Monday, 22 June 2009

The winds of war

My 5-year-old son is teaching himself all about the Second World War. Because of his obsession with Spitfires and planes, he's found the entry in the encyclopaedia (kids' one, designed to help with exams and so on, but probably not for those who turned five barely a month ago) and is now surmising the lot to me. He tell me who was against who, who the Allies were and who the 'baddies' were. It worries me that he calls the 'Germans' baddies. I correct him: "That was a long time ago, Sweetie." "OK then, the NAZIS.." he counters, defiant."Look,Mummy, here's a photograph of that horrible dictator Hitler in a truck with Mussolini. William [sic] Churchill was against them. He was English." Sometimes, having a very bright child is quite humbling.

My boy's reading to me the different fronts on which the fighting took place. I was sort of aware of Egypt being included, but that was it as far as I could remember. "Look, Mummy, my plane says 'Palestine' on the wing" he notes, again. I crook to make out the minute letters on the Spitfire model his Grandmother's recently given him. "Maybe that's where it fought", I answer, something I've just realised now. I'm pretty amazed at the way the conflict spread like a disease to areas originally unrelated: somehow I had never linked Pearl Harbour to Kristallnacht but in a way one opened up a can of worms, a global belligerent mentality, as it were, and eventually enabled the other. I never really took note at school, if I ever did learn this much about WW2. I don't remember, but I should have. Why wars happen and who took part, (and why again), are things all children should have drummed into them, with the horror and senselessness of it all. At least, that's MY ideal.

"They didn't fight in India", says my son, proudly (he has Indian blood). I concur, and again (for the umpteenth time this week) try to explain to him how bad wars are, but he can't help dramaticising and romanticising it all. I wonder if it's in the male genes, or just the excitement of planes. Maybe a bit of the former and a lot of the latter, so I let him be.

"My God", says my husband, come evening, as I show him a whole portfolio of drawings: "Spitfire 1942...bommb Mesershmit...Franse, GM {sic: Germany, my little boy told me that meant, giving up on the spelling}, Hurricane, Dog Fhigte" reads one, clearly marked words fragmented around the paper in my son's neat childish hand. The drawing's good: the glass sectioned cockpit, an attempt at perspective with the wings, the badges, the propeller going round, the landing gear - the details are all there. Plus an enemy aircraft tumbling to earth in a mass of red crayon - furious scribbles. "I'm sure even the kids in Vietnam or Gaza didn't come up with this kind of stuff..." says my husband. He's a little shocked. I'm not. I'm actually a little proud, of my boy's interest and the detail of his learning. We'll keep it in perspective, I'll make sure of that, I say. "At least he can stop at drawing it and not have to live it", I add. And think: 'Yes. It's a learning opportunity'.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Helen,

    Please excuse the fact that I am leaving a message for you as a post but I can't seem to find a way of contacting you privately. I am writing to you from the BBC as I am working on a series for BBC Two about the social history of the family. I was hoping that we might have a chat as our fourth and final episode is all about children and childhood in the last 15 years or so.
    It would be great if you could get in touch as soon as you have a minute. You can reach me on or on 0208 008 5667.
    I look forward to hearing from you,
    Best wishes,