Staff Picks – material culture

(The following is a combination of several Instagram posts written in the spring of 2019 by Meghan O’Donnell, #teampeirs student assistant from 2016-2018.  Meghan is currently working on a PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.)  

wooden Commanding Officer sign with Royal West Surrey lamb insignia painted at the top.

Commanding Officer sign which was hung outside of Peirs’ dugout on the western front. This item was on loan to Gettysburg College’s Special Collections and College Archives for exhibit throughout 2018.

It’s hard for me to think of one item in the collection that had a more immediate impact on me than this one. To see this wooden sign, so perfectly preserved after years hanging outside of Jack’s dugout and sitting in storage, was to be transported briefly to the Western Front. I could visualize more clearly than ever before Jack sitting at a table, composing one of his letters home with just a candle keeping away the darkness.



Brown paper envelope with a hand-written label reading H.J.C.P.'s 1914-1918 Maps, Souvenirs, etc. exactly as I found them. All interesting for Posterity.

Label, written by Jack’s wife, Eirene, and affixed to an envelope of documents from the collection.

The Manila Envelope, “All Interesting forPosterity”: At first, this tattered brown envelope was of little note to me. But what I came to love most about it is the phrase written by Jack’s wife that was meant to keep Jack’s letters safe. It made me realize how much Jack’s family valued his wartime service and how much they wanted his descendants to remember his sacrifices. What I love about it is that it clues us in to how his loved ones conceived of his time at war.


Trench map featuring the Hargicourt area of France with trenches corrected to December 15, 1917.

Hargicourt Special Sheet, parts of 62c N.E. and 62b N.W., corrected to December 15, 1917.

This is one of the most stunning pieces we have in the collection, I think. I love how worn it is. You can see its deep creases and the marks of the blue pencil with which Jack marked HargicourtMap_detailimportant locations. It’s easy to imagine him studying it in his dugout or folding it open and closed in the trenches. It’s another one of the pieces that allows us to feel more connected to his physical experience of the war.



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