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“When I rejoined my men at the northern edge of the woods, I learned that no one had been hurt during my absence, but that a few minutes after I had left a sharp fragment, like a railroad spike, had riven itself deep into the bank just where my chest had been. Call it Luck or call it Providence, it was with me on the Eleventh of October, or I would not be alive today.”

—Lieutenant Edward C. Lukens, 320th Infantry

Providence is a protecting force – whether God, many gods, spirit or nature.



Surrounded by industrial violence and death, servicemembers of World War I renewed faith, discovered magic and witnessed miracles in everyday and extraordinary objects. Small, personal belongings helped fighting forces and war workers hold on to hope, whether in the muddy trenches of the Western Front, on the waves of the South China Sea or flying high above the clouds. Optimistic desires – for an end to war, for meaning in suffering and a reunion with family – filled their possessions.

War became terrain for supernatural devotion, where objects and prayers shaped how soldiers expressed faith. Whether military members or volunteers, multitudes expressed belief in something – or someone – greater than themselves with cherished objects of faith, hope and luck.


Explore these personal items that gave comfort during the challenging times of war.

Scan of the front of a postcard with silk embroidery depicting a horseshoe and several flowers. Embroidered text in purple: 'Je porte bonheur'

Good Luck Postcards

Easy to mass-produce and popular, porte bonheur (good luck) postcards sold in millions across combatant countries.

Modern photograph of a pewter crucifix pendant

Crucifixes and Rosaries

Many Christians serving in WWI wore crosses in their everyday lives. When called to fight, these emblems of faith went with men into battle.

Modern photograph of small humanoid figures made of yarn.


Charms appeared everywhere in WWI. Servicemembers believed these small tokens offered protection through folk traditions or magic.

Modern photograph of a small silver-colored statuette depicting an old bearded man in robes

Pocket Saints

Many servicemembers looked for divine help through saints and the Holy Family, aided by items that could fit in a pocket.

Modern photograph of a silver-colored oval medal depicting a woman in robes holding an infant. The medal has been sewn onto a brown cloth cross.

Devotional Medals

Devotional medals feature inscriptions, holy places, patron saints and other religious symbols to invoke divine protection from all manner of harm.

Modern photograph of a circular pin depicting a human heart topped with a cross and surrounded by thorns. The blue border has white writing on it.


Worn on the inside of coats, on lapels or tucked inside pockets, pins offered tangible symbols in which faith, hope and luck intertwined.

Modern photograph of a small printed book, opened to display pressed flowers


Kept close, Bibles became personal objects, storing letters from loved ones, holding notes in the margins and bringing comfort.

Modern photograph of a silver-colored coin depicting a horseshoe and text in the center


From rhymes like “see a penny pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck” to beliefs that an empty pocket attracts the devil, across cultures and time coins have carried both luck and faith.



The small, personal objects of World War I servicemembers tell stories of optimistic hope, devout faith and unshakeable luck. Attachment to these sacred and everyday items produced feelings of love and protection and held beliefs as great as a “window to heaven” or as small as a wish for home.

In the chaotic furnace of warfare, mass-produced trinkets became potent talismans to ward off death, and holy items forged even greater supernatural power. Faith, hope and luck may at first glance appear to be bygone superstitions, out of place during the dawn of artillery fire and machine gun nests, but these traditions are strong and still found on battlefields today. As these potent objects reveal, servicemembers fighting in the Great War knew magic and miracles were powerfully modern.

Charmed Soldiers is made possible through generous support from Lilly Endowment Inc.

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