Tag Archives: Tony Gibbard

A Life in a Year – 8th May, VE Day and Boy’s War Games

The Second World War in Europe came to an end on ‘Victory in Europe’ (VE) day on 8th May 1945 and I was born just over nine years later. Nine years doesn’t seem very long after such a tragic event that consumed Europe and the World but because it was so close to what would become my childhood years the war had an influence on my growing up.

I was bought up on tales of the war told to me by my father, these were always gallant tales about impossibly brave paratroopers and square jawed commandos, about fearless desert rats and valiant fighter pilots, about courageous heroes and stiff upper lips, about medals and honours; I am certain that he never really understood what the war was like in its totality.

He had books about the war; ‘The War’s best photographs’, ‘The Empire Youth Annual’ and three bound volumes of the weekly newspaper ‘The War Illustrated’. These told the stories of the sinking of the Bismarck, the Dam Busters raid and Montgomery’s victories in the North African desert.  The horror of the war in the East and the inhumanity of the Nazi concentration camps didn’t feature quite so predominantly and so fuelled by dad’s stories and patriotic British war movies I grew up in some way thinking war was glamorous, brave and worthy.

It might be frowned upon now but in the 1960s dressing up as soldiers and playing with toy guns was quite normal.  I certainly had a plastic tommy gun, grenades, and a hand gun although I have to confess that although this wasn’t terribly patriotic my favourite was a replica German Luger pistol.  I also had a commando knife with a realistic retractable blade on a spring so it actually looked as though I was stabbing someone and a plastic tin hat.  Actually I had a real second world-war British helmet but it was too big and too heavy and I have no idea what happened to it, mum probably used it for a plant pot to grow geraniums!

We spent happy afternoons shooting at each other, being shot, recovering, getting shot again, recovering and then finally carrying out a successful daring commando raid to destroy a U Boat pen or an important military installation.

The house we lived in was built on an old tip and behind that was ‘The Bank’, which was a strip of trees and undergrowth that was good for playing jungle war games when we were pretend fighting the Japanese in make believe Burma. What is now Featherbed Lane used to be Sandy Lane, which was an unpaved track and in the adjacent trees was a long abandoned car that in our imagination we converted into a Churchill Tank.  A narrow path ran from Sandy Lane to Tony Gibbard’s garden where two trees, one large and one small (I can’t remember what species), were converted into tree houses and frequently doubled up as a Lancaster bomber for night bombing raids over Germany and a Spitfire fighter a Battle of Britain dogfight.  You certainly had to have a vivid imagination to achieve this childhood fantasy transformation.

I am not sure exactly when I stopped playing soldiers, I cannot pinpoint the exact moment but it might have been sometime in 1966 when the toy company Palitoy produced and sold ‘Action Man’ which was a plastic toy soldier that you could buy uniforms for and dress up, yes, dress up, like a Sindy doll.  Well, that was all a bit too girly for me, I remember being alarmed that my cousin Robert had got one, and I think this unnatural feminine intrusion into a boy’s world helped bring to an end my back garden war games.

Just for the record – I never owned an Action Man doll!

A Life in a Year – 6th March, School Pals

One thing that I am really bad at is remembering people’s birthdays and every year it is a certainty that I will offend someone by forgetting to send a card.  It is a little strange then that although I haven’t seen him for about thirty-five years I still remember that March 6th was the birthday of my school pal David Newman.  Along with Tony Gibbard David was my best pal and we used to spend long days playing and getting into mischief together in Hillmorton, which was the village where we lived.

The house we lived in was built on an old tip and over the back was a big hole perfect for sifting through and finding old junk and behind that was ‘The Bank’, which was a strip of trees and undergrowth that was good for playing jungle war games.  A narrow path ran from Sandy Lane to Tony’s garden at no. 37 where two trees, one large and one small, were converted into tree houses and frequently doubled up as a Lancaster bomber and a Spitfire fighter.  You certainly had to have a vivid imagination to achieve this childhood fantasy transformation.

What is now Featherbed Lane used to be Sandy Lane, which was an unpaved track and in the adjacent trees was a long abandoned car that in our imagination we converted into a Churchill Tank.  Beyond Sandy Lane was the ‘Sand Pit’, which was a bit of a forbidden zone on account of the large number of rats that lived there.  Mum didn’t like us going there and with her exaggerated warnings of how they would either dash up your trouser leg and chew your penis off or alternatively take a flying leap and rip your throat out was enough to make you think twice about venturing too far inside.  A few years later they built some houses on the sand pit and a lot of them fell down quite soon after because of inadequate foundations in the soft sand.

Further down the road there were some derelict old terraced houses that had been condemned by the Local Authority that we convinced ourselves were haunted, they were knocked down a few years later and some Council flats built there to replace them.  We used to go inside and frighten ourselves half to death exploring the empty rooms looking for their secrets. 

 On the road down to the Locks and the canal there was the site of the old Hillmorton Manor House that lay in ruins surrounded by dense undergrowth of trees and vegetation.  This is where Constable Road is now.   Around the Manor House the bigger boys in the village had constructed a scramble track (a sort of pre-BMX thing) where we had bike races and pretended to be the Brandon Bees motorcyclists. 

This wasn’t my favourite game I have to say because I used to prefer to go down to the canal and mess about on the locks.  This is where David lived and his parents allowed us to build a camp in an old outbuilding in the garden.  The canal was an incredibly dangerous place really but of course we didn’t realise that at the time.  During the summer we used to wait at top lock and offer to open and close the locks for passing canal craft in the hope that we would receive a few pennies for our labours.

School was about three hundred metres away and to get there we had to pass what was euphemistically called the ‘corn field’.  There never actually was any corn in it of course it was just a piece of uncultivated land with long grass that was waiting to be developed and it wasn’t long before the Council built a clinic and some houses on it and took away another useful recreation site.  At the back of the school was the Elder Forest, which wasn’t a forest at all just an area of overgrown vegetation with a predominance of Elder Trees.  That’s all been grubbed up and built on as well of course now. 

David and I went to Dunsmore school together but in 1970 I went on top sixth form and David left to go to work.  A couple of years later I went to University and David joined the army so naturally we drifted apart and I never saw him again.

Tony Gibbard’s birthday was the 17th May.