If you’ve been following Chris Gehrz over at his blog, you’ll know he’s been doing a bit of traveling of late and his latest post offers some interesting reflection. He’s put together a fascinating montage of material culture related to how British children experienced the Second World War. In speaking to what we learn about the toys of the period, he says,
Toys took on new meaning for the hundreds of thousands of English children evacuated from London and other cities, for fear of the bombing attacks that came in 1940-1941. Rural areas received 1.5 million children like Hazel James, whose father spent his down time in the military making her this Noah’s Ark set out of cigar boxes and army canvas. Others were dispatched even farther from the Luftwaffe, to other continents. One of the 200 children sailing to South Africa in August 1940 on the RMS Llanstephan Castle was a boy named John Sadler, who used the balsa wood of an aircraft kit to make a model of the vessel.
There have been related studies as well. If you’re interested in exploring this further, check out Gabriel Moshenska’s study of this same topic. Among other things, Moshenska, an archaeologist and Senior Lecturer at University College London, has documented collections of fallen shrapnel gathered up by children during “The Blitz.” The abstract for his 2008 article reads:
Anti-aircraft shells exploding at high altitudes scattered shards of red-hot steel across the towns and cities of Britain during the Second World War. For many schoolchildren, collecting and trading this shrapnel became a popular social activity, often recalled today in oral history interviews. Drawing on testimonies collected as part of the People’s War project, this article examines these curious and neglected processes of accumulation, exchange and disposal, looking at the aesthetic qualities that gave shrapnel fragments their value and attractiveness. In doing so, it attempts to locate children’s shrapnel collections within their social worlds, as well as within broader discussions of material culture and modern conflict. It highlights the significant differences from other more typical forms of collecting, and some of the more subversive uses that children found for their shrapnel. The article also raises the possibility that collecting these violent objects may have been a way for children to cope with the upheaval and brutality of total war.