Object Title

Bowie trench knife, converted from a Ross bayonet

Bowie trench knife, converted from a Ross bayonet


The first trench weapons were those manufactured by the troops themselves, by modifying existing equipment to be fit for purpose.  Bayonets were the edged weapon that infantrymen of every nation had ready access to and so were a common subject of conversion.  Some, like the French Lebel bayonet were overly long and prone to breaking, and hence had their blades shortened into stiletto style daggers. Unlike most nations' bayonets, the Ross bayonet was not particular long, but its thick, flat blade and spatulate tip made it an inefficient, if robust weapon.

To improve upon this some troops ground down the tip to a clipped point, making a much lighter and better thrusting weapon.  Some also removed the bayonet features of muzzle ring and press stud, to further lighten the weapon.

Use and effect

Soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were the acknowledged masters of trench raiding.  Major Hesketh-Pritchard, the founder of the first British Army sniper school, said that Canadian patrols were known as Silent Death as 'armed with trench daggers its members killed as silently as possible.  This soon made the Germans very shy of taking their evening crawl.'

The unofficial conversion of the blade of the Ross bayonet was in turn adopted by the Canadian military and from 1916 the bayonet 'final version' was issued with a clipped point.  However, some show personal modification beyond this, resulting in the classic Bowie-type fighting knife profile.

After the War a large number of Ross bayonets were sold to the William Margolin Company of Monreal, who modified them for sale into commercial hunting knives.  However, the Ross bayonet was reissued in the Second World War, again as a converted fighting knife, to Canadian Commandos.


Blade length 25.8 cm (10.2 in)
Country of manufacture Canada
Date entered service 1916
Manufacturer Ross Rifle Company, Quebec City
Overall length 37.3 cm (14.7 in)
Primary operator Canada
Weight 500 g (1 lbs 1.6 oz) (without sheath)


Henry Yallop