World War I Trench Knife

This trench knife was used in both WWI and WWII.

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This is a World War I Mark 1 trench knife. The U.S. Military found the earlier Model 1917 and Model 1918 trench knives lacked functionality. The Mark 1 got rid of the earlier triangular blades and instead featured a double-edged flat blade. It also features a bronze handle with integral finger grips. In order to get knives to troops in the field as quickly as possible, the first Mark 1 trench knives were ordered from a French manufacturer, Au Lion. This knife is an example of one made by the Au Lion company.

The knife belonged to Charles Wentworth Hoffmann, who was born in North Carolina in 1891 and joined the New Mexico National Guard in 1916. During WWI, Hoffmann was a Lieutenant serving with the 131st Machine Gun Battalion, 36th Division. The 36th Division was originally composed of soldiers from the Texas and Oklahoma National Guards, with replacements coming from Texas volunteers and draftees. The 36th trained at Camp Bowie in Fort Worth, Texas, from the summer of 1917 to summer 1918. The Division went overseas to France in July 1918 and entered combat on October 8, 1918. They saw 24 days of combat before the war ended. While most of the soldiers in the 36th Division were from Texas, some of the officers, like Hoffmann, came from other states. Hoffmann purchased this knife while serving in France. He engraved one side of his knife with “France, -19, 131 M.G. BN. 36th Div.”

Hoffman also served in WWII. At that time, he altered the other side of the knife; the bronze guard has been cut off so that the knife could fit in the accompanying World War II scabbard, which would have been worn at the soldier’s waist. At the end of that war, Hoffmann, who had risen to the rank of Colonel, engraved the other side of his knife with “C.W.H., C.C.E. 13” and “England 1942-’44, France 1944-’45, Belgium 1946.” Even though he was a high-ranking officer, he continued to carry the same knife he had carried on the battlefields of France in World War I.

Col. Hoffmann served with the California National Guard between the wars and spent most of his life there. The knife was turned into the Ventura County, California sheriff’s department by Hoffmann’s niece and donated to the Texas Military Forces Museum in 2012.

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