A trunk of history: N.L. wartime artifacts discovered in family home donated to The Rooms

You never know what you’ll find cleaning out the basement …

That’s the message from the curator of history at The Rooms provincial archives and museum in St. John’s, after a family in Grand Falls-Windsor came forward with a collection of materials from the First World War they found while preparing to sell their house. 

When Bruce Rendell and his family were packing up the home for a move, they discovered a trunk, complete with items from a soldier’s days on the battlefield: documents, socks, trigger mitts, uniforms, helmets, puttees and bullets.

Sidney Rendell, Bruce’s grandfather, was demobilized back to St. John’s from the war in 1917. He eventually returned to Grand Falls-Windsor in 1920, where he put a trunk of his items under the staircase of the family home.

The trunk stayed there for a century.

Unsure what to do with the newly discovered items, Bruce contacted The Rooms, which was more than happy to use them for an exhibit. 

A trunk discovered at a family home in Grand Falls-Windsor contained several artifacts from the First World War, including a helmet, hat, uniform, mitts, documents and bullets. (The Rooms)

Maureen Peters, curator of history at The Rooms in St. John’s, could not believe the trunk and the items inside of it remained in good shape after so long.

“It was amazing to see this collection intact from one individual soldier,” said Peters. “After the development of this exhibit, we kind of thought we had tapped out all of the collections across Newfoundland and Labrador. It was amazing to see this intact collection out there in somebody’s home.”

Of particular interest, explained Peters, are the socks, mitts and similar items. More often than not, these types of items were used by soldiers after their return home, used up and thrown away. In this case, the items are in what she calls “immaculate” condition.

“You can tell the trigger mitts were made in Newfoundland,” said Peters. “They’ve got the Newfoundland diamond design. They were made for him, probably his mother, by someone who loved him, and kept them all these years. It’s remarkable to see that these items were kept after all this time.”

A blue booklet displayed with other documents on a table.
A list of crimes and scale of punishments from the Newfoundland Regiment, is one of many items belonging to Sidney Rendell, who served in the First World War. (Anthony Germain/CBC)

It will be some time before the items go on display, however. While most of the items were in great condition, Peters explained, there were pieces that had mould on them. These items are to be treated, researched and numbered in order to be able to tell Rendell’s entire story. The process can take several months or longer, she said, depending on the content.

A military hat and uniform laid out on a table.
These are more of the items found in a trunk once owned by Rendell, a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. (Anthony Germain/CBC)

Despite the feeling that much of the province’s war-era artifacts have been uncovered, Peters says stories such as this illustrate the fact that there are still things to be found.

“After all this time, there are still things hidden away,” said Peters. “Hopefully families will continually find things and help us be able to preserve and tell the story of Newfoundland and Labrador, during all kinds of important aspects of our history.”

Military items and clothing presented on a table.
The items are to be treated, researched and numbered in order to be able to tell Rendell’s entire story. (Anthony Germain/CBC)

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