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WWII Ammunition Boxes

Posted by tony on Jun 8, 2008

During the Second World war many prisoners, captured by our forces, were sent here to England and kept in in various camps around the country.

I can remember my Father telling me about this when I was of an early age. He became an apprentice carpenter when he left school but then of course got drafted to fight for King and Country. I know he hated every minute but still had a few tales to tell on the very rare occasions that he spoke of his exploits.

It seems that a lot of these prisoners came from the Italian army and quite a few of them were pretty good with the tools of the trade. A lot of furniture produced at the time was the handywork of these prisoners. Along with most everything else, materials of any kind were in short supply so, just as today, recycling was a must and, mend and make do, was the order of the day. One thing that didn’t seem to be too rare was the subject of this post, i.e. Ammunition boxes.

The pieces produced were, I believe, known as wartime utility furniture. Utility they may have been but practical, strong, useful and attractive they certainly were, all-be-it they were generally a uniform dark Oak in colour.

I was given just such a piece, a drop flap desk, by an ex work collegue and friend several years ago and sad to say it has been moldering in the shed ever since. Regretably the lower section was infested with wood worm and had to be destroyed but I did salvage some good sized pieces from the upper section and both drawers from the centre piece. The latter now hold my planes in one and my toy templates in the other.

As the drop flap was quite nicely crafted with a central moulded panel I based my box on the dimensions of the flap. This has to be the largest box I have made (700mm x 300mm x300mm) and with the timber being 20mm thick it is quite heavy. One thing that has me puzzled is the wood itself. It

looks like Oak, it is as hard as Oak (Oak gets harder as it ages) but it does not smell like Oak when it is cut. Fresh cut Oak, dried or green, has one of the nicest of aromas imaginable, to a carpenter anyway, this stuff has a most unpleasant pong, almost dungy. I can only think that it comes from the finish that was applied to the wood to stain and polish it. Anyone reading this with any ideas please let me know.

Anyhow, having sized and cut the various pieces, with breaths of fresh air every now and again, I have turned the drop flap desk into a free standing chest with lockable lid, or it will be if I can find a key to fit the original lock. One problem with using recycled timber, especially if it has been formed, stained and polished for a long period of time, is that it is fairly well set into its shape and in this case the pieces that formed the sides of the desk were very definitely cupped over their length. Getting the mitred edges to line up was quite a task as it just would not pass through the saw at a constant angle.

We crafters in wood now have access to many little tricks and compounds that conceal a lot of our mistakes so unless one examines the piece closely it looks just fine, after all everyone knows that a good painting or piece of art looks better from a distance.

Just to reassure you, now that it is finished, it has quite a pleasant smell to it. As a bonus I have had our local Locksmith make up 2 keys for it that will be supplied.

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