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Trench Periscopes.....


The school I work in has been around for some time, and had working labs over a century ago. In the intervening years, they have been restocked and moved and redesigned a number of times but it does mean that that a few bits of very stylish old equipment survive on our shelves and in the cupboards.


These older bits of equipment don't generally do anything that their modern equivalents can't do, but they usually do it with a bit more style - I have a beautiful demonstration capacitor, for example, that is made of brass and wood, and which has so far outlived two aluminium-and-plastic 'replacements'. And whenever we're doing optics, I always reach for the piece in the photo: a stylish telescope made of (I think) steel and brass and adorned by a lovely leather jacket. I always assumed that it was a school demonstration model made in an era when such things were built to last. Until a history student wandered through the lab last year and asked why I had a Trench Periscope.


I spent a bit of time researching it, and learned that he was indeed correct: this model had not been built to teach about optics and periscopes. It had been built so that somebody in the trenches in WW1 could have a look over the top and see what was happening on the German side, without having their head shot off. Which would explain why it combines a telescope function with that of a periscope.


I've no idea how it ended up here. It could have been a gift from a returning soldier, or it could have been bought by the school at the time. for demonstration purposes. I'm not sure which I'd prefer to believe. From a bit of research, I learned that a model like this would not have been military issue but would more likely have been bought by family members, by mail order from London, and shipped to the front to help their loved one survive.


The thought of it being used for real is a little chilling: its only about 40 cm long, so anybody using it would be only just under the top of the trench, and if they had to lift it a little higher to see over the mounds or craters of No-Man's Land, they would surely have been exposed. But perhaps it never saw action. I'll never know.


Posting this today to mark the day that's in it....



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