Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, May 16, 2022

Weapons of War: The Knobkerrie or Trench Club

Austrian Trench Raiders

A knobkerrie  is a form of wooden club, a short stick with a carved know at the top, used mainly in Southern and Eastern Africa.  It is somewhat similar to the Irish shillelagh. In the First World War, enhanced versions, generically known as "trench clubs" found to be especially useful during in-close trench fighting and raiding.

Notes for bombing units, issued by the general staff, recommended that soldiers should be ready to use "a bayonet or special stabbing knife or weapon for hand-to-hand fighting, such as an axe or knobkerry (trench club)."

Siegfried Sassoon recalls in his memoirs his  preparation for a raid on the enemy’s trenches: "It was time to be moving;  I took off my tunic, slipped my old raincoat on over my leather waistcoat, dumped my tin hat on my head, and picked up my nail-studded knobkerrie."

Samples Used by African Tribes

Reportedly, a medium-sized club worked best within the confined spaces typical of trench warfare. The average club was approximately a foot and a half long. (See photo at top.) Trench clubs weren’t standard issue, so troops would gather materials found in the trenches and either put them together themselves or have unit’s carpenter do it. Nails, the shell of a Mills bomb, and a variety metal components were affixed the clubs, usually in mass quantities, to increase lethality.

Great War Designs

This excerpt from the war diary of the 18th King's Royal Rifle Corps, describes the equipment of a trench raiding party near Ypres on 12 July 1916.

The day passed quietly. At night the Bn carried out a raid upon the enemy’s trenches. The raiding party consisted of Lieuts G.H. Wingfield and T. J. H. Fryer with 28 other ranks. The starting point was trench 125 which was held by the 15th Bn Hampshire Regiment. The party left the PIGGERIES at 8.45 PM and moved up to trench 125 from which they were to advance. Zero hour was fixed at 10.40 PM. Ten minutes before this time the raiding party left the trench & crawled forward to within about 35 yards of the enemy line. The raid was carried out in three parties composed of the following: Party A Lieut Fryer & 9 O.R. of whom Lieut Fryer and 5 carried knobkerries & wire cutters & two men on each flank carried rifles. Party B 10 bombers, each carrying a knobkerrie & 10 bombs. Party C Lieut Wingfield & 9 men carrying knobkerries & hooks.

Sources: "Strange Hells: A new approach on the Western Front,"  Historical Research 80( 211) (150-166); Great War Forum, 12 February 2007


  1. Nasty business. I've read about these but never seen one. Don't remember any at IWM.

  2. Now this is a scary weapon!

  3. A knuckle-duster (with or without a projecting knife blade) was another unfriendly accessory the trench raid aficionado often carried with him.

  4. I have acquired 10 different models. The Austrian spring loaded with a metal ball or block on the end are the most lethal.

  5. I have been collecting these clubs for 25 years, and have several varieties in my collection. All are gruesome, but the Italian one is the heaviest and needed two hands to swing the club at an enemy combatant.

  6. I agree, the Austrian spring loaded ones (I have two different models) are the most lethal.