Friday, 13 September 2013

War Games Exhibition - Bethnal Green

As a lad who lives "up-country" I'm often a bit behind those Big City types. Anyhow, this week I had to be in London for a job interview and as I had some time on my hands I went out to the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood to see their exhibition of war toys, which currently is running until March next year. I know the Londan lads have done a bit of blogging about this already, but this is what I think.

It's a very thoughtful piece of work and is definitely in the "explaining" as opposed to "it's all wrong" school of thought. It places war toys in their historical context, and explains as well how the "opposition movement" so to speak came into being.

I took some pictures.

Everyone takes a picture of this at the entrance, and why not? It is brilliant. It's big, - that's a door way to the left.

Sorry for the glare on the next one. That's a first edition Little Wars, with "L'Attaque" in the background.

Next up the toy gun cabinet.

Bottom right is the "Johnny-7 One Man Army". How I lusted after one of those when I was 4 or 5. No one I knew could afford one, however. If you have no idea what one was, here's the original TV add on Youtube: Johnny 7 - OMA advert.

This is the first proper toy soldier display in the exhibition. It's a "tie-in" set, released to cash in on the British victory at El-Teb. Not a great picture, but I only had my compact camera with me.

There's a fair few basic board games on display. This one is "Hunt the Submarine". You could probably blow this picture up and play the game if you felt so inclined.

 Gotta love this picture of a "salle Boche" doing for a Frenchie:

With the tin flat being a Teutonic speciality there's quite a bit of this stuff:

If I was going to criticise the exhibition I'd say there's a lot of German flats, but not much in the Airfix / Timpo / Britains area, which I think is a shame. There's a lot of German Nazi influenced stuff which does seem, subconsciously, link the war toy with militaristic regimes, which doesn't strike me as right.

Of course, whilst the Germans were churning out tin stormtroopers, were designing games to help you survive the blitz.

This one has received some coverage in the press, but shows how your focus varies when you're not being bombed everyday.

And I guess everyone wants a 54mm scale 88mm & half track

There's a load more stuff and you're not meant to take pictures, so that's your lot.

It let me pass an enjoyable 40 minutes, but no more. As mentioned above I felt there were a few missed opportunities. I'm glad I've been to see it, but pleased that I hadn't gone out of my way to do so. It isn't, in my view, worth a day trip out to see it.

However, on the way out in the main hall I saw one of these:

It may not look much to you lot, but I had one of these, the highlight of my Christmas gifts one year. The walls are kept in place by pins and are taken off and stored in the base. It was guarded by Timpo Guardsmen in bearskins. My favourite toy for years.


  1. Thanks for the youtube link. What a great toy. I could see how you would have wanted one as a kid. That would have been a game changer.

    1. Alas never having seen one in operation I have no idea how it performed, but to say I wanted one is to understate the position a bit...

  2. Yes, I thought it well worth the trip - plenty of old toys and no 28mm or fantasy ... wargames in context.

    Re the ethical questions, I thought they did a good job of keeping it in balance: it isn't the toys' fault ..

    As one of the captions says (in precis) ...

    ‘War play is controversial. It is actively discouraged by many parents and teachers as it is thought to encourage aggression. But aggressive play is not the same as real aggression, in which a child intends to harm.

    'Arguably war play can bring benefits. It can also help them distinguish good from bad and right from wrong. It can help them to explore their feelings and understanding of an often violent adult world.’

    There is a full quotation on my blog entry:

    I admire the thought that went into not just siding with the ethical bullies.

    Interesting too in the context of the early wargames collection that came up on the Antiques Roadshow at the weekend.


    1. I thought they did a good job with the collection and the explanations, - the use of photographs of children playing (including the young girl in helmet with toy gun) did a good job on the gender stereotype arguement. Pleased I saw it.

      Missed the Antiques Roadshow bit, however.

  3. BBC i-player ... last Sunday's episode (if you get bored over the weekend): there is an interesting little story to it.


    1. Just watched it. For those of you similarly interested it's at about 34 minutes into the programme.

      The discussion has clearly been cut, and the expert isn't aware of Robert Louis Stevenson's games which came to public attention in 1898, but interesting none the less. I'd also guess the valaution is a complete shot in the dark as well!

  4. I too lusted after a Johnny Seven, but never got one despite explicit instructions to just about everyone I knew at birthday time and Christmas. :O(

    However, an unspeakable little swine in the next street got one. You cannot possibly imagine my satisfaction when he got the barrel stuck down a cellar grid and snapped it. Shame . . . :O)

    1. I sort of knew from the advert that it was way too expensive for the likes of us (and we weren't poor...). I recall you could buy some bits on their own - eg the cap gun - but I could be wrong.

      Of course the real problem with guns that actually shoot things is that you lose the bits in the end. I am, however, equally gratified that the undeserving so-and-so broke the gun.

      And I don't even know him....