The Biscuit Barrel

trench art biscuit barrel

The piece of WW1 Trench Art in the picture was originally owned by my Great Uncle, Lieutenant James Bernard Smith (1893-1980) of Glen Innes, NSW. It is a wooden barrel with lid reminiscent of a biscuit barrel, circa 1918. The badge inscription reads “Made from propellor of a German aeroplane captured at Rayak Palestine Nov 1918”.

For as long as I could remember growing up, it sat on the mantelpiece above the unused fireplace, that is until my parents moved house whereupon it had a variety of places before it eventually came to me. My mother told me it had originally belonged to Uncle Jim Smith, husband of her mother’s sister, Annie who was a soldier in World War I but the story behind the badge inscription had always intrigued me – why would a soldier have, let alone be allowed to keep, a propeller from a German plane and what was he doing in Palestine? No-one could answer me.

Uncle Jim Smith had married my grandmother’s sister, Annie Tincknell in 1923 while his cousin, Alexander Morris Smith had married Annie’s youngest sister, Hilda in 1929. The barrel has been a rather treasured possession in our family since it passed into the possession of Hilda Smith (nee Tincknell) sometime after Jim’s wife, Annie died in 1927. Hilda then passed it on to her niece and my mother, Joan, in the 1960s and it passed into the possession of me, her daughter, for safekeeping in the 1980s. Jim and Annie did not have any children, so the barrel has been passed on only to trusted persons in the family who could be relied on to care for it. It makes a really useful ornamental knick knack box to store small items and that has always been what it was used for. I doubt very much that it would be very successful as a biscuit barrel.

Learning about museums at University encouraged me to research Uncle Jim, the barrel and the history of trench art a little more. I discovered that, in spite of its name, trench art was rarely actually made in the trenches. However, pieces of scrap material, faulty ammunition and other “trophies of war” like the propellers of captured aeroplanes were often fashioned into souvenirs during quiet times, a period of convalescence or after a return home from combat. Decorated objects made of war materials from 1914 onward are those commonly known as trench art even though it has been a common past time of soldiers and sailors for centuries. The objects they made usually had a personal and, sometimes, spiritual significance to the owners recalling their experiences of war. I have many other examples from my father and his time in the Navy during the Second World War.

Our barrel though is a more unusual example of trench art, as the items usually crafted from wooden propellers were photo frames, clocks and boxes. It is also a highly skilled piece of craftsmanship in its own right but is unknown whether Uncle Jim actually made it himself or had someone else make it for him.  Research into other collections has not revealed anything of similar shape.

James Bernard Smith was 21 years old when he joined the A.I.F. He was one of the original ANZACs arriving at Gallipoli on 16 May 1915 and remained there to be one of the very last to leave during the evacuation in December.  Life and death situations would have been his experience many times over. He, himself, was wounded in action in the Middle East in July 1918 and he was also mentioned in despatches. After recovering from his wounds he was then seconded to 1st Squadron Australian Flying Corps and this would explain how the propeller, or part of it, came to be in his possession. Most certainly the barrel would have had special personal and spiritual significance for him as a reminder of his time in Palestine and his experiences throughout the war.

His barrel also has spiritual and historical significance for us, his indirect family, and for others who view it, as they are reminded that he was one of many who volunteered to serve in the Great War and endured its horrific battlefield conditions. Along with other examples of trench art, it is an object of remembrance to honour and respect the sacrifices of soldiers of war, especially in the Great War, and the initiation of Australia as a nation.

The badge needs to be analysed further to ascertain its material as it may have been made from metal also belonging to the plane. This is often a feature of trench art made from aeroplane material. Also its association with Palestine seems to be unusual. As is the case with this piece, Trench Art is mostly found in private collections. However, since the end of World War II, personal memories and the popularity of Trench Art has dwindled with much of it returning to the scrap heap from whence it came, all the more adding to its historical value and significance. Eventually, in time, I will pass it, along with the story, on to one of my family.

Lest We Forget



©Lynette Nunn 2016

The French Connection and Chinese Whispers

cornelia powne gully fixed

Cornelia Powne Gully was born on the island of Mauritius in 1815. Her parents were William Slade Gully and Marie Josephine Furteaux. She married John Garland Cregoe in 1841 and  there were five children from that marriage before John died in 1854. She later married her childhood sweetheart, Clement Winstanley Carlyon in 1868 after he became a widower. One wonders why she didn’t marry him in the first place but obviously there must have been reasons and one could speculate about all sorts of scenarios.

However, what was more interesting to me was that Cornelia had a very interesting family background and oral traditions that were lots of fun to research, although I do feel a certain thinness about my hair and perhaps it is not related to age.

According to a descendant of one of Cornelia’s daughters, Caroline Anne Cregoe, Cornelia’s grandmother Jacquette Marie Furteaux (nee Schmaltz) was:

MME Furteaux, Ci-Devant Comtesse de Choiseul.

The Comtesse de Choiseul lived in France, and during or just before the Revolution [1789-1799] found that her husband was making plans to desert her and sail to Mauritius. She went to the captain of the ship (Furteaux) – his own ship, which was often the custom in those days, and appealed to him to prevent it. ‘ I cannot prevent your husband sailing, Comtesse, but, if you and your children (3 I think) will not mind being brought on board in apple barrels, I can see to it that you all sail with him’. This was done, and three days out the Count gleefully rubbing his hands over his stratagem and its success said to the Captain: Ah! Monsieur le Capitaine. I ‘ave done a wonderful stroke of business; I ‘ave got rid of a wife and three children’ ‘Don’t be too sure, Count,’ remarked the Captain, and presently, up the hatch and along the deck walked Madame le Comtesse and the three children. The Count mustered what grave he could, bowed and exclaimed ‘Madame!’ She curtseyed and said ‘Monsieur!’ and that was that!

He deserted her again in the Mauritius and must I think eventually come to a bad end. All mother knew was that she, a capable and enterprising woman, started market-gardening, and married Captain Furteaux, the Captain of the ship!

[As Jacquette was not, according to the story, a Furteaux until after the desertion in Mauritius, she could not have been MME Furteuax, Comtesse de Choiseul, or else the whole ship story is confused over time. My first thoughts were perhaps, if Jacquette is Furteaux, the Captain and her husband are the same person and someone else smuggled them aboard in the barrels and it was the Captain who was deserting her – an idea that made more sense. They are said to have married in 1791 when Jacquette was 14 so it was extremely unlikely that she would have been previously married with children. I cannot find any feasible link to the Count de Choiseul. They were an “illustrious” French family with connections to the French Court. Perhaps there is a distant relationship yet to be discovered.]

The story continues:

[While living in Mauritius] her daughter [Marie Josephine Furteaux] with her two sisters was swinging on a gate as the English officers went by when England took over the Mauritius, and, as Great, great, great grandpa [William Slade Gully 87 Foot] went past in all his glory in pink coat, etc. she said: ‘Voila celui avec lequel je vais marrier!’ (I shall marry that one!) She was a tremendous flirt, so probably she ran after him. Mother told me that all he could say in French was: ‘Je vous aime’ (I love you) and she replied in English: ‘I, also’. Marry him she did and came to live at Trevennen, the family seat in Cornwall, which has belonged to the family since 1500 and something. And very dull she was poor woman. She always went by the name of ‘that French woman’. As the Napoleonic wars were on she was much ostracised. She said the English were dull and stupid and she was never tired of laughing at them, which if course didn’t help! She was, I believe, intensely witty ( at their expense!), very gay and far too cultivated for old Grandpa Gully, who was a real placid soldier, not very clever I should think to look at him, but very good natured (he was born in 1788 and died in 1853). Mother’s elder sister Josephine [Crow?], whom I knew, was extraordinarily like him only thin, brown eyes, fair hair, very short nose and long upper lip ,and completely devoid of an sense of humour, as he was I think. And as his daughter was, who was Grannie Cregoe, [Cornelia Powne Gully/Cregoe/Carlyon] my mother’s Grannie who married as her second husband, Mr Carlyon, rector of St. Just in Roseland Cornwall. They brought your Grannie (my mother) and her sister Josephine up there. (Grannie is buried in the churchyard there in her Grannie’s grave.)

Grandma Gully, nee Furteaux, [Marie Josephine 1795-1865] was a great friend in her girlhood of Josephine de Beauharnais [1763-1814], who married Napoleon and became the Empress Josephine – they were playmates in the Mauritius. [I think this story is confused – I cannot find any mention of Josephine ever being in Mauritius and the age difference means they could not have been playmates – perhaps it was Marie’s mother Jacquette Marie Schmaltz c. 1777 – 1864 who knew Josephine and it makes more sense as this is where the name Josephine enters the family]

So, to reiterate and according to oral tradition, Cornelia’s parents were Major William Slade Gully [1787 – 1853] and Marie Josephine Furteaux [1794 – 1865]. According to a French researcher, Henri Philippe Louis Maurel, Marie’s parents were Jean Joseph Sylvestre Furteau Dubois and Jacquette Marie Schmaltz [1777 – 1864] and they married in 1791 in Port Louis Mauritius. Jacquette would have been about 14 years old and they had three daughters –

Heloise Marie Furteau Dubois married 25 October 1824 François Jean Godefroy EMLER

Marie Josephine Furteau Dubois born 1794, married 3 October 1811 William Slade GULLY

Louise Eugenie Furteau Dubois married 16 July 1834 Geord Beard Panwell MIDDLEMORE

The extra surname of Dubois might explain why I have never been able to find anything on Furteaux/Furteau… apart from the fact that I am unable to read French.

However, there is another twist – isn’t there always? Further into my research I discovered from Henri Philippe Louis Maurel, the French researcher, that Jacquette and Jean Joseph Sylvestre Furteau Dubois divorced in 1798 and, in 1799, Jacquette married Jacques Le Vieux in Port Louis. So, she was twice married as per family tradition but Furteaux was her first husband not her second. Another five children were born from that second marriage.

What happened? Was the story retold and retold through the generations and when someone thought to write it down it had become confused like a chinese whisper? Was Jacques Le Vieux actually the Captain of the ship in the story? I think there is still much more discover but I am leaving that for another day.


Marie Josephine (1795 – 1865) was also said to be the niece of the Governor Smalley of Senegal but I have not been able to confirm this and can find no record of a “Governor Smalley”

Jacquette’s parents were Jean Jacques Boniface SCHMALTZ 1729-1783 & Louise TESSEIRES DESCLOS 1744-1810.


[Author’s note: If you want to know more check out the post script – The German Connection and Chinese Whispers]


©Lynette Nunn 2016