Wednesday 16 November 2016
A medieval-looking chainmail mask worn by one of the first ever tank drivers, who locked it away in a drawer for decades, has been uncovered on brand new TV series Trading History on Yesterday.
The primitive splatter mask - which features in the first episode of the series tomorrow/Wednesday at 7pm - belonged to Private Charlie Boyce, who used it to protect his face from lethal shards of shrapnel while operating a first production tank during World War One.
Pte Boyce survived the war and kept the metal and leather visor in a drawer in his living room and barely spoke of it to his family. When he died in 1975 aged 77 the mask was found by granddaughter, Suzanne Harris, who kept it in her attic.
She decided to auction it off to mark the 100th anniversary year of the invention of the tank and the sale is to be featured on TV's Trading History, a new show on the Yesterday channel.
Trading History uncovers fascinating historical stories through the prism of auction houses across the UK.
Splatter masks were created by tank crews on the Western Front in 1917 using spare materials lying around. Very few of them survived the war so it is rare for one to come up for sale so long after the event.
Andrew Lambert, professor of naval history at King's College London, explained that early tank crews endured a 'hellish' environment inside the tracked vehicles. Often they were in danger of being hit by red hot shrapnel caused by Nazi gunfire.
It was a hellish environment inside, unbelievably hot. These vehicles had no suspension so as they drove over broken ground, they lurched from side to side. And every time something hit the outside of the tank bits of the rivets flew off the inside.
The splatter mask is a remarkable re-use of some very old technology to solve a new problem. It's essentially made of leather and chainmail, so it could've come off a medieval jousting field. Tank crews almost certainly designed this themselves.
"They didn't make this stuff fresh, they took pieces that were already there and created these things. So this was invented on the job by the tank drivers and then mass produced back in England."
Pte Boyce, from Suffolk, joined the 16th Tank Battalion at the age of 16 because he was too young to join the Royal Flying Corps. He became the tank driver because of his small size and sat in a Mark I tank with five other men.
After the war Pte Boyce married and had three daughters, but barely spoke about the war.
Ms Harris, the granddaughter of Pte Boyce,said,
The mask was in a drawer in their living room. They knew it was there but it was never discussed, they didn't wish to impose it on everybody else. It looks pretty gruesome but actually the reality behind it is probably far more gruesome than actually the object itself."
The splatter mash sold to a private collector for £1,000.
Adrian Wills, general manager for the Yesterday channel, added,
Trading History uncovers some amazing personal stories that bring history to life, creating an empathy between Yesterday viewers and the heroes of the past. It's wonderful that we're able to uncover hidden stories like that of Private Charlie Boyce more than a century later.
Trading History will be shown on the Yesterday channel over six weeks every Wednesday at 7pm, starting November 16.
For pics, video and more press info:
About Trading History
Treasures reveal the history of the world, that's what makes them special and desirable. They are a tangible piece of the past that can be touched, held and owned.
How much would you pay to own Napoleon's hat? Or the Rolex watch that belonged to the 77th man through the tunnel in The Great Escape? Or the earliest aerial photographs of London? Or even a silver bell that belonged to Queen Elizabeth II as a child? Perhaps you'd like to own a 1912 photo of the iceberg that sank the Titanic? What about items that previously belonged to members of the British Secret Service? Or Napoleon's tooth? Or even a chair designed by Pharrell Williams? Or John Lennon's guitar?
These treasures sell at extremely high prices, anything from thousands to millions of pounds. Wealthy private collectors battle to outbid each other, and often they will outbid museums and public archives.
This all new series uncovers intriguing family history through the prism of auction house artifacts, and foes on an investigative and genealogical journey. The back story of each object for sale is revealed from three perspectives; the sellers, the buyers and the auctioneers.
The series examines famous figures from history - Churchill, Hitler, Napoleon, the Suffragettes, our royal monarchs and great writers of the 20th century - as their treasures have emerged at auction houses selling for millions after being hidden away from decades. For many items, this will be a 'last chance to see' before they disappear into private collections.
The opening episode features the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, baby photos of Queen Elizabeth II, the death of an Irish aristocrat, antique eyewear, a WWI tank mask and clothing that once belonged to Queen Victoria.
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