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Trench art yields cherished connection to father

A small trench art ammunition shell serves as more than a collectible to admire for Daniel Boehmke. The shell is a commemorative piece related to the sinking of the ship Boehmke's father served on during World War I.

Surviving Sinking Marked Father's Service

In your May 25 issue, along with your story on Trench Art, you also requested submissions of photos

Trench art commemorative shell

Trench art 77mm shell with markings indicating the recognition of the sinking of the S.S. Tusciana in 1918, off the coast of Scotland. (Photo courtesy Daniel Boemke)

and stories on individuals personal items. I would like to submit the following for your consideration:

On January 24, 1918, the British ship S.S. Tusciana left its dock in Hoboken, New Jersey. After a brief stop at Halifax, Nova Scotia, the ship joined many others to form into Convoy HX-20 and began making the dangerous crossing of the North Atlantic to Europe. The United States had entered WWI nine months earlier. Now the Tuscania carried approximately 2,000 U.S. troops destined to fight on the side of France and England.

On the evening of February 5, 1918, as the ship passed through the channel separating Ireland and Scotland, it was struck by a torpedo fired by the German Submarine UB-77. One of the soldiers on that ship was my father, Edward C. Boehmke, of Waukesha, Wis. As the ship sank, he was picked up by an Irish fishing boat and taken for a brief time to Larne, Ireland. Then he was transported to England. From there he went on to the Western Front in France where he served, was wounded and spent the end of the war. He spent several months after in a Paris hospital. In April 1919, he returned to his home in the U.S. to resume his career as a Postal Carrier. Over the next 39 years he worked, married and raised a family of six children.

Trip to Islay Reveals Provides Connection to Father

In 1958 he passed away, and I was only 13 years old at the time. I had never really learned much about that early part of his life. As the years passed my interest in local history grew and family members began sharing documents and artifacts from his war service. With the advent of the internet, more information became available. With that my collection of information and objects associated with the Tuscania event grew. In 2012, I made a trip to the Island of Islay, Scotland, where a museum has an exhibit dedicated to the sinking of the Tuscania. Islay is the closest land to the site of the torpedoing. The residents of the island were tasked with recovering and burying many of the more than 200 victims of the tragedy. There I was able to touch the ship’s bell that had been recovered from the wreck in 1997. I also visited the monument that was erected by the American Red Cross in 1919 — overlooking the area of the ocean where it happened.

Trench art shell with inscription

Close-up view of inscription on trench art shell.

Imagine my excitement, when several years ago I saw a Trench Art shell on eBay that was a tribute to the ship and that day in February 1918. Of course, I knew that I wanted it. As I watched the ending seconds of the auction I held my breath, hoping that I had bid high enough. Yes, success! I had won the auction! Now it holds a special place in my home.

— Daniel J. Boehmke
Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

Editors' Note: This Letter to the Editor is also a wonderful example of the type of story we invite everyone to submit to the Nostalgic Treasures contest. This contest and special issue (to be published in November) is open to anyone with a story to share about an antique or collectible item or items. The deadline for submissions is Sept. 30, 2016. Learn more about this contest and special issue>>>. See official contest rules>>>

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