In the course of an afternoon, an entire war might have been fought, or at least a campaign. The British may have evacuated from Dunkirk, or landed in Normandy. (It was always the British, a veteran of the Normandy Landings lived on our road, we had no need of American versions of our history).
We would invent ranks for ourselves, I always chose that of lieutenant; my friend was always a captain (his father had been an officer in the Gloucestershire Regiment, his big Webley service revolver still sat in the top drawer of a chest on the landing). Being of an inferior rank never worried me, I would maintain that I was serving in a Royal Marines Commando and was therefore not subject to the command of an army officer, taking orders only from my own superior officer.
The battles we remembered were no more than a generation ago, no more distant than the 1990s are for children today. British armed forces were still a prominent feature of daily life; each Sunday there was even a radio request programme for families parted by military service. Convoys of green, canvas-roofed lorries were still a familiar sight, young soldiers staring out over the tail gate. Naval fighter jets still flew low over the countryside, sometimes at supersonic speed, the sonic boom being sufficient to cause saucepans hung on hooks on the kitchen wall to become displaced and to fall to the floor.
Perhaps the games we played were a reflection of our own reality, our own attempt at capturing the spirit of the storyteller.
Gun battles fought by small boys out for the afternoon seem infrequent now. Sons among the families who are out taking their permitted daily exercise seem mostly passive. Bicycles create a sense of animation, otherwise most boys walk along quietly. Gun battles fought while running from cover to cover, shouts of “charge,” falls to the ground to evade sniper fire, hand to hand combat with an imagined enemy, these are not regular features of boys’ behaviour.
Perhaps it would be ideal if the world inhabited by primary school boys in the 2020s was to be a place where imaginings of violence and war no longer have a part, however, anyone who has seen the computer games now played will know that such an ideal is a far remove from reality. The virtual reality, the online conflicts, the games that are killing, killing and killing, are far more bloody than sticks and shouts on a sunny afternoon.