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On the Fields and In the Trenches: Relics of the First World War

Currently on display at the Arkansas State Archives in Little Rock is On the Fields and In the Trenches: Relics of the First World War. In honor of the centennial of World War I, this exhibit explores the United States involvement in the First World War in Europe through an array of historic artifacts, documents and photographs.

The Arkansas State Archives has a large collection of artifacts related to the First World War acquired in the early twentieth century for their Great War Museum at the Arkansas State Capitol. Many of these historic items were picked up off the battlefields by Louis C. Gulley, an Arkansan working as a postmaster for the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during the war. Items on display include historical artifacts used and made by Arkansans, Allied troops and soldiers from the Central Powers, such as Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Various helmets and gear, along with firearms, trench knives, a German potato masher hand grenade, a gas mask and items torn apart by shrapnel illustrate the brutality of the war.

An operation cap, mask, bandages and a hospital sock are among the exhibited items made by Arkansans for the American Red Cross. Included in the display are trench art pieces carved and hammered out of wood, bones, and ammunition shells by soldiers on the front lines and in prisons. Uniforms, helmets, equipment, dog tags, insignias, and medals highlight the personal stories of Arkansans, including the medals of Herman Davis, an Arkansan who General John J. Pershing listed as the fourth greatest heroes of World War I. The exhibit also examines how the introduction of new fighting techniques, such as tanks, airplanes, and chemical warfare, set the stage for a new kind of modern war.

“This exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I,” says Archives Director Dr. Lisa K. Speer. “Over 71,000 Arkansans served in the military during the ‘Great War’,” Speer noted, “and this exhibit provides a glimpse into the carnage and brutality of the war experienced by soldiers, medics and nurses on both sides of the conflict.”

The exhibit is free and open to the public at the Arkansas State Archives on the second floor of One Capitol Mall in Little Rock, just west of the Arkansas State Capitol. The Arkansas State Archives is open Monday through Saturday from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm.