Poole First World War Trophies and a puzzle

After the First World War, it was quite common for war trophies to be distributed to towns and cities and put on display. This was not an unusual occurrence. Poole had obtained a Russian cannon reputedly from the siege of Sebastopol in the Crimea. The classic looking cannon was originally sited under the Guildhall, moved to Sterte Esplanade in 1936 and finally ended up in Poole Park before being scrapped during the Second World War.

Photograph 1

Poole Council had contacted the War Office in January 1919 hoping that the town would be considered a suitable place to exhibit items from the First World War.  Poole was subsequently awarded three trophies. It was announced in April that the Royal Army Ordnance Depot had allocated a German machine gun, gun mounting and ammunition box to Poole. The Council decided that it would be passed on to the Poole Museum for possible display.

The Poole Council minutes of June 1919 record that a large German artillery gun was to be presented to the town. A few months later, the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper reported that it was to be put in Poole Park near the East Gates.  In the photograph, it can be seen just to the right of one of the pillars and has been identified as a 12.5cm German breech-loading towed field gun.

Photograph 2

What local people thought of this addition to Poole Park is not known. Some residents in other towns did not take too kindly to this reminder of the conflict. In 1920, people in Lynton, Devon, threw their trophy into Glenn Lynn Gorge. Dorchester locals were so angered by their German gun that the local council removed it and put it in a Council yard. In contrast, Poole’s gun remained in Poole Park until 1928 when it was offered to the Dorsetshire Heavy Brigade of the Royal Artillery who didn’t want it. The gun finally went to the Poole Ex-Serviceman’s Club where it remained until sold for scrap in 1940 for £2 13s 0d.

Poole’s third war trophy is more of a mystery. The Mayor announced in September 1919 that a heavy gun which had been used by Dorset men had arrived in Poole. Shortly afterwards, a concrete base in Sterte, near the Spring Well, was built but it took several months before the 12” British howitzer was put in place. A team from the Royal Garrison Artillery at Weymouth was involved in moving it by rails from the adjacent railway sidings to the site. The barrel was raised 45 degrees and pointed towards the town. Not long afterwards, the local newspaper reported on the need for railings as children were playing on the gun. Tantalisingly, the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper said that there would be an article about the story behind the gun and its use by Dorset men but none has yet been found.

Photograph 3

This photograph in the Poole History Centre archive is of an artillery gun on Sterte but the photograph is uncaptioned. It shows a large gun, with its barrel at 45 degrees, on the shoreline and pointing towards the town. Is this the First World War trophy of 1919? The photograph is not very clear and the gun can only be tentatively identified as a British 12in BL Mark 4 Siege Howitzer. This type of howitzer was also used in the Second World War and, therefore, would explain why it was not removed for scrap, as was the fate of the other trophy. But is this identification correct? And what was the story behind the Dorset gun?

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