As a side-line of this blog, I’m fascinating by children’s playgrounds affording an historical or archaeological theme. I’ve discussed these before in relation to:
When my children and I recently visited the National Trust property at Croome, Worcestershire, we were welcomed by wonderful staff and had a fabulous day. Croome is an 18th-century palladian mansion with gardens and park designed by ‘Capability’ Brown. In addition, during the Second World War, Croome became a secret wartime airbase: RAF Defford.
Visitors today can explore the park and gardens incorporating a lake, summer house, grotto, rotunda, sculpture and church. They can also go around buildings preserved since the wartime military presence and open as a museum.
What I hadn’t expected was the presence of a Second World War themed playground for today’s visitors. As well as a ‘Command Bunker’, a ‘jeep’, and there was also a distinctive aeroplane-slide.
I cannot say my kids responded to the military colouration and forms: they were simply happy to have a play area and enjoyed the activities in spite of the military theme. Likewise they enjoyed the non-military adventure play area nearby.
Still, I’m fascinated by how modern mechanised warfare, even in the context of a Second World War military base, can be regarded as a legitimate and appropriate theme for a child’s play area. If it is legitimate, how and why?
Is this to appeal to the grandparents of the children to make their experience as a visitor more ‘comfortable’ and ‘nostalgic’, perhaps they are really old and remember the war years, or remember their own parent’s memories?
Or is it for the benefit of the military service-age mums and dads of the children playing here. Does it warm their heart to ensure their little ones are connecting to the military past as well as the daily news of military conflict and terrorist attacks in equal measure?
Or is it actually so that the kids themselves are encouraged to be playing at war?
Let’s speculate for a moment that it is the last of these. Obviously we live in a Britain where we expect our Prime Minister to conduct first-strike nuclear attacks causing the deaths of millions of people, so I guess it goes without saying that our children should be exposed to be a bit of casual militarism. After all, the total war of the mid-20th century is ‘safe’ and old-fashioned heritage nostalgia and child’s play. Let’s remember, it was a gentleman’s sport back then. Straffing enemy convoys and blowing up enemy positions can be the focus of children’s games without guilt or second-guessing. The Second World War is shrouded in a halcyon glow of old-fashioned war when you actually had to pilot aircraft to drop bombs on civilian targets and you could get away with shooting unarmed prisoners without having to fear a criminal trial supported by video evidence. In short, the Second World War was the ‘good old days’.
Take this logic to its natural conclusion, perhaps the National Trust should go a little further and include concentration camp gates so that kids can play at liberating them, or even an Omaha beach with machine-gun nests so kids can re-live the landings of D-Day?
Looking to the future, maybe my children’s children will get playground designed in which they can pilot drones to bomb weddings and funerals in the Middle East. Or maybe it will be simply about taking down terrorists before they can detonate explosives….
If you can guess, I was rather disturbed by the whole phenomenon. Still, it was a fun day out and I decided my 4 year olds and 6 year old didn’t need to engage with the mindless military heritage nostaglia within the playground to have a good time.