Big Boys’ Toys. 4th of August 1914-2014.

Kaisers et al 008

This fellow had a wretched childhood. He was subjected to hideous treatment as an infant to try to correct a withered arm. Perhaps he compensated for all this by amassing a vast store of toys, ships and armies, aircraft and guns. He had a great collection of soldiers, more than any of his cousins. I had one, a Highlander in a kilt. I was convinced that he was alive. I could walk him with my fingers. I recall the excitement of running home from school to play with him. I waited for him to speak. I was in infants’ class at the time,so my misapprehension could be excused. He was actually made of lead. The flesh-coloured paint on his face and knees, was chipped. His wonderful Highland tartan became ragged. Macgregor? McDonald? I never knew his name. He encapsulated in his tiny frame, all the romance of the clans and the awesome Highland regiments. He won many battles for me against Redcoats, armoured knights and Red Indians with feathered war bonnets. (You may not say Red Indians any more. I was always a bit embarrassed by warriors who wore bonnets anyway. The Highlander wore a floppy beret, also tartan. It wasn’t a bonnet. Don’t be stupid….. That’s another argument.)

There was a young fellow at Wipers

Got shot in the arse by some snipers.

The music, they say,

When the wind blew his way,

Beat the Argyll and Sutherland pipers.

My Old Man had the definitive answer to the recurring argument as to whether there is anything worn under the kilt. ‘No, there isn’t. I saw them upside-down on the wire.’

My army 001

This is my army now, a gentleman with a flag, making himself conspicuous; a guardsman in a busby who has soldiered for half a century in a toolbox and five armoured knights that my little boy brought back from Warwick. ‘Warwick, great setter up and puller down of kings.’   They are my crack troops. I will not expend them lightly in war. In the book Voices of War there is a story of an officer addressing his troops before the D Day landings. They were to be the first to land. ‘Gentlemen,’ said he, ‘we have the honour to be expendable.’  An answer came from the ranks: ‘F*** that for a game of soldiers.’  A disgrace to his regiment. My guardsman is a disgrace also, coming on parade in that state. Look at that rifle! Look at that uniform! ‘You ‘orrible little man!’ (Sergeants always say that.) My knights, however, stand tall in shining armour. I have never taken them out of the box. In years to come they will be worth a fortune, because they have never been played with. It’s an Antiques Roadshow paradox. And in the original box too!! Do you remember the lead soldiers in Woolworths? Rank upon rank of them, knights on horseback, guardsmen in red and black, horse artillery, armies enough to conquer the world. I couldn’t afford them. By the time I could afford them, Woolworths had left Ireland and anyway, I had not become a toy-soldier-war-games nerd, (as far as I know).

Frederick the Great loved to watch his guardsmen on parade. They were apparently gigantic men, with bearskins to enhance their height. He lavished money on their uniforms. Legend has it that he was horrified one day to see a sentry wiping his nose on his sleeve .’ After all the money I’ve spent….etc…etc…!’  Lateral thinking was called for. Some cunning strategy. He directed that rows of buttons should be sewn onto the cuffs of all uniforms. A signal victory! They are there on the sleeves of your sports jacket and business suit. In the army you are advised to keep your nose clean. The Royal Greenjackets do not derive their name from this incident.

The Kaiser (Caesar? Come on!), the uber nerd, put his faith in steel. He dumped his Iron Chancellor and made himself a man of steel. Bismarck knew how to win a war: pick on weaker, more feebly armed countries.  He reviewed his Grand Fleet. He reviewed his grand army, bigger than anything Woolworths ever stocked. He needed a war. He made the fortunes  of Krupps of Essen. Krupps, an old family firm, manufactured spoons. Now they make hair-dryers and weighing scales. Between the time they made spoons and the time they started making hair-dryers, they made everything else that could be made of steel… railway lines, railway guns, bridges, ammunition, rifles, tanks, artillery and all the nuts and bolts of warfare. They owned Essen. They even owned the Bible in the church, for God’s sake. Business was booming. The Kaiser was ready for the Off.  On the seventh day of the Great War, Britain opened hostilities against Germany. This was industrial war, a war of mass production and mass consumption. It was a war of assembly lines, fuelled by human lives. It made war the norm for the Twentieth Century. Wars were no longer to be won on the playing fields of Eton, but in the dark Satanic mills and factories and in the squalid trenches among rats and lice. Fire and steel rained from the sky. It still does.

DSCF0132

Our grandchildren inspecting the frigate Heroina, Buenos Aires, armed by Krupps of Essen.

Little boys are drawn to ships and planes and weapons of war. They’re “deadly”. They incorporate them into their play. If they are lucky, they grow out of it. If not, like all the “Great Men”, they go on to bring untold suffering to the world, particularly to its children. One hundred years on, we have the weapons to end all war…and everything else with it. Bloody fools. Maybe the Kaiser just needed a hug from his mother. Today is my mother’s birthday. She talked a lot of sense. She was never a great fan of Woolworths. Her children tended to go astray there. It took her ages to round them up. It could have turned out worse.

Kaisers et al 004

At the end of the war, Krupps of Essen sent a bill to the British government for shell fuses and detonators supplied to the British forces. The British had used these up to 1916 to fire upon the Kaiser’s troops. The bill was paid. Business is business.

I see that the Kaiser’s great-great grandson,Georg Friedrich, Prinz von Preussen, has not ruled out taking up the task of leadership, should his country need him.

For God’s sake, keep him out of Woolworths.

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2 thoughts on “Big Boys’ Toys. 4th of August 1914-2014.

  1. Hi Hugh This article was in the St Martin Magazine December 2013. Regards Steven

    A promise kept

    The devastating 1914-18 World War plunged Europe into darkness for four long years. It brought about a conflict marked by catastrophic loss of life, often for marginal territorial gain. Battles such as Ypres, Verdun, Gallipoli and the Somme would forever become bywords for industrial scale slaughter. The armistice sought by Germany was signed on 11th November, 1918 which brought to an end a war that cost the lives of over 65 million military personnel and civilians. During the period of the war several extraordinary events took place such as a football match in no man’s land on Christmas Day between opposing armies. They even went as far of exchanging their Christmas gifts such as chocolate and to-bacco. One event worthy of mention was the re-markable veracity of the British officer, Captain Robert Campbell. He was captured by the Germans during the Battle of Mons which took place on 23rd August, 1914 in northern France. He was leading his regiment, the 1st battalion East Surrey during the battle. Captain Campbell was captured and imprisoned at a POW camp at Magdeburg, Germany.

    Wrote to the German Emperor Two years later he received news from the prison commander that his mother Louise was terminally ill and close to death. Captain Campbell took phenomenal action. He wrote a letter to Kaiser Wilhelm II the German Emperor in which he outlined his mother’s critical health condition and begged to be released from prison to be allowed to travel to his mother’s home in Gravesend, Kent, England so that he could spend some time with her. Incredibly the German Emperor showed great compassion and granted his request. He allowed Captain Campbell to have two weeks leave of absence which included two days travelling time each way by boat and train on the condition that he returned to his POW camp at Magdeburg. The bond he placed on him was Captain Campbell’s word as an officer. The officer made his way back to his family’s home in Gravesend in December, 1916 and was warmly greeted by his dying mother. The following days were fulfilling and memorable. On the day he was due to travel back to his POW camp in Germany, Robert was constantly told by his relatives and friends to put aside his promise to the Kaiser and stay in England. “My word is my bond” was his often repeated reply. What amazed many was that the British army allowed him to travel back to captivity. Captain Campbell’s days as a prisoner ended in November, 1918. He returned to England and continued to serve in the army up to his retiral in the late 1920s. In the Second World War he was appointed Chief Observer of the Royal Observer Corps on the Isle of Wight. He died in July, 1966 at the age of eighty-one. Robert Campbell is remembered with much admiration for adhering to the promise to the Kaiser. He gave his word as a gentleman and despite many approaches to put aside his promise he steadfastly refused to do so. A true gentleman.

    > > > >

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