The collections of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial are so rich that a new centennial exhibit about the war’s expansion in 1915 is almost completely composed of objects never displayed before.
“Sand to Snow: Global War 1915,” opening Friday at the museum, highlights battlefronts that emerged from Africa to the Dardanelles as the combatants realized they were in for a long struggle.
It was the year of Gallipoli, the first poison gas attack and the May 7 sinking of the Lusitania. The new exhibit has objects relating to all three, including two folding wooden deck chairs from the ill-fated ocean liner.
Those chairs, removed from the ship before its final voyage, were acquired this month by the museum. A Texas museum said they didn’t fit the scope of its collection.
The display also includes a worse-for-wear German gas mask, the first model that included a filter. It was called a “gummi” because it used rubberized cloth.
And there is a complete uniform and set of gear issued to Australian soldiers, who were initially shipped off to Egypt and then to the carnage of Gallipoli.
The exhibit runs through April 10, 2016, in Exhibit Hall above the main museum. It is free with museum admission.
Twenty countries are represented by more than 140 items, including a blue and red winter uniform from the Austro-Hungarian army.
“This was one of the last gasps of the colored uniforms,” said museum curator Doran Cart. “By this time, almost all the armies had gone to gray or khaki or mud brown. But the ulans, which were the mountain troops, were really tough guys and they didn’t want to give up their uniforms because it set them apart. They were eventually forced to because they made great targets.”
One case holds notes from a member of a German medical company. They have never been published and were translated only this spring by an intern at the museum.
Italy and Bulgaria entered the war in 1915, and the main powers dragged their colonies into the conflict. An Indian kurta, or uniform with a long tunic, set them apart from the other British forces.
The war also spilled into Africa, where the great powers used their subjects as proxies. A soldier from French Guinea named Kande Kamara said it all.
“We black African soldiers were very sorrowful about the white man’s war,” he wrote. “There was never any soldier in the camp who knew why we were fighting. There was no time to think about it. I didn’t really care who was right, whether it was the French or the Germans. I went to fight with the French army and that was all I knew. Because of the color of our skin, the Germans said that we were shoes. We were black, so we were nothing.”
The only object in the exhibit that has been displayed before is a Montenegrin revolver, used by the Serbs. Serbian objects from World War I are almost impossible to find. Everything else, including machine guns used by Italian, Bulgarian and Belgian forces, are displayed for the first time.
“When you come, you’re going to see things you’ve never seen before,” Cart said, “even if you’ve visited the museum many times.”