Object Title

Welsh knife

Welsh knife


This unique form of 'new or improved trench knife' was patented by Felix Joubert. Joubert was  a renowned armour restorer who had worked at Windsor Castle and the Wallace Collection, and also a sometime faker of antique arms and armour who sold to unsuspecting collectors.  The 'Welsh knife' was purchased by Thomas Evelyn Scott-Ellis, eighth Baron Howard de Walden for equipping the battalion he was second in command of with a weapon for trench fighting, between 1916 and 1917.

De Walden was a military man who had served with the 10th Hussars in the Second South African War and on his return to Britain joined the 2nd County of London Yeomanry.  An accomplished fencer who was a member the British 1908 Olympic squad, this passion led to his interest in arms and armour, especially that of the medieval period and of his native Wales.  As a result of this hobby he commission Joubert to construct him a bespoke reproduction 14th century harness so we could better understand how armour worked.

When the War began De Walden made repeated requests to find a more active posting, and was subsequently sent to Gallipoli.  On his return to England in a staff role, Lord Howard used his family connections to gain transfer to the front.  Soon he was appointed second-in-command of the 9th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers, as post in which he remained until he was recalled to the War Office in December 1917.

From 1915 there had been open debate in the press and military journals about the lack of a standard issue trench knife for British servicemen.  It seems that De Walden was moved by such debates and decided to address the matter for his own battalion by privately commissioning Joubert to design a suitable weapon.

Joubert claimed in his patent application that the knife was based on 'the well known and historic Welsh cledd'.  However, no form of such knife is known to exist and it seems likely this was a connection Joubert made to appeal to the nationality of De Walden and his regiment.  Instead Joubert's design appears to be based upon the leaf-shaped swords of the late Bronze Age, found throughout Europe.  His weapon is a much broader, more robust version than the sword types it is based upon, well suited to survive the rigours of life in the trenches.  The addition of a 'skull-cracker' pointed pommel is so that even the base of the 'Welsh knife' can be used offensively, if there is no room to employ the weapon blade first.  A wrist loop through the hilt to prevent the weapon being dropped in combat was added along with a folding guard protected the hand, and also enabled the weapon to be worn flush to the body when sheathed.  Some blades were engraved 'DROS URDDAS CYMRU', which translates as 'For the honour of Wales.'

Use and effect

The weapon was carried by the battalion's Lewis gunners at the Battle of Messines, June 1917, as they are recorded as having advanced 'carrying the strange knives furnished by Lord Howard de Walden'. Lieutenant-Colonel Lloyd-Williams, who later in the War was second in command of the battalion, stated that 'all machine gunners and bombers were always equipped', with this knife and 'every member of a raiding party was so armed'.  Certainly surviving numbers would corroborate this claim as although rare, surviving numbers suggest there were more produced than would have been needed for the battalion's 17 Lewis gunners.

The effectiveness of the 'Welsh knife' as a weapon is more in doubt.  Lloyd-Williams claims it was used with 'conspicuous success' at Messines Ridge but his claim that it was 'more for bayoneting than cutting' seems not to suit the weapon's design.  Its broad blade is certainly intended as a cutting weapon; as such a large point would have made effective thrusting difficult. However the rigidity of the blade would have lacked the flexibility for a good cutting stroke and the thick blade edge would have been difficult to sharpen well.  The great weight of the 'Welsh knife' would have made it a fearsome weapon, as being of all metal construction it is much heavier than most contemporary trench clubs, but the stiff, thick blade would have been more likely to cause blunt force trauma than cut or puncture efficiently.

Nevertheless, although this weapon was probably designed with more style than substance in mind, in order to appeal to the tastes of its purchaser, the 'Welsh knife' did look forward as well back in terms of the development of arms and armour.  The 'Welsh knife' inspired the design of the Smatchet fighting knife of The Second World War by the renowned hand-to-hand combat expert and innovator, Lieutenant-Colonel William E. Fairbairn.


Blade length 44.8 cm (17.6 in)
Country of manufacture Britain
Date entered service 1916
Manufacturer Felix Joubert, Chelsea
Overall length 60 cm (23.6 in)
Primary operator Britain
Weight 1.03 kg (2 lb 4 oz) (without scabbard)


Henry Yallop