There was certainly a fascination about anything to do with shell, shell cases and fragments of shrapnel amongst the souvenir hunters and servicemen of the day. They were after all, the superweapons of the era.
I have a QSA to 22519 Trooper William Nicholas Pinch Coleman of the Commander in Chief's Bodyguard which came with a copy of a newspaper clip (I do not know the publication from which it is taken, but may be able to trace by the tobacconists' location!) ) with the following report:
"Mr. W. N. P. Coleman, who has recently returned from South Africa, has brought home some very interesting relics of the Transvaal war in the shape of shells used by both armies. The mementoes have this week been on view in the window of Messrs. Pellow Bros., tobacconists, and consist of a Boer 15-pounder which was fired into the camp at Elandslaagte on April 10th ; a British 15-pounder, which was picked up by Mr. Coleman at Peter's Hill, near Ladysmith on February 28th, and a fragment of a shell from the Boer's "Long Tom."
I would like to think that the 15-pounder shells were duds!
I wonder what regulations were in place for bringing these battlefield souvenirs of ordinance back into camp and then back home overseas.
Were they rendered harmless by Armourers or sneaked back home?
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This extraordinary photograph shows the haul of trophies brought home by Captain George Frederick Whitmore, Volunteer Active Service Company, Suffolk Regiment. The collection includes everything from Mauser & Lee-Metford rifles, to Krupp & Creusot shells, to Mauser cartidge clips, to pompom shells, to Boer bandoliers, to a Z.A.S.M. bell, etc., etc. Also a considerable collection of Zulu spears, shields, knobkerries & beadwork, and various hunting trophies. Even a Kruger tea cup.
The two unfired 75 mm Creusot Q.F. shells (segment & shrapnel) may well have been live.
Clearly officers had a very large baggage allowance..!
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Two Krupp 60 mm Mountain Gun shells, fired into Mafeking.
One with applied copper shield, engraved with the crest of the Holmden family and: "MAFEKING 5lb shell fired into Cannon Kopje during the memorable 7 months siege of above 1899-1900. Brought home by SURGEON CAPTAIN F.A.A. HOLMDEN". Annotated photograph of Holmden below taken from Taylor, "Souvenir of the Siege of Mafeking" (1900).
The other with punched lettering to upper driving band: "5 PR BOER SHELL FIRED INTO MAFKING [sic] DURING THE SIEGE 1900".
The latter is signed on the base: "J. GERRANS".
On 6th December 1899, Mafeking Town Councillor J. Gerrans was injured while extracting the fuse from an unexploded shell. His foreman, Mr Green, had to have one of his feet amputated at the ankle as a result of the blast. A Mr W. Smith, who was passing Gerrans' workshop at the time of the accident, was so badly injured that he died that day, shortly after being admitted to hospital. According to the Mafeking Mail, Gerrans did not return to his workshop until 20th February 1900, and even then this was just to have a look around. The second shell shows that Gerrans was extracting the charge from unexploded Boer ordnance so he could sell projectiles on as mementos of the siege. The date "1900" also implies that he continued this practice after the fatal accident. Baden-Powell noted: "Gerrans’ shop for coach-building and iron-working was an important workshop for us in the defence, for here our guns were furbished up, repaired, and mounted on serviceable carriages. And Mr Gerrans himself is a leading light among the citizens, and is loyalty personified".
An article in the Washington Bee of 15th November 1902 reports that Gerrans has made an ingenious clock from a Boer Long Tom shell that has been presented to Joseph Chamberlain.
Letter from Robert Bradshaw Clarke URRY, Mafeking Town Guard
Sunday 17th Dec.
Church at 20.30 a.m. About 30 men of Lord Bentinck’s troop marches to church. Polo match in afternoon. Weather oppressively hot, so did not attend. Went to the hospital to visit the sick. Saw Goodyear, Gerrans and Martin. Goodyear is laid up with a bullet wound right through his thighbone and is getting on nicely. Gerrans who is a blacksmith, suffering from the effects of an explosion. There is a regular craze here for collecting unexploded shells and seeing that the Boers have fired about two thousand shells into the town, the number of unexploded shells is large. The first thing one does on securing an unexploded shell is to endeavour to have the charge extracted, a very dangerous proceeding. However, Gerrans had successfully drawn the charges of several shells. Although he had been warned of the dangerous nature of the work, he did not seem to realize that there was any danger in it and on about completing the extraction of the contents of a 94 lb shell, it exploded, killing a man named Smith, who happened to be passing at the time and shattering the foot of Gerrans’s man. Gerrans had some of his fingers blown off and his legs were riddled with particles of shell. He will not lose any of his limbs.
"J. GERRANS" on base of second shell.
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"Boer War Trophies", photographed by R.E.E. Gell, Newcastle, Natal (with Dutch annotations on reverse).
The British 15-pdr B.L. shrapnel shell (with time & percussion fuze) in the centre has been painted with a scene depicting a Naval gun in action during the Siege of Ladysmith (Umbulwana in the background), and has the title "HANDY MAN AT LADYSMITH". Note: this was not a type of shell used by the Naval Brigade.
Collecting bits of shell was a craze throughout the War but most intense during the sieges, because there was nothing much else to do.
As a boy, I was offered an unexploded 4.7" naval shell which had turned up behind Spioenkop - but my Dad declined to drive back to Durban with it in the boot of the car.
The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.