From war, comes art: Thrift store find of gun shells treasured by N.L. man

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From war, comes art: Thrift store find of gun shells treasured by N.L. man

A St. John's man says he came to own a piece of history — in the form of two old gun shells from the First World War — thanks to a trip to a downtown second-hand store and his mom's keen eye.​

"My clever mother ... she spotted these shells. Most people just went by and reckoned it was a plastic flower vase. She said, 'No, this is metal,'" said Carl Kelly, recounting one of many trips decades ago to the Salvation Army shop on Water Street.

"When I saw Vimy [inscribed on them], I said, 'I want 'em! That's a piece of history, I'd love to have those, please buy them.'"

Kelly's mom did — shelling out $5 for the pair some 20 years ago. 

Trench art 

The objects are about 18 inches tall, four inches in diameter, with an elaborate design. 

"It's [embossed], the metal, it would seem with a pointed hammer that they would have carried in their kits, the infantry men. They did this as trench art, between action," Kelly told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show. 

One design detail in particular still makes him chuckle.

"What a sense of humour — souvenir of Vimy Ridge, it actually says souvenir [on the bottom]," said Kelly.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge didn't start until 1917, but Kelly chalks up the 1916 etched into the shells as a marker for when Canadian troops arrived in the area, likely October 1916.

Kelly said while he marvels at the design, the object is a destructive one at its core. 

"On top [of it] would be a cone, which is like a huge bullet ... If you watch old films, they put it down in this artillery launching gun and it'd go vroom!" he said.

"It would go very, very far ... That would cause a lot of damage. If it fell into a group of men, there would be arms flailing everywhere. I mean, it's a nasty thing."

One to a museum, one to keep

Kelly said he doesn't know what the shells would sell for if an interested buyer was located — and he doesn't really care. 

One of the two shells is off to the 48th Highlanders Museum in St. Andrews Church in Toronto, where Geordie Beal is the chairman.

"He's the only guy that really went gaga for this because that 15th Canadian Battalion, that's part of his boys, the 48th Highlanders, so they want their stuff," Kelly said, laughing.

Kelly plans to give his other beloved shell to his son, Nicholas. 

"We'll keep a part on the Rock, and a part goes back to Canada."