Musical instruments were not standard issue for soldiers, but once the fighting became deadlocked, some reached the front to fulfil the need of professional musicians to practice their art.
The families of the luckiest soldiers sent them their instruments, while other soldiers built them themselves. From instruments put together from manufactured parts through to total inventions with whatever came to hand, a great diversity of “trench” instruments was born. Deprived of their instruments, the musicians among the troops deployed great ingenuity to make what they needed. Some violins and mandolins had luthier’s necks, received from the rear or purchased near the front, fitted to resonance chambers made of whatever was available, including helmets, bowls and canteens.
These hybrid instruments were modelled on conventional models, like this canteen violin. The manufactured neck is fixed to a standard-issue French canteen, sculpted to look like a typical resonance chamber with the cutting of two S-shaped sound-holes and with a cork for a bridge.
Canteen violin, 1915-1918, iron, wood, cork, plant fibre, 51 x 22 x 10 cm. Inventory no.: 2013.12.1.