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WATCH: Trench Weapons and Trench Warfare in WWI

Young British officers might have come from polite society, but the trenches of World War I were far from a posh environment. In this video, Andrew Wallis, of the Guards Museum in London, demonstrates the “streetwise” weapons that British officers used in close-quarters combat. Like what you see? This video is part of a comprehensive social studies curriculum from OER Project, a family of free, online social studies courses. OER Project aims to empower teachers by offering free and fully supported social studies courses for middle- and high-school students. Your account is the key to accessing our standards-aligned courses that are designed with built-in supports like leveled readings, audio recordings of texts, video transcripts, and more. Register today at oerproject.com!

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Video transcript

NICK: Can you explain this interesting object? ANDREW: These two objects, together, make up what we would call trench fighting tools. When the young guards officers were told that they were going into the frontline, they would soon realize that they would eventually come down to hand-to-hand combat. And whilst they had their pistol, and perhaps a sword, they wanted something a little more, streetwise, should we say, in terms of how they would defend themselves. So they would go to the tailors who made all their military uniforms, and they would have a quiet word in the ear of their tailor, to say, can you get me some hand-to-hand combat weapons? So the tailors would go to where their sweatshops were, in the east end of London, the rougher part of town, if you like, and they would have these tools made. This is a knuckle duster, it can be held that way around - if you get hit with that, you know you're going to feel it in the morning. It could be held that way around, and that slicing motion would take out possibly two assailants at the one time. And over here, we have a beautiful lead cosh. Look at the leather work on that. It's covered in leather. And that would be in your trouser pocket. You could whip it out at no notice, and if you get a tap on the head from that, you're not going to come back from it. So uh, this was how the young officers would protect themselves.