WWII Merchant Navy Trench Art Water Bottle 'Operation Husky' and 'Pachino Day'
This is certainly a one-off and unique item! The aluminium Italian water bottle is of the standard design, used by Other Ranks in WWII and when issued it would have been encased in a grey felt cover with an adjustable hemp shoulder carrying strap. It has a damaged cap, that is currently seized, and missing its retaining chain and it has various other knocks and bumps, indicative of service use. What lifts it to a whole different level however is the superb trench art engravings to the front and back. Sadly, the history relating to this item has now been lost, but we have seen similar artwork produced by Italian POWs, but as this example is unsigned, we have no way of knowing its story. The only tiny clue we do have is scratched into the cap are the initials, we believe reading 'C. F. ', who we assume was the original Italian owner.
Whatever its origins it is now a fine example of trench art and clearly gives a record of the subsequent owner's war. To the front is a very fine badge of the British Merchant Navy, worn by all sailors who served in the British Merchant Navy in wartime, and below the crucial 'Sicily 10th July 1943'. History relates at this time the allies assembled the then largest fleet in the world's history, to launch the Allied invasion of Sicily. Over 3,200 ships, craft, and boats made up the Allied invasion. To divert some of the Axis forces to other areas, the Allies engaged in several deception operations, the most famous and successful of which was 'Operation Mincemeat'. The invasion of Sicily was to be a prelude to the invasion of mainland Europe and was codenamed 'Husky' and began on the night of 9–10 July and ended on 17 August 1943. Strategically, 'Husky' achieved the goals set out for it; the Allies drove Axis air, land and naval forces from the island and the Mediterranean sea lanes were again opened to Allied merchant ships for the first time since 1941. These events led to the Italian leader, Benito Mussolini, being toppled from power in Italy on 25th July 1943, and to the Allied invasion of mainland Italy on 3rd September.
The water bottles MN badge is the surrounded by 15 engraved names of port towns and cities, which we surmise charts the travels of the new owner in WWII. As well as Gibraltar and Malta other countries visited include Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Italy and of course Sicily. The reverse side carries a further 6 towns, being Torre Annunziata, Bougie, Naples, Bari, Algiers and Anzio and below is a large engraved harp. Clearly the harp features on the coat of arms of Eire and on the ensign of the Irish Merchant Navy, but as southern Ireland was neutral in WWII we believe this represents something else and as a pure guess it is a symbol to give the owner the fabled 'luck of the Irish'? The alternative we have come up with is it represents the insignia of the London Irish Rifles, who are confirmed as serving at Salerno in 1943 and later in the Italian campaign in 1944. If any visitors can enlighten us with a more scientific explanation, we will add details to our description.
Not much more we can add other than in summary our best guess is this was commissioned by someone serving in the British Merchant Navy in WWII to record his wartime movements as all the places mentioned are seaports, and who was certainly involved with, or took part in the' Pachino Day' landings on 10th July 1943. It seems quite likely it was produced by a captured Italian POW, but that is pure conjecture. Whatever its origins it is a superb example of WWII trench art and is of museum quality and we doubt we will ever see anything similar again. Measures 8" x 5.5" (20 cm x 14 cm)