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Backwords: Games Hitler Couldn't Stop

Mike Shaw recalls some childhood games.

Hitler did his best to spoil our fun and games in the Colne Valley, even though we were a world away from the danger zone.

For one thing, we could hardly go anywhere without those infuriating gas masks slung over our shoulders.

Fifty years on, it seems absolutely ludicrous that anyone ever seriously thought we would be the targets of a gas attack in these parts.

And of course, the masks remained tucked away in their little cardboard boxes - apart from the compulsory drills - for the duration.

But woe betide any of us children who turned up at school without the mandatory mask.

The only warfare any gas masks I saw involved in were gang battles when they were swung by the straps in the direction of your opponent’s head.

They were sometimes a positive menace as well as a nuisance.. As I found out to my cost during a running scuffle along a newly-surfaced road on our way home from school.

I was almost within touching distance of the lad I was chasing when he suddenly threw off his gas mask with all the devastating effect of a hand grenade.

The discarded box fell unavoidably in my path and I was sent sprawling on the pebbled surface.

With knees skinned and pride even more badly hurt, I retired limping from the fray.

Back home I had my wounds bathed and plastered. But, as the weeks slipped by, one knee stubbornly refused to heal. It was, according to my nurse and mother, “going the wrong way.’’

Only after a minute and painful examination of the gashed knee did the culprit come to light. In the shape of a pearl-sized pebble which had been festering away in my kneecap.

I still bear the scar to this day, along with another caused by one more unused piece of wartime scenery.

Our brick-built community shelter, designed for the residents of three or four terraces, thankfully was never needed for the purpose it was intended.

Instead, it became a haven for courting couples and youngsters like me playing hide and seek.

The trouble was that, although the seeker was unable to see the hider, the hider couldn’t see anything either.

In a blundering episode resembling a bizarre game of blind man’s buff, I literally ran up against a brick wall.

After banging my head against the sharp edge of a doorway I emerged from the pitch black of the shelter with blood pouring from a cut eyebrow.

At one time during the war Guy Fawkes’ Night became a real damp squib with fireworks virtually unobtainable.

At least one November 5 was memorable for all the wrong reasons as wartime economies robbed us of the main ingredients.

Instead of a bonfire - with parkin, roast potatoes and toffee - we had to make do with a pitiful little display of indoor fireworks.

A micro-mini Vesuvius, a snake which unwound on a plate and a tiny puffing cigarette were pathetic substitutes for Roman candles, Catherine wheels and Little Demons.

Later on, when real fireworks were creeping back onto the market, word spread like wildfire as soon as a shop had some to sell.

Hordes of thrill-seeking youngsters besieged the counter as shop assistants tried to keep some semblance of order.

The shop-keepers soon realised that the fairest way of dealing with the rush was to introduce some form of rationing.

Budding spivs among the schoolboy ranks speedily set up a blackmarket in squibs, which sometimes changed hands at exorbitant prices.

But, despite all the shortages, Hitler’s war didn’t really stop our fun and games.

Simply because in those days we got enjoyment from so many things that it was impossible to ration and didn’t cost a penny.

After all the best things in life are free. Aren’t they?


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