Regular readers of this blog may recall I mentioned a play-ground game popular when I was a kid – Best Man Falls, in which I and my little school friends simulated dying for The Queen in various violent ways – victims of grenades, bazookas, machine guns, etc.
Someone was asking me about other playground games and whether we played Cowboys and Indians or anything like that. We did; Japs and Commandos. But usually by the time enough kids had been recruited, the school bell was ringing and we had to go back to class. I hadn't wondered until recently why the antagonists were Japs and Commandos. Most of our fathers and grandfathers would have fought against the Germans or Italians (and maybe a very few against the Vichy French), not the Japanese. The Chindits were more famous British Empire troops when it came to fighting the Japanese. And yet we chose to be Commandos. When I was given two boxes of toy soldiers (Airfix 1/32nd scale), they were Japanese and Commandos.
There's probably a PhD in why we were fixated in the sixties on the Japanese as enemies. Perhaps, despite the Holocaust, the Germans were being rehabilitated and it wasn't the done thing to kill them, even in play. But since when have primary school kids been politically correct? I don't think any of us had ever seen a Japanese person and yet they were the bogeymen of our childhood game. I seem to recall that though we had not encountered any Japanese people we were aware of men in our area whose homes we were not supposed to play near. Some were nightshift workers but some others, we were told, had been prisoners of the Japanese and could not stand loud noise. We were told many of them had been tortured. And these were the lucky ones, the Japanese usually killed prisoners, the wounded and the sick. I was reading a book recently which tells how British Empire troops were not slow to retaliate in kind and came to regard the Japanese as a kind of vermin, albeit a brave and dangerous kind of vermin. I wonder how many of you have seen that picture from a Second World War vintage Time Magazine of a pretty American girl admiring a Japanese skull that her boyfriend had sent her from the fighting in the Pacific. I don't recall Time publishing any photos of young women with German skulls. It would appear that there were some things that were acceptable when it came to the Japanese that were not when it came to the Germans or Italians. Twenty years after the end of the war, it was the Japanese who would die in our playground games.