First World War items under hammer in Wrexham auction


Rob Bellis

A remarkable collection of militaria from the First World War is going under the hammer in Wrexham.

The items, compiled and meticulously researched by a single vendor over a number of years, afford a fascinating insight into day-to-day life during the war.

Among the highlights is trench art made by soldiers on the front line and POWs during the conflict between 1914 and 1918.

There are also various medals, including a German ‘Iron Cross’ issued in 1914 and a number of so-called ‘death plaques’ commemorating soldiers who fell in battle.

The most extensive element of the collection, being sold as part of Wingetts’ fine art and antique sale, is ephemera: letters and documents relating to life on the front line and at home during the war.

Auctioneer Dyfed Griffiths said: “The collection was compiled by a military historian who travelled the length and breadth of the country collecting pieces and would meticulously research every item he bought.

“Most of the items have paperwork pertaining to them which the vendor himself has put together.”

Among the pieces of ephemera is a list of members of the 1st Bat. Edinburgh Volunteer Regiment, thought to be part of the volunteer force or ‘home guard’ during World War One.

A certificate of completion of instruction gives details of how many hours a soldier spent on drill and rifle exercises, platoon drill, bayonet fighting and musketry.

There are letters sent from the trenches to loved ones back home and a large number of postcards with various subjects relating to the war.

One small card reads: “In loving memory of the poor victims who lost their lives by hostile aircraft on August 17 1915”.

The trench art – decorative objects produced by soldiers on both sides from things that were around in the trenches – includes shell casings which have been decorated or worked into useful objects such as matchbox holders and snuff boxes.

One of the most interesting pieces is a small wooden money box, in the shape of a coffin, marked ‘The Kaiser Casket’.

Binoculars form another aspect of the collection.

“Most are typical World War One officers’ glasses,” said senior auctioneer Richard Hughes. “And there are a few interesting ones. There are some fixed focus naval ones which would have been used to spot U-boats and some German field glasses which would be from World War Two.”

There are also Christmas tins that were sent to soldiers on the front line which would have contained luxuries such as tobacco and sweets.

One of the most poignant items on sale is a dried and pressed poppy from Flanders fields.

The whole collection, which will be sold in various lots, should easily make four figures.

Another item of militaria, submitted by a different vendor, is a book on Adolf Hitler which contains ‘stickers’ with photographs relating to pre-war Nazi Germany.

The ‘stickers’ would have been collected week-by-week; the album is complete and is expected to fetch in excess of £100.

The sale includes a wide range of lots including furniture, paintings, clocks, ceramics, silver, jewellery and works of art.

One highlight is a set of 12 large tea caddies from the early 19th century.
“They’ve come from a house in Garden Village (Wrexham), from a vendor whose parents had a grocery shop.

“They would have been used and would presumably have each held a different kind of tea.

“They are Regency and probably date from around 1820 to 1840. We’ve sold single ones in the past for a couple of hundred pounds each so I’d probably expect these to make somewhere in the region of £1,500.”

Also going under the hammer will be a number of Krugerrands, South African solid gold coins made from exactly 1 ounce of 22 karat bullion and worth about £500 each.

Of particular local interest is an unusual engraving of ‘Gresford Cottage’ circa 1820 with a more affordable estimate of £30 to £50.

Wingetts fine art and antique auction takes place at the saleroom on Holt Street, Wrexham, on April 14 at 10.30am. For more details and to view the catalogue visit

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