As long as there has been human conflict, there have also been those that collect memorabilia associated with those conflicts. With the passage of time these items move into the open market and their historical value begins to supercede the more personal, sentimental value held by their original owners. In my case, the conflict memorabilia of interest are pencils, of course, and here are a few…
“Remember Gordon” – In 1884, British General Charles Gordon was sent to Khartoum, Sudan to organize the peaceful evacuation of Egyptian garrisons. In the process Gordon managed to stir the pot with the Mahdist Sudanese rebels, resulting in the “Siege of Khartoum” and Gordon’s death.
In 1886, General Herbert Kitchener was sent to Sudan to avenge Gordon’s death, culminating in the “Battle of Omdurman” in 1898 (Among Kitchener’s troops during the battle was a very young Lieutenant Winston Churchill).
The “Khartoum” Pencil was made from spent rifle cartridges gathered from the actual battle site.
The maker was likely Sampson Mordan, but the exclusive rights to sell the pencil were held by Mappin Brothers, London, with 10% of sales to be directed to the Gordon Memorial College of Khartoum. My example has the stirrup watch chain loop which was an option at the time of original purchase. The worn condition of the loop suggests that this was a prized possession that hung from the owner’s watch chain for quite some time.
South African War – or “Second Boer War“, took place between 1899 & 1902, with Britain eventually defeating the two Boer states of South African Republic and Orange Free State.
Like the Khartoum pencil above, it is made from a battlefield relic. The cartridge is a 303 Mark II, the standard British Army bullet at the time. The pencil itself is silver and simply inserts into the shell casing. It is stamped “War Souvenir South Africa”.
World War I – Princess Mary Pencil – In 1914, King George V’s 17 year old daughter, Princess Mary, decided that each serving member of the Commonwealth Armed Forces should receive a Christmas Gift from “home”.
Princess Mary’s “Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Fund” was created and funds were raised through a public appeal. Over the next several years more than 2.6 million “Princess Mary Tins” and their contents were manufactured, assembled, and distributed to soldiers wherever they were serving. The contents of each box varied by rank, ethnic background of the soldier, gender, smoker/non-smoker, etc. Included in each box was a small bullet shaped pencil. The pencil casing was fashioned out of brass but was not an actual bullet casing. It was stamped with the Princess Mary Monogram. The small wooden pencil was held by a sterling silver “bullet tip”.
World War II – The most recent pencil I have that is war related is from World War II. It is in the shape of a torpedo, complete with two tiny brass propellors. It is believed to have been made by A.T. Cross Company (makers of Cross pens, among other things). During WWII the Cross company apparently made brass propellors for torpedoes to aid in the war effort and the pencil may have been made as a souvenir.
I’m sure that there are many other war related pencils I have yet to discover. That said, I’m also sure that none will be associated with a story quite as positive as that of Princess Mary. Her simple act of charity and kindness endeared her to millions of soldiers and sailors serving during the First World War, and to millions of citizens throughout the U.K. and the Commonwealth.