As a war involving the civilian
population, the conflict had a major impact on the lives and upbringing
of children. Denied access to some normal playgrounds and pastimes for
such a long period, they adapted and found a new form of normality in an
abnormal world. These new playgrounds and new opportunities often
centred around the impacts and remnants of war.
Playgrounds and Hobbies...
With some normal play areas
off limits, youngsters made use of war damage....
Now, what's all this then about London's
Fields........Dad didn't go into much detail, except to say there was a
bomb crater there during the war and he and best friend Benny Gaskin
would go there to swim and play in the crater.
He went there once and lost a brand new shoe in the
mud.........that meant a walk home with one bare foot... Far worse than
that would have been the thought of his fathers reaction to the news of
the loss!!! Needless to say he still remembers that day VERY vividly.
In normal circumstances, children
collect stamps. In wartime, more exciting collections were possible....
|I was born in 1936 so, towards the latter end of WW2, collecting
war souvenirs was a great hobby. My collection included....
- a belt buckle
retrieved from a JU 88 crash site at the end of Bogshole
- a piece of AA
shrapnel that fell on our house and whose whistle made a family dive for
the Anderson Shelter (the indoor metal type)
- bits of 2 doodlebugs from
Bells Greenhouses and the garden of a cottage in Denstroude
pieces of the V2 that landed in Jack London's field
- an engine part from a Spitfire that
crashed at the top of Rayham Road in the little copse.
In our chapter on Adult Life, Brian Smith explains that
circumstances involved his family travel and periods away from
Whitstable. Some of those trips were to areas of more intense enemy
activity including London. Again, children adapted and exploited the
The Holbeach Road School (Catford)
my ‘second’ school - sometimes for about 3 months.
But each return home to Whitstable meant several treacle tins
of shrapnel plus other relics for trading at Oxford St. school.
Perhaps I traded with Bill Dancer!
Most times I traded for ‘fag cards’ or marbles but one
trade was a propelling pencil (less cap).
Another was a French fountain pen with glass ‘nib’.
My proudest trophy from London
was the top 15" of an aircraft instrument panel. No instruments
or identification but, of course, it was from a Messerschmitt fighter!
I think that netted me the pen.
When the ‘All Clear’ siren
sounded after an air raid, there was usually a banging of doors as we
kids rushed out to be the first at the best ‘trophies’.
Fins from bombs were most sought after but I was just beaten to
the best which adults said was a fin from a V2 which had hit a nearby
One daytime raid sent we
school kids down into the school basement shelters which were lined
with wooden slatted bunks. We
got to use the bunks as we were shut in overnight.
The school was hit and surrounded by countless phosphorous
incendiary bombs. A bomber
could carry 100s of these small bombs about the size of a pint milk
bottle. Breaking on impact the
phosphorous ignited when exposed to air thus setting fire to whatever
was around it.
When we were released around
10am, there were still small pockets of the playground surface
(tarmac) smouldering. An
exciting adventure for a young Native.
My worst trophy from London
was in fact my only ‘war wound’.
It was only a small flesh wound. The biggest wound was to
my pride. Sitting
on a playground bench next to my ‘girlfriend’ I naturally put my
arm around her waist. She dug a fingernail into the top knuckle of my
left index finger which still bears the crescent shaped scar.
That was one trophy I didn’t show off at Oxford Street!
The Dangers of Play
Of course, there were dangers for over-exuberant
youngsters. In our "Downed Aircraft" chapter, Vanessa
Trampleasure outlines the rush of boys to the Dornier that crashed on
the mudflats of West Beach. However, as John Harman explained in the
"Preparing for War" pages, such an escapade would have
involved tangling with anti-invasion defences.... including barbed wire,
concrete protection and mines.
Similarly, Bill Dancer describes a near accident while
children investigated the outcome of a V1 strike at Denstroude
|I was standing by a window when a policeman or
warden opened it and a sheet slid down coming to a halt some small
fraction of an inch from my chest. This was the closest I came to
being a war casualty and, as a result, we were ordered off the site
with no souvenirs.
... and, in our Chapter on "The Military",
Brian Smith outlines the problems of children's play areas ovelapping
with army training grounds.
Brian Smith's trips during wartime provided a chance to
view scenes not available to Whitstable-based children....
|Mum and I made a number of train journeys to
London. Our destination
was usually Catford or Southampton. However, we also made one to
Yorkshire and a few shorter ones to Woolwich.
As exciting as such journeys could be for a
young lad, my favourite part was crossing the Medway estuary at
Rochester and Chatham. Joy of joys! I would see one of the big Short
Sunderland flying boats taking off and perhaps another taxiing in.
Escape to the Countryside
Nowadays, many parents would be concerned at the thought
of their children playing unaccompanied in woodland "out of
town". However, during the 1940s and in wartime, such areas and
such activities could give "grown ups" peace of mind....
|The beach was off limits but Reeves Woods (aka Red Bridge Woods)
gave us hours of pleasure aided by fertile imaginations and a wonderful
degree of freedom.
At the end of the day this the best playground. It was of considerably
greater acreage in those days and had the stream, trails, wild parts
and was almost exclusively our own private playground.
Later we learned to appreciate this was a place where
nightingales could be reliably seen and heard and later kingfishers as
parents perspective, it was sheltered and therefore safe and, best of
all, if you were overdue, they knew where to find you.
Of course, Reeves Wood was not the only country
playground in a town that had yet to expand into its rural legacy....
The area between South Street and the Coastal
Road (Thanet Way) between the railway crossing and Rayham Road was
fields in those days and, in those fields, were a pond and a fenced in
Both bodies of water were rich with a variety of
aquatic life which with a tennis racquet were easy to catch in order
to make up a non tropical fish tank. Newts, tadpoles, water spiders,
didicous beetles, water skaters, caddis fly lavas were all there.
On occasions, our collections were handy for some
classroom project and far more interesting than watching mustard and
cress grow on a flannel!! Mind you the D. Beetle could be a bit
aggressive and, so, you were constantly looking to see if other pond
life was disappearing.
By the Fireside...
Wet days and evenings of the early and mid twentieth
were somewhat different from today... with no TV, computer games or
other sophisticated entertainment. Games were simple and family
oriented. During the 1940s, such games were adapted and often given a
wartime flavour with wartime reward....
Many evenings were spent at Doug Crawford's
parents home which was situated above the Halt Stores going toward
We used to have aircraft recognition contests with Mr.
Crawford (Maker,Type,Mark) using air observation cards and drawing
competitions where whoever, for instance, drew the best picture of a
pig riding on a doodlebug got a Sharpe's toffee or a square of
chocolate - no mean prize in days of rationing.
Of course, some children had an advantage when it came
to the hobby of aircraft spotting.....
Bill Dancer related a story of enjoying informal aircraft recognition
sessions during the War.
Probably, like many other
Whitstable kids, I spent a lot of time with eyes skyward watching the aerial
action. By the various arguments in the school playground, I guess we all
thought we were expert at identifying any plane which flew into view.
was a bit luckier than most as an Aunt was a sergeant in charge of an AA
battery. She passed her redundant official aircraft recognition books on
I cannot recall doing so but, no doubt, I showed those off at
school to back my ‘expert’ claims! Some of the German aircraft
illustrated were amazing attempts to fool others into thinking they were
badly damaged, doomed and not worth attacking.
Those aircraft seen over
Whitstable were generally the common run of the mill types, nothing
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