Decorated Shell Casings from WWI – Aisne 1917

By   November 13, 2010

Remember those old war newspapers we found in grandma’s storage space last year? We came across another interesting find recently: decorated shell casings (douilles d’obus) from 1917. To pass the time in the trenches, soldiers used shell casings as canvases to create their own works of art. You can see other examples by searching Sadly, some of them are being sold on Ebay for as little as 15€. I will probably donate them to a museum someday, but I will definitely not be making a few euros off les poilus‘ sacrifices for France.


They include the word Aisne (a département of France on the border with Belguim that saw a lot of action during WWI), the year 1917, leaf patterns, the initials VR, and the name Valentine.


I can’t even begin to imagine how long it took to hammer down the metal to form the letters and shapes.


Maybe the initials of the soldier?


Valentine; perhaps his girlfriend or wife?


According to this munitions website, the black line means this shell was an obus explosif.

I’ve uploaded the photos to my Artifacts of French History collection on Flickr.

  • Damian Gryski

    There’s no scale reference for your photos. How big are these items?

    • Jennie Wagner

      diameter: 8.5cm
      height: 20 cm

  • Cynthia

    Beautiful objects loaded with history !

  • Soleil

    Fascinating! Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Andrew

    Those are beautiful, it kills me to think that someone might have created something that beautiful only to be needlessly shot to death the next day or something. How big are they?

    By the way, I sent you an e-mail (I always seem to get relegated to people’s spam folders for some reason, so I thought I’d let you know just in case).