I hate to admit it though but some of those stereotypes must have remained in our psyche. Germans troops running around shouting “Die Engelander Schwein” and Japanese soldiers shouting “Banzai!’ and reporting to “Captain San” before one last suicidal dash across the jungle straight into gunfire from the platoon’s Bren, fixed bayonets and all! It was a very simplistic view of warfare that we lapped up because frankly there wasn’t much else in the way of entertainment for blood thirsty young boys, apart from the wireless. I hate to say this but Enid Blyton and her ilk did not quite compare.
Of course the reality of war is a different thing altogether. Many of our fathers and grandfathers were ex-soldiers from both World Wars, and I suspect they looked on at our antics with amusement, knowing that the things they faced were very different from the black and white drawings that fascinated us so much. When we went into national service ourselves, we soon discovered how different the military was compared to our idealised vision of it. I can safely say I had a whole new view of the Bren so beloved of Private Smith as he fought off the Germans and Japanese. I trained with the Bren in Platoon Weapons during my National service, and frankly found it heavy, unreliable, and very prone to stoppages. We had 1942 vintage 7.62mm chambered versions, which were slightly different to the 303 version below.
My own particular “genre” was the war at sea. Naval versions of these books were reasonably rare, but I collected and horded them the most. Not for me the glamorous existence of Battler Britton and his squadron “somewhere over England”, I was too busy reading about “Korvettenkapitän Schmidt” and the U12345 in the North Atlantic, torpedoing hapless merchant vessels while being pursued by an outdated destroyer with a crew of has-beens and a commander with a death wish/personality quirk/drink problem. Again the reality of the war at sea was light years apart from how I envisioned it. My first trip “out to sea” happened in 1986 and I remember waking up to seeing nothing around me except sea. The deep sea is a big and often scarey place and the convoys must have been a nightmarish existence.
Eventually I would grow out of my war book phase, and move onwards to other things. War Picture Library ceased publication in 1984, and the genre seemed to disappear completely in South Africa, apart from the occasional appearance at a book sale. I suspect many wives and mothers can be blamed for destroying vast amounts in their quest to throw away little boys collections. I also expect that war books eventually gave way to pornography or “men’s magazines” or even “Scope”.
Because of my interest in the past I have always tried to find copies of war books, and when I do I always read them and shake my head at the often atrocious stereotypical stories in them. Did I really read this stuff? The problem is, you need to look at the era that we were living in. In my case we were roughly 15-20 years out of World War 2, and the memory of the war was still relatively recent. Neither did we have the internet to feed our fascinations; television only came to South Africa in 1976, and before that heaps of Eurocentric radio shows or American comics were all we really had.
In 2013 while in the UK I was fortunate enough to find this heavy beaut on sale at my local charity bookstore. I agonised over it for a long time because of its link to my past. Finally, I bought it for the princely sum of £9.99. (usual price £14.99 (about R225.00 way back in 2013))