The perils of playtime.
Posted by Big John on March 26, 2007
Yes, it’s time once again for … ’Swing the light and I’ll tell you a war story’ … Well sort of …
The above photograph shows me, but not the actual street where I lived, but it very well could be, for a similar view awaited anyone stepping out of our front door during the London ‘Blitz’, as the ten or so terraced houses on the opposite side of the road were destroyed by the Luftwaffe’s bombs.
Of course I was very young at the time and have no memory of those events, but I do have very clear memories of the ‘bomb site’ that was created, as it became my favourite playground during the later war years and the early postwar period …
Although most of the houses were reduced to piles of rubble, one fire gutted house remained standing, although the roof and floorboards were missing. It was the scene of many adventures and not a few injuries as balancing along broken joists two floors up could easily lead to broken bones upon landing in the basement, and climbing a frayed rope up crumbling brickwork was a sure way to end up bleeding all over your mum’s freshly scrubbed doorstep as she surveyed the scruffy little wreck who stood before her needing a hug and some first aid.
Together with my young mates I made camps among the ruins, searched for ‘shrapnel’ and unexploded incendiary bombs (thank God we never found any). We did collect quite a lot of metal, but I expect that most of it was bits of old gas pipes and the expended machine gun bullets that we found were probably large rusty bent nails; although I do remember some older boys ‘firing’ live .303 rounds using a length of pipe and a hammer. There was quite a bit of weaponery around at the time, and I know that it’s hard to believe, but just after of the war ended our little gang had a redundant ‘Bren’ light machine gun in it’s possession plus a number of less lethal items of military equipment.
Weapons of a more ancient kind, but no less dangerous, were favoured for our games of ‘Robin Hood’ or ‘cowboys and indians’ and bamboo arrows flew all over the ruins. The bamboo sticks were ‘borrowed’ from back yard vegetable patches and allotments, with the longer bean poles going to make quite powerful long bows. Luckily, as I recall, no one lost an eye, although I did get a thick ear from a ball bearing fired from a catapult (slingshot).
We built fires and sat amongst the debris eating slices of bread and ‘dripping’ held in our grubby little hands and I suspect that we swallowed almost as much dirt as we did fat. It was all washed down with swigs from a bottle of cold tea. If we were very lucky we might share a bottle of ‘Tizer’.
Due to rationing, sweets (candy) were a rare treat, but if you had a penny or two, ‘black market’ varieties were available from ‘Artful Dodger’ older kids. I dread to think what they contained. They mostly tasted of liqourice and mothballs and turned your tongue blue or green.
When I look back at those times I can’t help but think that I was probably in as much danger from playing with my friends as I was from Hitler’s ‘Doodlebug’ missiles which somtimes passed overhead.
All the kids in my street ‘played out’ almost from ‘dawn ’til dusk’, so it is hard to imagine what it must be like for some children today when I read that seven out of ten parents in this country would not let their offspring out of the house to play ‘unsupervised’, and that more than half of youngsters today have no knowledge of traditional playground games and have never ridden a bike.
I’ve heard today’s children described as the ‘cotton-wool generation’. I guess that cotton-wool …
… must have been ’on ration’ in my young days.