Tuesday 1 April 2014 by Yi Jiang. No comments
Education at the Memorial, News

Thank you to everyone who submitted their guess for this week. As promised, here is the answer:

It is a button hook – a popular and necessary item between the 1890s and 1920s, used to pull buttons through buttonholes. They were particularly useful when the garment or footwear was tough and unyielding. 

This one, remarkably, has been fashioned from pieces of a crashed Zeppelin airship. Items from airships, especially Zeppelins, were very popular souvenirs during the First World War and afterwards. The Zeppelins were used by the Germans during the war as bombers and scouts, and killed hundreds in raids over Britain and elsewhere. Massive, silent, and seemingly straight out of science fiction, they were the ultimate terror weapon of the day. When one was shot down, people would travel considerable distances to view the crash site and scavenge for pieces of the wreckage.

This Australian recruiting poster appeals to the outrage of the Zeppelin raids on civilians.

One such person was the Australian Arthur Milbourne Lowe. He made this button hook, and several other items of 'trench art' such as hat pins and letter-openers, from the metal he found at the crash site of a Zeppelin shot down over England. In each of these objects he used colourful celluloid sections between the metal pieces to represent medal ribbons and battalion colour patches. Having assembled the many pieces, Lowe contoured the handle of this button hook to give a Zeppelin-inspired shape.

Lowe was born in 1879 in New South Wales, and had been a veteran of the Boer War. He was working as an electrician when he enlisted in the AIF in September 1916. Lowe arrived in England in March 1917, where he spent a year with the 5th Motor Transport Company.

Souvenir hunters scavenge the wreck of a Zeppelin in Britain.

It was during this time he collected the souvenir metal. In March 1918 he embarked for the Western Front, but a month after arriving in France he was admitted sick to hospital. Due to vision and knee problems, he was classed as "B2" fitness (not enough for a combat role) and returned to England. A year later he was back in Australia, but was not discharged from the AIF until February 1920.

The Germans stopped their Zeppelin raids in 1917. Improved air defences and increasingly advanced aeroplanes had reduced their advantage, and the losses of these once seemingly untouchable airships had become unsustainable.

A Zeppelin caught in searchlights over London.

<> At some crash sites, public access was prohibited, and certified souvenir material sold to raise funds for supporting the soldiers.

Other objects by A M Lowe

Letter opener
Hat pin