‘The Shot Heard around the World’…

Historical rumours claim that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand owned a piece of silk, bullet-proof body armour, which he failed to wear on the day of his assassination.  Originally the brainchild of priest-turned-inventor Casimir Zeglen, this armour was composed of a combination of organic layers, most notably silk, which had bullet stopping capabilities.  By the early 1900s various different patents of these armours were being sold globally, and were marketed to heads of state and royalty.

We spoke to Lisa Traynor, First World War Researcher at Royal Armouries, about the on-going research undertaken by Britain’s oldest public museum to determine whether this vest could have changed the course of history…

What can you tell us about the significance of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand?
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo, is an event which will forever be associated with the outbreak of the First World War.  In 1914, political relationships in the Balkans were very fragile, most notably due to Austro-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia.  War had been a possibility in this area of the globe for a number of years, due militarism, imperialism, nationalism and the alliance systems. During the late 19th century/early 20th century, many heads of state and public figures had been assassinated, none of which had led to war. The assassination of the Archduke was the final ‘spark’ which ignited these existing European tensions, thus catapulting the world into the age of modern warfare.

FWW Fire Arm Shoot- April 2014_86

Royal Armouries has had various samples of this type of silk armour made, from the specifications laid out in the original patents of the invention © Royal Armouries

Why did Royal Armouries feel it important to carry out this research?
In my previous role as Firearms Documentation Assistant, I stumbled across a Browning Model 1910 pistol (the same type used to assassinate the Archduke). In examining its serial number I realised it was only 516 away from the actual pistol used in the assassination and would probably have been manufactured around the same time. This made me think about the ‘what if?’ scenario surrounding the death of the Archduke. If he hadn’t been killed, would the war have been delayed? I then considered the body armour from the turn of the 20th century and how this might have been achieved.

After months of independent research in international archives and with the assistance of international academics on the subject, I discovered that it was entirely possible that the Archduke may have owned a piece of body armour.  Our First World War team thought it would be interesting to test the theory of silk body armour against the Browning Model 1910, to understand the ballistic capabilities of 19th century body armour against 20th century firepower.

How was the research carried out?
Royal Armouries has had various samples of this type of silk armour made, from the specifications laid out in the original patents of the invention.  We have tested the body armour against pistols of varying calibres, at the National Firearms Centre in Leeds. The process has tried to replicate the assassination as closely as possible.

What is the most interesting thing you found out?
I don’t want to reveal too much before the opening of the exhibition however I can report that silk does have bullet stopping capabilities!

We have tested the body armour against pistols of varying calibres, at the National Firearms Centre in Leeds © Royal Armouries

We have tested the body armour against pistols of varying calibres, at the National Firearms Centre in Leeds © Royal Armouries

What will people see and be able to discover when visiting the exhibition?
The exhibition will explain to the visitor how these bullet proof vests were constructed, it will show footage of our experiments against the Browning pistol, and we will be exhibiting one of our silk vest samples. I am also doing a talk in September, which will go into more depth about Franz Ferdinand’s reasons for possibly purchasing one of these armours, and it will take an in depth look at our experiments in the National Firearms Centre. This research is still on-going, so by September more evidence may have come to light.

What other things in particular have you enjoyed / found most interesting or been surprised at during your research?
This research has both surprised and disappointed me at times. It has been interesting to discover what lurks at the bottom of historical archives around the world! It has also allowed me to connect with other international academics around the world, on the subject of Arms and Armour. Most notably, it has allowed me to give the public insight into the exciting historical research which the curatorial department at Royal Armouries achieves on a frequent basis.

Lisa Traynor (First World War researcher), test firing a Vickers Mk. II belt fed machine gun (XXIV.8841) at the National Firearms Centre, Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, UK, 29th March, 2014  © Royal Armouries

Lisa Traynor (First World War researcher), test firing a Vickers Mk. II belt fed machine gun (XXIV.8841) at the National Firearms Centre, 29th March, 2014 © Royal Armouries

Blogger: Lisa Traynor, First World War Researcher, Royal Armouries

Lisa is delivering a talk at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds on September 24, which will shed fresh light on the issue, and reveal the results from the upcoming tests. For tickets, priced £5, and more information, visit the website.

Lisa is also presenting an international paper focused on the research at the International Committee for the History of Technology’s Conference in Romania, which runs from July 29 to August 2.

For more information regarding Royal Armouries’ First World War Centenary programme, visit www.royalarmouries.org/events/first-world-war-centenary

Trench for Three…

Royal Armouries’ Visitor Experience team were tasked with the mission to eat, sleep and live like First World War soldiers and Front Line nurses within a trench, during the three-day Festival of Cycling at Harewood House as part of Le Grand Départ. Visitor Experience Officer, Lisa Power tells us how they got on…

Scot, Mike and Gemma from our Visitor Experience Team.

Scot, Mike and Gemma from our Visitor Experience Team.

With the beginning of the First World War Centenary commemorations just weeks away, Royal Armouries wanted to give the public a greater perspective on what life was like in the trenches, along with Scot, Mike and Gemma from our Visitor Experience Team. Our first task was to establish how our trench would look. There is the misconception by some that British trenches were “cavernous ravines” with plenty of head space for the bullets and grenades to whizz overhead. However, in reality, many trenches were only about five to six foot deep and this came as a result of a number of factors. A major one was the water table in the area. Digging deep could cause the trench to flood, so in many cases trenches were initially dug shallowly and built up with sand-bagging and clay. Another was the mentality of the British commanders; the objective was always to advance the line further. There was no point in creating a safe, comfortable haven for the soldier as it would be difficult to motivate them when the time came to push on.

Scot using the standard issue entrenching tool.

Scot using the standard issue entrenching tool.

Time and manpower dictated that when it came to digging a trench for this experiment we had to cheat by using a mechanical digger – the reality of hand digging with an entrenching tool was a laborious one. According to British Trench guidelines, it would have taken six hours for 450 men to dig 250 metres of trench. With the trench shored up with corrugated sheeting, and the sandbags and duck-boards laid, it was time to move in. Mike Broadley wore the uniform of a Lance Corporal from the Royal Fusiliers and Scot Hurst was a Corporal. Jemma Bulmer wore kit based on a front-line nurse called Elsie Knocker, an extraordinary woman who set up a dressing station for Belgian soldiers 100 yards from the front line at Ypres.

Mike drying off after the rain.

The exhaustion of living in a trench catches up on Mike.

As soon as the team moved into their new home the heavens opened. The trench became filthy and morale diminished. The clothing acted as a poor barrier to any inclement weather, the absorbent wool became heavy and for the rest of the weekend some articles of clothing, such as the great coat, retained their dampness, even when the weather cleared up. Everything was covered in mud and dirt and again many of these items remained in that condition for the rest of our stay. It became very clear that firearms maintenance in these conditions was extremely challenging. Due to difficulties in keeping firearms in working order, it became clear to see why grenades were so widely used.

Obviously in conducting this experiment we did not have to experience some of the more acute hardships of trench life. These included constant noise of artillery fire, the lack of sanitary toilet facilities, the squalid filth, sapped morale, colleagues suffering from post-traumatic stress, and the constant fear of death or injury combined with a sense of utter hopelessness. All these factors combined to create a living hell for an entire generation.

First World War to modern day soldier

First World War to modern day soldier

 

The opportunity to be part of this experience transformed the written accounts of trench life into some kind of tangible reality for us. It helped us to reflect upon why we still commemorate the First World War and why it had such a profound effect upon those who went away to the carnage and those who remained behind.

Blogger: Lisa Power, Visitor Experience Officer

Royal Armouries is running a series of exhibitions, events, talks and seminars for the First World War Centenary across our three sites in Leeds, Fort Nelson and the Tower of London, visit the website for more information.

Bullets, Blades and Battle Bowlers – An introduction…

Last week we announced our plans to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, with new exhibitions, a series of talks and seminars, online content and events across Leeds, Fort Nelson and the Tower of London.

In the run up to and during the centenary programme, we will post a series of blogs covering all aspects of the programme.

Ahead of the opening of the new exhibition in Leeds Bullets, Blades and Battle Bowlers – the personal arms and armour of the First World War – we spoke to Curator of Firearms and Lead Curator for First World War, Jonathan Ferguson…

What themes are included within the exhibition?
We start with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand; many heads of state in 1914 owned an early form of bullet-proof vest made of silk and other textiles. We’ve had one recreated and tested it, and you can see the results displayed along with the type of pistol used to kill the Archduke and essentially the start of the First World War.

Royal Armouries has undertaken research of the capabilities of Zeglen type replica armours against the FN Browning Model 1910, in .380 ACP, the same model of self-loading pistol used to assassinate Franz Ferdinand. © Royal Armouries

Royal Armouries has undertaken research of the capabilities of Zeglen type replica armours against the FN Browning Model 1910, in .380 ACP, the same model of self-loading pistol used to assassinate Franz Ferdinand. © Royal Armouries

Moving into the main space, we tell the story of the attempts to design the perfect sword; and the consequences for cavalrymen who faced machine guns and barbed wire on the Western Front. We tell the story of Frank Elms, who started the war as a cavalry trooper, and ended it as a highly trained machine gunner. Other cavalry actually did fight successfully on horseback. We then show the parallel story of the infantry rifle and bayonet; thought to be key to victory by many at the start of the war. In the event, machine guns and artillery became the important weapons, but to the individual soldier of any side, his rifle and bayonet were his best friend. The French even gave their bayonet a girl’s name!

As mobile warfare proved impossible and trench warfare took over, everyone involved began to look for ways to break through and push back the enemy. The machine gun forms the core of the exhibition, as visitors encounter some of the biggest killers of the war as they pass through the space. Personalising this theme is the forgotten story of the men of the Machine Gun Corps, set up as an elite unit to make best use of the famous Vickers gun. We then have a series of cases showing the wealth of responses to the challenge of trench warfare. Medieval style weapons and armour made a comeback, existing weapons were adapted and used in different ways (for example, in the air), and surprisingly modern weapons were invented from scratch.

Finally, we see how faith placed in weapons technology to actually end war forever (the so-called ‘War to End All Wars’) was misplaced, and how it in fact enabled a century of conflict whose effects are still with us today. Not many people realise that the phrase ‘First World War’ was coined during the war itself, when people realised that they now had the means to kill each other more effectively than ever before. The technology of 1880 – 1918, like all technology, is neutral; it doesn’t care how it’s used. It was used to start the war, it caused the hell of trench warfare and took millions of lives, but then went on to end that hell and actually save lives. Finally, it paved the way for the Second World War, the Cold War, and future wars. The objects are intrinsically interesting, but what makes them truly relevant and interesting are the personal stories. You’ll see plenty of both in this exhibition.

Curator of Firearms, Jonathan Ferguson with a Blanch-Chevallier Grenade Launcher © Royal Armouries

Curator of Firearms, Jonathan Ferguson with a Blanch-Chevallier Grenade Launcher © Royal Armouries

What are visitors going to learn from the exhibition?
I think people will be surprised at how advanced some of the thinking was, and that both before and during the war, there were constant attempts to innovate and to put the right equipment in to the soldiers’ hands. However, the right tactics to make best use of it could only be learned on the battlefield. That meant that no amount of ingenuity or innovation could prevent a horrific human cost and a legacy that still echoes today.

Why is the exhibition unique?
Our museum is the only one in the country that focuses exclusively on arms and armour; it’s what we do best. Our collection was already world-class in 2005, but in that year we also received the entire Ministry of Defence ‘Pattern Room’ collection of 19th-20th century firearms. This allowed us to do far more than we could back in 1996 when the existing display was installed. So the unique aspect here is that we lead with the personal weapons and armour, and then give them context by linking back to the real people who made them, held them and used them in anger. We do that in ways people will be familiar with; stories, and a wealth of imagery, and oral history recordings but we have also filmed a range of original weapons being fired, including high-speed camera footage of bullets striking forensic ballistic soap. We explore what these objects were capable of and what people’s opinions and feelings about them were. Instead of using them simply as illustrations in a generic narrative of the War, we make the interaction of objects and people with the battlefield the focus of the exhibition.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

For more information about the Royal Armouries First World War centenary programme, visit the website.

And the Winner is…

To coincide with the Inspired by… Heraldry exhibition currently on display at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, we asked our visitors to create their own designs. The winning piece would then be displayed alongside the work of the Yorkshire Heraldry Society.

The competition winner was Emma Horsfield  - we spoke to her about the inspiration behind her design.

IMG_3475-Emma-Horsfield---1

What was your motivation for entering the competition?
I decided to enter the competition as history is a great interest of mine and heraldry is one aspect of that which l thought would be interesting to learn about.  Entering the competition gave me the opportunity to learn something new and try out a new style of art, which was very appealing to me.

What was the inspiration behind your design?
Having recently joined the Pontefract Magna Carta Group, which was founded to prepare for the 800th Anniversary celebrations (in 2015), l thought that would be the ideal subject to pursue.  I decided to recreate the 25 shields of the Barons who summoned King John in 1215 to seal the Magna Carta document within my design, as this would bring unity to these facets of heraldry whilst also being a unique piece of work.  I also thought that, because of the approaching anniversary, it would be a subject which would be within the public domain.

Is this the first time you have created heraldry?
Yes it is, in fact I knew nothing about heraldry before entering the competition.  However, when l conducted some research on the subject, I was surprised to learn how complicated it is.

What did you enjoy most about creating it?
I enjoy creating art with lots of colour and contrast and it was this aspect, and the fact that it was historically based, which l enjoyed most.  I had been painting some historical scenes and events in acrylics and oils, and also designing my own medieval style manuscripts before the competition, so this was an interesting extension to this work.

How will it feel to have your work displayed in a national museum?
I am extremely pleased to be displaying my work in a National Museum, especially so because so many people will get to see and appreciate it and that is what pleases me most.  I would also hope it may contribute towards the public trying to learn a little bit about the Magna Carta and what it stands for.

Tell us a little bit about you and your background.
I am 39 years old; primarily a mother of six children but also studying for a BA (Hons) Illustration with the University of Hertfordshire (distance learning).  I studied A Level Art and Design but while travelling and bringing up my family l did little or no art at all for about 17 years.  Once my youngest son began full time education five years ago, l felt that it was high time l began being creative again.  I love drawing and painting and now take part in exhibitions and sell my art, whilst also taking commissions for portraits and other design requests.  My favourite subjects are historical and fantasy themes and this transpires through a lot of my work, but I also illustrate books and design book covers, and this is something l seek to become more involved in as l progress through my degree course.

For more information about the Inspired by…Heraldry exhibition visit our website.

Landings

Royal Armouries Museum at Fort Nelson will mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings by showcasing the work of Portsmouth photographer Russell Squires in a new Inspired by… exhibition, Landings.

Russell talks to us about his inspiration behind the exhibition and the importance of capturing significant, ever-changing landscapes.

Can you tell us a little bit about you and your background?
I have always had an interest in photography and design; however I chose work over college so this creative pathway was not developed until I started university a little later. Through Higher Education study, I also gained a love for education and helping others; so being able to work at the university where I studied was just a fantastic opportunity, where each day does not really feel like work.

Photographer Russell Squires

Photographer Russell Squires

What was your Inspiration for the work / why do you think it’s important to photograph these locations?
I was not deeply inspired as such to create this series; the work came about through a chance to visit the sites. However, it was not until I was there that I felt more strongly about the locations and wanted to capture how I saw the landscape. I think it is always important to capture and document our landscape as it is forever changing, and more so with these sites as some people may never visit or are unaware of their history.

What has been your most poignant image to capture?
I do not have a favourite image, but a couple of the scenes exhibit an almost timeless quality where you could almost imagine the possible events from D-Day.

Was there an image that was the hardest/most challenging to capture?
Out of the set there was no one particular challenging shot, I feel that perhaps the entirety of the series was challenging, as I had no clear vision of what I wanted to say with the work. The process of capturing the scenes was technically methodical, yet compositionally I approached them quite organically.

Utah-02

How do you feel about having your work displayed at Fort Nelson?
I feel extremely honoured that my work was considered and chosen to be exhibited at Fort Nelson as it is a great historical and educational establishment. The works subject matter is suited very well to the museum, which is complimented by the surrounding exhibits.

Are there any up-coming projects you are working on that you would like to mention?
I’m half Scottish and I am looking into commencing a landscape documentary on the Anglo-Scottish border, I am aiming to photograph the length of the border whilst having 50% of the frame in England and the other 50% in Scotland.

Blogger: Russell Squires, Photographer

The exhibition runs from 1 June to 13 October 2014 as part of the Royal Armouries’ Inspired By programme – an initiative which harnesses the talents of community groups and individuals and invites them to represent the museum’s national collections in exciting and innovative ways. For more information about our Inspired by… programme visit our website.

A Day in the Life of…Natasha Bennett, Assistant Curator – Oriental Collections

Assistant Curator, Natasha Bennett talks climbing in cases, eccentric colleagues, being alone with the collection and why she loves her job, as we speak to her about her role as part of #MuseumWeek.

Natasha Bennett, Assistant Curator - Oriental Collections

Natasha Bennett, Assistant Curator – Oriental Collections

My primary function as Assistant Curator is to help safeguard, present and develop specialist knowledge about the Royal Armouries’ Oriental Collection. My role is very varied! It involves researching, writing and delivering publications, exhibition content, seminars and talks; answering enquiries from the public and other organisations and institutions; supervising visitors who need access to the study collections or help with identifying objects; assisting with filming projects; helping with various collections management duties such as auditing or couriering loan objects, and participating in the acquisitions process which allows the Royal Armouries to bring new pieces into the collection.

When I left school, I did a history degree at the University of Durham, before taking jobs first as a librarian and then as an editorial/publishing assistant. I didn’t feel suited to either of those careers, so I ultimately took the plunge, returned to university and pursued an MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at Leeds, with the aim of improving my qualifications for the field in which I really wanted to work. Three years ago my dream job of working for the Oriental section of the curatorial department here at the Royal Armouries appeared on the website. I never dreamed that I would be successful with my application, but here I am, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate because I can genuinely say that I love my job.

There is no normal day for me. The ability to work flexibly is a key part of this job, in more ways than one. I usually start the day at my desk by working through emails and enquiries that have come through, but by home time I can be anywhere; up a stepladder with the elephant armour in the Oriental Gallery or climbing into a case to replace objects that have been temporarily removed for filming or research. One of the weirdest places I ended up was near the lofty ceiling of the loading bay while I was being trained to drive a ‘mobile elevated work platform’ – thankfully that was an abnormal day…

The Royal Armouries houses the national collection of arms and armour, which means that the objects we get to work with every day are literally priceless, and the events, experiences, skills and artistry connected with each piece are legion. Every time I touch one, I feel a frisson of excitement thinking about where it has been over time. Being in stores by yourself can feel quite peculiar, because the heritage that the collection carries with it, is almost a palpable presence. I am also very lucky to work with some fantastic (if slightly eccentric) colleagues – but an interesting collection will always attract interesting people!

For me, the main challenge of my role is packing in enough research about an enormously wide-ranging subject area. Here at the Royal Armouries, the Oriental Collection incorporates all non-European arms and armour, which obviously covers quite a lot of the world! But at the same time that is also the most exciting thing about my work, because there is always something new to learn or discover, and it never gets stale.

One of the main projects I am working on at the moment is a set of conference proceedings. I am currently gathering together all the material from eight papers that were given at our conference East Meets West: Diplomatic Gifts of Arms and Armour between Europe and Asia at the Tower of London last September. We are hoping to publish these proceedings in the near future.

17th century Mughal dagger  © Royal Armouries

17th century Mughal dagger
© Royal Armouries

I have a great number of favourite items within the collection, and they tend to change or increase in number, depending on what I’m working on at the time. One of my all-time favourites is our 17th century Mughal dagger with a watered-steel blade and a stunning hilt beautifully carved in the shape of a horse’s head. It is the only example that we know of with a hilt that is probably made out of serpentine.

Blogger: Natasha Bennett, Assistant Curator – Oriental Collections

To find out more about #MuseumWeek visit the Culture Themes website.

Inspired by Heraldry

This Spring, the Yorkshire Heraldry Society brings a fascinating display of hand-painted heraldry to the Royal Armouries’ as part of the museum’s Inspired by… Programme.

We spoke to calligrapher and long serving member of the Yorkshire Heraldry Society, Jim Winstanley to find out a bit more about his passion for the historical art of heraldry…

Jim Winstanley

Jim Winstanley

What is the Yorkshire Heraldry Society?
The Society was founded in 1970 and was originally known as the Leeds Heraldry Society. As more people joined from outside Leeds, namely Huddersfield, Halifax and Bradford it then changed its title to the Yorkshire Heraldry Society in 1987. The Society promotes heraldry through lectures, Art and local History and meets about 8 times a year.

How long have you been a member of the society?
I have been a member for over 20 years.

Can you tell us a little bit about the history of heraldry?
Heraldry came about by people decorating shields with patterns and animals, in time these became permanent and handed down from father to son. Richard III founded the College of Arms.

What interests you about heraldry? How did you get into it?
I am interested in the Historical side of heraldry – War of Roses etc. Historically, they say heraldry is shorthand to history. I am a calligrapher and I received commissions from Civic bodies, which, included Coats of Arms, and this increased my interest in heraldry.

How long does it take you to produce a piece of heraldry?
It depends on the design and elements involved. Usually drawing and research (if any is required) takes between 4 hours and 6-10 hours for a finished piece.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Heraldry day on 10 May – what can people get involved with?
The heraldry day is an annual event at the Royal Armouries Museum and this year there will be four lectures – each about a different aspect of heraldry. The topics are; An introduction to the Stall Plates of the Knights of the Order of the Thistle, Scottish Civic Heraldry on Postcards, Royal Charters and the Royal Mint and Heraldry in our Country Houses. Tickets are £15 including lunch.

How can people join the heraldry society?
Anyone can join – you don’t have to be artistic and we would welcome any new members. The talks given at the meetings include, not just local heraldry but National, Civic, Royal and Continental heraldry.

Blogger: Jim Winstanley, Member of the Yorkshire Heraldry Society

If you would like to attend the Heraldry day on Saturday 10 May or would like further information about joining the society, contact Terry Melia at terry@melia.org.uk.

The Inspired by Heraldry exhibition will be on display at the Royal Armouries Leeds from 28 March 2014. For more information, visit our website.