These heads were made of papier-mâché by the Royal Engineers Camouflage section with artists employed to paint them in a realistic manner set to with the section producing heads ranging from the fighting soldier to field marshals.
This dummy head was donated to the Museum in 1932 by Col, F, T, C Wayatt RE. Dummy heads where used to find the location of an enemy snipers during the First World War.
Introduced by Major Hesketh-Prichard DSO MC who was a pre-war explorer, adventurer, big-game hunter and marksman who made a significant contribution to sniping practice within the British Army during the First World War. Hesketh-Prichard was shocked to learn of the high loss rate of soldiers at the front due to well-trained German snipers. It was common for British regiments to lose five men a day to German snipers, he learned that one battalion lost eighteen in a single day. The German snipers could not be located, leaving them free to continue shooting from their place of concealment. It was raised above the parapet on a stick running in a groove on a fixed board. To increase the realism, a lit cigarette could be inserted into the dummy’s mouth and be smoked by a soldier via a rubber tube. If the head was shot, it was dropped rapidly, simulating a casualty. The sniper’s bullet would have made a hole in the front and back of the dummy’s head. This became a wide spread way of eliminating the sniper threat and it also added in thinking that the trench was manned by more men then the enemy had first thought as there were times when the dummy heads were used in large numbers in one place.
Our example is representing a Staff officer who in reality visited the front lines to report back to the generals behind the front lines. They would be prized targets for snipers and would go out of their way to take a chance at a kill. So it’s make up is designed just to do that in the hope the Sniper would show himself.
- KS1: Significant Events, Artists, Craft Makers and Designers
- KS2: Local History, First World War, Artists, Architects and Designers in History
- KS3: Local History, Britain 1901- Present Day, History of Art, Craft and Design