Playing the Cello in the Trenches

An Account of the First World War ‘Trench Cello’ of Harold Triggs

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Harold Triggs was born in 1886 in Eastbourne, where his father was for many years the managing director of Devonshire Park and Baths. He and his two sisters, Theodora and Grace, would have been surrounded by music from an early age, but Grace, who played the violin, was the only one of the three to choose it as a career and she gave various concerts in the area that were well-reviewed.

Harold first worked as an insurance clerk, although he kept up his musical activities by joining the Oxford and Cambridge Musical Club in 1906. He was to remain a highly-regarded and active performing member of the Club until at least 1954, and Laurence Pettitt, one of the Club’s regular accompanists, wrote of him in the Club’s “80th Anniversary History” that he was “a very fine player in some of the best chamber ensembles.”

Early in the War Harold joined the Royal Sussex Regiment, and in October 1915 was promoted to the rank of Temporary Second Lieutenant. At some point he acquired a “holiday cello” of a type made by W.E. Hill and Sons around 1900, and it was this instrument that he took to France, where a number of young French players had already taken up the idea of playing in the trenches. On the front of this cello are painted the Royal Sussex Regiment’s insignia.

The look of Harold Triggs’s cello when seen from the side is more-or-less normal except for the lack of arching, but from the front or back it is rectangular, as an ammunition box would be. The neck is secured to the body with a normal mortise joint before being fixed to the button at the top of the back with a brass bolt. After that it is simple, the fingerboard slides into place on the neck and the top nut…

Continue reading: The Royal Academy of Music

In the clip below, cellist Steven Isserlis plays on this cello. My connection is still too slow to be able to listen to it except in incoherent snatches but I have no doubt the experience is immeasurably moving.