Artifacts of the Great War

A collection of World War I objects, from the mundane to the extraordinary

The Red Baron's engine. (Imperial War Museums 2020.165.1)

Aluminum ammunition box

This aluminum ammunition box belonged to the airship designated L.31, commanded by probably the best-known and most effective German airship raider, Kapitanleutnant Heinrich Mathy. He and his machine met their end in the early hours of October 1, 1916, northwest of London, when caught by 2nd Lieutenant Wulfstan Tempest of 39 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. Boldly flying through anti-aircraft fire, Tempest made three sweeps along L.31, pumping in incendiary ammunition. “As I was firing,” he remembered, “I noticed her begin to go red inside like an enormous Chinese lantern.” L.31 and her crew plummeted to earth from almost 15,000 feet, the impact on hitting the ground visible in the way the ammunition box’s bullets perforated its soft skin. It was the fourth airship brought down in as many weeks; after months of attack, Londoners were no longer defenseless. As the burning airships lit up the night sky, thousands cheered. But at least one observer, Sybil Morrison, was more reflective. “I was appalled to see the kind, good-hearted British people dancing round in the streets at the sight of 60 people being burnt alive, clapping, singing and cheering. It was like a flash to me that this is what war did. It created this utter inhumanity in perfectly decent people.”



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