Conserving the French 75mm Field Gun

Conserving the French 75mm Gun

Over the past few months I’ve been working in the care and conservation team at IWM London to assess the condition of the large exhibits that you see throughout the museum, as we prepare them for moving this autumn.

This work involves the condition assessment of the structure, metalwork and paintwork, and includes making recommendations on packing and transit so they can be safely moved out of the building. We have to thoroughly inspect everything that we need to move, which often means crawling into or underneath objects, seeing parts that most people never see. On occasion we will need to repair or secure parts of the item so it can be safely moved, and many of these items have not been moved for over 20 years.

This week I will be working on the French 75mm Field Gun, which is in the middle of the Large Exhibits Gallery as you enter IWM London.

Detail of French 75mm Field Gun

We apply oil and grease applied to moving parts to prevent damage. As you can see this is becoming old and yellow and requires removal and replacement

The histories of these large exhibits are fascinating and all have a story to tell. This field gun is an example of its type designed in 1897 with a  pneumatic-recoil system which was revolutionary for its time. It was adopted by the French Army and used in many key battles of the First World War.

Conserving the French 75mm Field Gun at IWM London

Some of the work that we did today included treatment to the leather.

The French Government presented this one to IWM shortly after the First World War. It has an interesting display history at IWM, including documentation from when it was restored in 1988 in preparation for the original opening of the Large Exhibits Gallery.

Detail of French 75mm Field Gun wheel

The wooden wheels are sensitive to environmental changes.The wood has shrunk over the years, as illustrated by the gap in the painted surface.

We began the conservation treatment and preparation work of this gun today and will continue our work tomorrow between 10am and 12pm. Please come and say hello and ask us questions to find out more about conservation.

If you can’t make it please leave your questions about how we care and conserve exhibits like the 75mm Field Gun in the comments field below, and we’ll do a round-up of answers on the blog later this week.

  1. Jaime Pascual Sanz says: July 18, 201211:02 am

    Hello there,
    I would like to know how demanding, in terms of enviromental conditions, are all those tanks, guns and planes that you keep in the main large gallery at the entrance. Is it difficult to find the proper conditions to store them all safely?

    I have yet another question. As a conservator-restorer is it your aim to keep all those weapons functional or just nice and clean for all to see?

    Thank you very much, and please excuse me if I made any mistakes as it´s a long time since I last practiced my english.

    • Rachel says: July 24, 20124:20 pm

      Hi Jamie,

      Thanks for your comment! The Large Exhibits Gallery has controlled temperature and humidity, so we are able to display the tanks, guns and planes without any concerns for corrosion or expansion and contraction of organic material. In addition, the majority of the items exhibited in the Large Exhibits Gallery were designed to withstand extreme environments, so they are pretty robust in general.

      When the large objects are moved to IWM Duxford for storage later this year, we will provide comparable environmental conditions wherever possible. Due to their size, some of the large vehicles will be stored in historic hangars, where the environment is not so easy to control. In these circumstances we will ensure that any fragile elements are protected before the object leaves IWM London, and that is why we are doing preparatory work in the gallery now.

      We do not aim to keep our weapons fully functional as they are not used for demonstration purposes; our main objective is to stabilise and maintain them. However, we do need to move these objects around from time to time, and part of the Transforming IWM project will require the exhibits to be temporarily transferred to IWM Duxford. In order to do this, some parts of the exhibits are required to be operational – for example, gun barrels need to be lowered to transport them through areas with low ceilings and sights need to be folded into the transport position to avoid damage in transit. So in this respect, we do maintain some functionality.

      Hope that answers your questions!


  2. Roger Hutchins says: July 18, 201212:39 pm

    Hi Rachel,
    Do you do anything to conserve or treat the inside of the gun barrel or breach or would you leave that to an armourer? (Outside the Musuem). Cleaning it would be the first thing that a gun’s crew would do after coming out of action. I don’t suppose that there are many people around who will have done that to a French 75 but there will be some who will have used the Sherman Tank’s 75mm gun that was derrived from it.
    Good luck,

    • Rachel says: July 24, 20124:24 pm

      Hi Roger,

      The guns in the museum, such as the French 75mm, haven’t been fired for many years. In the case of the French 75mm, it was accessioned into the collection in 1920, so hasn’t been fired since then. As you mentioned, during use many of these guns would be cleaned after firing as part of good maintenance practise, and many guns were cleaned before they were presented to IWM. This means that firing residues would have already been removed and the barrels would be pretty clean anyway. We also maintain the gun by using tompions to block the barrel and prevent dust and dirt becoming trapped.

      To maintain the guns on display and in storage we do surface-clean the interior of gun barrels and apply protective coatings of wax. We also consult with curatorial- and engineering-based conservation staff when working on complex objects or treatments.

      Thanks for your comment!


  3. John says: July 25, 20123:47 pm

    I brought back from Normandy last year a WW2 James motorcycle with its original war time paint markings. I would like to know how to conserve the paintwork with causing any discolouration or damaging it. It was found in a barn near Caen. The markings are for the Air Landing Light Battery Royal Artillery. Your help would be appreciated

    • Rachel says: July 27, 20124:55 pm

      Hi John,

      I’m really pleased to hear the motorcycle still has its original paint and that you’re keen to preserve it. I would suggest you contact a conservator and invite them to assess the condition of the paintwork in person in order to advise, as it is difficult to do so without seeing it and photographs don’t always tell the whole story. I would expect the preservation of the finish to be achieved through a good maintenance programme, which the conservator would be able to develop in collaboration with you and your use of the motor bike.

      I recommend you use the Institute of Conservation’s (ICON) conservation register, which lists accredited conservators by expertise and region:

      I hope this helps.

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