Since the age of ten, Peter Anderson has been fascinated by the events of the First World War. His interest was sparked by his father, a career soldier, and Peter’s memory is now full of remarkable facts and poignant stories. As a published historian with a knack of finding missing war graves, Peter now lives in Folkestone, a town famous for its war history, and holds one of the largest collections of WWI memorabilia in private hands.
Peter kindly agreed to talk to me about his collection, which boasts approximately 150 objects and several hundred newspapers, and he came armed with a few of his favourite treasures –
Brass Pocket Watch circa 1916
‘This pocket watch was found at the Somme by an American friend of mine. I have no idea if it’s British, German or French, nor any idea who owned it, but it is very symbolic of the times. One of the big social changes of the First World War was that men went from wearing pocket watches on the whole to wearing wrist watches. And the reason is very simple. If you have a pocket watch and it’s in your pocket, it takes time to take it out, look at it and put it back but if you have a wrist watch you just turn your wrist and that’s it.’
On the front line, timing was everything and being able to check the time without significantly moving your position was a momentous development.
Helmets were another essential piece of equipment and this original Brodie was found abandoned on the Somme battlefields. Peter say’s ‘a friend of mine found it and I persuaded him it would be better in my collection that his! You can still see some of the chalk from the Somme underneath. It’s very medieval in design and it’s heavy. It
would have had a coat of paint, khaki maybe, and a strap. Sometimes they had divisional markings on them but that was basically it.’
A Dead Man’s Penny
For far too many soldiers, the battlefields were where they spent their final moments. Their sacrifice was honoured by the making of a memorial plaque more commonly known as a Dead Man’s Penny and if you follow Peter on twitter (@flanders1914) you may recognise this image as his avatar.
In an eerie echo from the past, this plaque was made for a Private Peter Anderson who was killed in action on 9 July 1915. For obvious reasons Peter says he had to have it, even though he was no relation. Private Anderson held the acting rank of Corporal when he died and a white sticky label on the reverse of the plaque states that he was born in Forfar, the county town of Angus in Scotland made famous by its ‘Bridies’, a meat pastry snack.
A faint circular stamp containing a ‘w’ on the reverse of the plaque shows that ‘it was made at Woolwich Arsenal, where the majority of workers were female. There’s also a number on it and there is some debate about what that number actually means. I think it was the number of the worker who made it and it’s known that some women actually made their own husbands plaques which must have been horrifying. The memorials were originally made at Acton by an American company and there were nearly a million made for soldiers serving in the British Forces.’
Many thanks Peter, I really enjoyed talking to you and greatly appreciate your permission to take and use images of your collection.
Peter is currently unemployed but has a real talent for bringing the past alive and if you would like him to take you on a WWI walking tour around Folkestone please email him at email@example.com You can also read his series of ‘WWI in three minutes’ on his blog ‘Scarce Heard Amongst the Guns’.