Curator’s Corner- Artifact Spotlight: Trench Art Shot Glasses

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Trench art, 20mm brass shot glasses, donated by SF1c Ralph E. Nichols of the 73rd Naval Construction Battalion (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

The men of the Naval Construction Battalion (NCB), better known as the Seabees, are known to have collected and brought home many souvenirs and war trophies from WWII. The Seabees of the 73rd NCB were no different. They spent most of their time during WWII on the islands of Munda and Peleiu in the South Pacific, known only as Island X to their loved ones back home. They worked on projects such as malaria control, road construction, construction for beach landings and airfields, and built camps including housings, hospitals, churches, and mess halls.

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Seabees from the 73th NCB playing baseball or watching a boxing tournament in their free time (73rd Seabees cruise book, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

Nights the Seabees were not in foxholes being bombed by “Washing Machine Charlie” (a term given by U.S. allied forces to Imperial Japanese aircraft that performed nighttime missions and bombings over allied occupied islands in the South Pacific), they would enjoy recreational activities such as watching movies and participating in sporting events such as boxing tournaments, baseball or basketball. Many of the men also began to create trench art in their spare time. The Seabees have always been noted for their ability to improvise and make something out of any pile of scrap.

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Trench art souvenirs illustration from the 73rd Seabees cruise book (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

The souvenir craze first hit the 73rd NCB on Guadalcanal with the abundance of Imperial Japanese shells, sea shells, and grass skirts. As they island hopped around the Pacific Ocean to Roviana, Sasseville, Munda, Banika, and Peleiu, they kept the desire for souvenirs with them. With projectile casings all around them as they worked, they spent their down time collecting them and crafting trench art.

Ship Fitter First Class (SF1c) Ralph E. Nichols of the 73rd NCB donated his collection of memorabilia to the museum in the 1970s which included a set of 6 trench art brass shot glasses made out of 20mm projectile casings from cannon shells. The bottom of each shell casing is marked “S.M.C. 1943 20mm M21A1”. They were most likely manufactured by the Symington Machine Corporation in Rochester, N.Y. Each shell casing measures a height of 2 inches.

Each shot glass is marked inert which means they are chemically inactive. As material potentially presenting an explosive hazard (MPPEH), every piece of ordnance donated to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum must go through the process of becoming inert certified before being displayed in the museum.

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum for the grand opening of two new exhibitions, WWII Pacific Theater and Cold War on Saturday January 21, 2017 and see the different types of trench art and trophies the Seabees brought home with them.

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Meet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

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