later worked at the Australian War Memorial. Stanley Keith Pearl [6756] enlisted at 21 years of age on the 9 November 1915 at the Tasmanian town of Ulverstone.  On his service record, [held at: National Archives Australia] when asked about civil convictions, he responds that he was once convicted of riding a cycle on a foot path! The recruiter did not seem to mind and Pearl was accepted into the AIF.  He embarked from Sydney on HMAT Orsova on 11 March 1916 and arrived at Alexandria April that year.  From there he was sent to France with the 2nd Div reinforcements 8th Field Coy Engineers and by August was a Sapper with the 5 Field Coy Engineers where he served until the end of the War. During Pearl’s time in France he produced the most amazing and highly crafted items of trench art, much of which he later donated to the Memorial.   Trench art was made by soldiers in the trenches from any available material and ranged from small brooches for sweethearts to large sculptures made from brass shell casings.  The creation of these items helped occupy the soldiers between bouts of major action and gave an outlet for artistic expression.  RELAWM14153 - Trench art table napkin ring : Sapper S K Pearl, 5 Field Company Engineers, AIF

Sapper Pearl made this napkin ring at Armentieres in January 1918. The ring is a piece of 6-inch "dud" shell found lying near Favreuil. The stand is a nose-cap of a Newton rifle-grenade and the feet are 18-pounder shrapnel pellets dropped short near Le Touquet.  Trench art chrysanthemum vase : Sapper S K Pearl, 5 Field Company Engineers, AIF

This chrysanthemum vase was made by Sapper Pearl at Thy-le-Chateau from a French 75mm shell-case and embellished with the Royal Artillery badge and a French artillery button. The shell-case was souvenired from a French battery south of Villers-Bretonneux, while the handles are 1-inch copper steam pipes split down and flattened out. The latter were purloined from a German locomotive which formed part of the Armistice indemnity and were removed at night with a hack saw in spite of a guard.  Trench art clock : Sapper S K Pearl, 5 Field Company Engineers, AIF

This alarm clock was made by Sapper Pearl at Ypres in March 1918. The case was made from two 4.5 inch shell cases picked up on Christmas Day 1917 at the Australian batteries at Le Bizet. The foot support is a clip of an 18 pounder shell. The arms are detonator wells of rifle grenades and nose-caps. The hands are from a gun-cotton case, while the alarm cover is an American-made 18 pounder nose-cap with a 'whizz-bang' driving band. The Rising Sun badge belonged to one of Pearl’s mates who killed at Noreuil, while a button from the Pearl's greatcoat and a German bullet surmount the whole. These are but a few examples the trench art made by Sapper Pearl in the Memorial’s Collections.  They are a great illustration of the skill and talent of their maker.  After the war Stanley Keith Pearl became one of the original employees at the Memorial here in Canberra where he worked as a carpenter and senior tradesman from the Memorial’s opening in 1941 until his retirement. 

To view more items of Sapper Pearl’s trench art search our Collections Database.