Monday 17 June 2013

War Games at the Museum of Childhood

I was unable to make it to the London Toy Soldier show last week, so in order to make up for that I decided to head off to the Museum of Childhood (part of the V&A) in Bethnal Green, London, and view their new exhibition:  War Games

What with it being the centenary of H G Wells' publication of "Little Wars" I had hoped to see a chronology of Kriegspiel with lots of toy soldiers, and in fairness you get some of this but not nearly enough (okay so I'm biased - what do you expect).  The exhibition tries to be child friendly with interactive bits for the kids while offering quirky and nostalgic exhibits to rope in the parents.  It asks those dusty old questions - "do war toys lead to aggressive behaviour" "are war toys gender specific" "what are society's changing attitudes to war toys" - and other such old bunk, just give us the toys!

So what's on show: boardgames, puzzles, guns (including the awesome Johnny Seven one man army -remember that one), dressing up uniforms, books (including Little Wars), Lego, Action Man, tanks, planes, ships and toy soldiers (paper, flats, hollow-cast and composition).  Many of the items are on loan from the Nuremberg Toy Museum so this may be a rare opportunity to see them. 

My top 5 exhibits are:

"Der kampf gegen Russland" a boardgame from 1916, the board shows Austrians fighting Russians across a river with three bridges.  The artwork is inspiring, on the Austrian side there is an armoured train, a battery of Skoda guns, Medics, Pioneers, Croats, Hussars and Uhlans, on the Russian side of the river hordes of infantry and cossacks appear to be taking quite a pounding.  There is a theme of "toys as propaganda" running through the exhibition and the premise of this game is that the cause of the Great War was all the fault of those pesky Ruskies.

"L' Heroique Peuple Serbe" a sheet of paper soldiers of the WW1 Serbian army in animated action poses from 1915.

A group of early 9cm composition toy soldiers which includes a vignette of a German and French soldier in the uniform of 1914 locked in hand to hand combat (one I hadn't seen before)

A stunning tinplate German torpedo boat made in 1912 by Gbr. Bing

Two beautifully and accurately made cardboard panzer tanks, dated 1930 - 41, scaled to go with 7cm composition figures, probably made by a father who couldn't afford the tinplate manufactures of the time.  They are delightfully home made but then I read that they were owned by a ten year old boy, killed in the Allied bombing of Nuremberg, and that sudden stab of reality left me reeling in horror.

The exhibition is in London until March 2014 and then goes on tour to Carlisle and Coventry, entry is free so go and see it if you can, but don't expect too much, it's not a large collection.  Sadly photography is prohibited and there is no booklet to accompany it so this post is without images.  I have searched the net for pics but without success so if you find any do let me know, I would especially like to get a copy of that boardgame.  However the BBC did make a short news report showing some of the items, and here it is:

I am recently returned from the Greek Isles.  "And how is that bastion of EU austerity managing" you might wonder?  Well the sun still shines and the sea is still blue but most of the tourists have decamped long ago to cheaper climes outside the Eurozone, like Turkey and the newly discovered Croatia.  Prices have remained relatively unchanged since I was last there three years ago, but with reduced tourist numbers at least half the bars, restaurants and shops are boarded up.  Those that remain, the long established family owned businesses are struggling but have upped their game in terms of quality and service so the owners remain stoically cheerful.

You notice other little things too: previously all the taxis were Mercedes, now they're Skodas (VW's in all but name, but manufactured in Czech, outside the Euro).  Plots of land left empty for a decade pending development have been turned over to agriculture, nobody is building any new development and it doesn't look like they will be for a while.  Instead older properties are being renovated and improved.  Many more people are keeping their own chickens. 

I have always frequented resorts favoured by German tourists because the food is noticeably better, now the Germans are nowhere to be found but the food is still better.  The ubiquitous Chinese made tourist tat has been swept from the shelves of the souvenir shops to be replaced by stylish locally made handicrafts, so although the clock has been turned back in some ways there is also something of a renaissance and in the longer term I feel it may be for the better.