Month: January 2019

Souvenirs of War

November 2018 marked 100 years since the end of World War I. We spent the previous four years remembering the course of that war, marking the many battles that were fought and honouring those who were lost. Then we were able to remember the end of the war on Armistice Day, and the enduring hope that sprang up with the silencing of the guns at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.

Getting back to regular life after spending so much time overseas in drastically different conditions was not an easy transition to make. What we now refer to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and treat with therapy and medication, was then medically termed “shell shock”, a recognised disease of sustained or intense stress, which was treated in ways that ranged from ground-breaking psychiatric care, to quackery, to absolute neglect. Within the military, especially from 1917 onward when so many servicemen were presenting with stress-related behaviours, shell shock was treated as a symptom of personal cowardice. The military response to traumatized men was shame, pain, torture, and sometimes execution.

Despite the horrors on and off the battlefields, by the end of 1918, optimism abounded and people were determined to commemorate the war, hoping that such a scale of destruction would never be witnessed again. A myriad of Armistice mementos became available, including postcards, handkerchiefs, and memorial crockery. Many soldiers scavenged their own souvenirs and returned home with the enemy weapons, flags and pieces of shrapnel.

Others, however, had more artistic leanings and created their own unique pieces to remember what they had seen and been a part of. The Whanganui Regional Museum holds a number of these souvenirs of war that were incorporated into everyday life to keep the memory of war alive, although the names of the soldiers who made them are unknown.

1. hand grenade ink well

Souvenir ink stand from World War I, incorporating components from England and France. WRM ref: 1967.166.1

One such piece is an ink well made from remnants of battles, with the pieces collected in France and England. The base is made from teak wood that came from a torpedoed ship in Southampton, and four bullets that came from France. The hand grenade in the centre also came from France and was carefully hollowed out and the top removed to create a reservoir for ink. The aluminium band around the base was sourced from the first Zeppelin that was brought down in Essex, a feat managed by pilot V Robinson of the Air Squadron near the New Zealand Convalescent Depot at Hornchurch, in Sussex, UK.

A matching pair of decorative ashtrays were made from the cases of German shells.  The ends of the shells were cut down to resemble military service caps, and each was decorated with a regimental badge. One, made in May 1915, bears the regimental shield of the Essex Regiment. The other made, made in 1917, bears the regimental shield of The Buffs, the Royal East Kent Regiment.

ashtrays

Two ashtrays made from German shells and decorated with British regimental badges – The Buffs and Essex on the right.  WRM Ref: 1969.106.6-7

These unique souvenirs were kept by the soldiers and their families until they were donated to the Museum in the 1960s, and now we use them to help tell the stories of World War I and keep the memory alive. Lest We Forget.

Sandi Black is the archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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Golden Lotus Shoes

For centuries the definition of beauty in women has been defined by different cultural norms. Wearing neck rings to elongate the neck, stretching earlobes, inserting plates into lips, piercing and tattoos are just some of the ways that women have altered their bodies to become what is culturally defined as beautiful.

In tenth century China, the practice of binding female feet was considered the height of beauty and lasted until the mid-twentieth century.

There are many stories as to how the practice started. One tells of an empress with a club foot, who insisted all women in court bind their feet so that hers became a model of beauty. Another is about an emperor wanting a concubine to bind her feet to resemble a crescent moon, thus enabling her to dance on a decorated golden lotus he had made. She was so graceful that upper class women imitated her, making the practice popular throughout China. A third is that the sheath shape of the bound foot resembled a lotus bud. The term “golden lotus” came to be given to bound feet. The swaying gait caused by the tiny steps taken by women with bound feet was considered erotic and labelled the “lotus gait”.

2. bound feet

 A Chinese woman’s feet that were deformed by binding when she was a young girl. Image sourced through Public Domain.

The binding was carried out on girls between the ages of four to seven, usually in winter as no anaesthetic was used and the foot would be numbed by the cold. First the foot was soaked in a mixture of herbs and animal blood to soften it. The foot was then drawn down straight with the leg and the arch would be broken to accommodate the toes. The toenails would be cut back and the toes broken and forced under the foot before being tightly bound with a bandage soaked in the same animal blood and herbs. Over the course of the next three years or so, the foot would regularly be unbound, cleaned, beaten to soften it, the toenails recut and the bones often rebroken and rebound tighter each time to achieve the smaller size.

The perfect foot size or golden lotus was 10 cm, a silver lotus was 13 cm and an iron lotus was 16 cm. The smaller the foot, the more desirable and eligible for marriage a woman became.

To accommodate the feet, many types of “lotus shoes” were made. A woman would have a selection of shoes for different occasions. She might have a pair for daytime, for her wedding, higher ones for bad weather and even funeral shoes.

1. museum collection

 Golden lotus shoes from the Museum collection. Manchu flower bowl shoes are at upper left.

There are five pairs in the Museum collection, each highly decorated with exquisite embroidery in silk and metal threads. One pair has attached wooden heels. Separate heels were sold which could be attached to shoes when the wearer wanted to walk in wet or muddy streets. A larger pair resembling normal shoes is known as a Manchu “flower bowl”, made to accommodate a larger unbound foot. These shoes were like ordinary slippers and would be attached to a high sole, which made their wearers walk like women with bound feet. Traditionally, Manchu women did not have their feet bound.

In the nineteenth century an anti-foot binding society initiated campaigns against the practice of foot binding, fines being imposed upon those who continued it. While in some very remote areas the practice continued until the 1950s, by this time foot binding had virtually disappeared. Today only a few elderly women with bound feet survive.

 

Kathy Greensides is collection assistant at Whanganui Regional Museum.