The subject of children playing with toy guns, knives etc. is a controversial one. Many parents will not allow their children to play with any toys resembling weapons. I am not going to explore the rights and wrongs of that here, my thoughts in this post are about the large number of toy guns, swords and bows with arrows we played with as children in the 1950s. We also had penknives, sheath knives and catapults (not toy ones).
First the toy guns. There was quite a choice! Cap guns had a little roll of paper with dots of gunpowder on. When you pulled the trigger a little metal hammer hit the gunpowder spot and there was a satisfying click followed by a puff of smoke and a lovely firework-like smell. Excuse my very un-technical description of the mechanism! Pop guns fired out a cork from the barrel which was attached by a string so couldn’t actually hit anything but made a great noise. Potato or spud guns fired small pellets of raw potato. My memory of the details fails me a bit here but I believe the gun was pressed into the raw potato and a pellet was punched out ready for firing. Lastly, there were the water pistols. I never enjoyed playing with them as much as I didn’t like getting soaked with cold water!
To understand our love of toy guns, it’s important to remember how massive Westerns were at the time in the form of both TV series and films. Who remembers The Lone Ranger, Laramie, The Range Rider, Rawhide and Bronco? The gun-toting cowboys versus the arrow-firing ‘Red Indians’ were the stuff of our childhood – even here in the UK. As children we had cowboy (and cowgirl) and Red Indian dressing up outfits. Which neatly moves us on from guns to bows and arrows. The bought sets had suckers on the end of the arrows which would stick (if you were lucky!) to a door or window. The cheaper ones, however, were the ones we made ourselves using wood from hedges and trees. Willow was the most flexible for a bow I seem to remember.
Whereas the guns were toys, the penknives, sheath knives and catapults we had as children were real. It was the norm for kids, especially boys, to have a child-sized penknife. They might have been smaller than adult ones but they were nonetheless real. They were great for whittling sticks! Because we all had them, we knew how to handle them and not misuse them. The same applied to catapults. The picture shows a typical bought catapult but we also made them from twigs and small branches.