This Father’s Day gift this year has a double significance.
My late father had a small and much loved collection of lead toy figures during the Second World War.
Somehow these figures did not survive the war, given up for the war effort or passed on to other children. I can’t recall how they vanished but I kept a look out for suitable lead toy soldiers for him as possible birthday presents.
My grandfather was a professional driver and later chauffeur and probably handyman / gardener to one of the directors of a prosperous southern English building firm. My grandfather was given some lead toys to pass on to his little boy such as a 1930s coronation coach that had carelessly been dropped by his employer’s children into the garden pond.
This driver grandfather went on to serve in the RAF, driving airfield vehicles such as petrol bowsers throughout the bombing of airfields during the Second World War.
My father as a wartime child in his Morrison shelter played with a plaster and lead barrage balloon toy, hoisting it up through the mesh sides. (William Britain’s made such a toy). He also had a small plane carved out of aircraft crash turret Perspex, long since lost.
I recall my father talking about a boxed set of Britain’s RAF firefighters that he was given amongst his lost legions, but never found such a replacement figure for him as a present.
The choice makes sense with his father’s RAF ground crew wartime experiences, who would have seen these RAF firefighters in their protective Asbestos Bestobell Suits.
Maybe these strange figures were all that was available when the supply of toys became scarce as companies including Britain’s turned their factories over to war production. I think he also had some Britain’s peaked cap khaki infantry firing.
Apparently this Britain’s Firefighters of the Royal Air Force set no. 1758 of 8 figures (or 2 in larger display set 2011) was only produced for a short while, introduced circa 1939 /1940 to 1941, which explains why it took too long to track one down.
I wonder if my interest in toy soldiers, replaced by plastic by the time I was born, came from my father’s lost legions?
Dad was always keen when I was small to join in toy figure games on the floor, garden or tabletop. Later he encouraged my collecting of yet more Airfix or other plastic figures with the gift of history, modelling or gaming magazines; I’m sure he enjoyed reading the history articles on the train home.
He had many stories to share from his National Service years in the British Army, which I will save for another figure and another blogpost.
That was the history of my family in toy soldiers part 1.
Posted by Mr. MIN, Man of TIN, June / July 2016.