For many people, the concepts of “toys” and “war” seem utterly antithetical to each other, with the fun and joy of the former at odds with the violence and cruelty of the latter. However, for most children throughout history, these two concepts have traditionally been deeply intertwined due to ongoing conflicts that could last their lifetime.

There is even a sub-genre of toys referred to as ‘war toys’, which include toy soldiers, toy tanks, toy guns, and the like. These are usually visual representations of military might and have received criticism for promoting aggression and violence. On the other hand, some toys have been made during war to represent aspects of it without being seen as violent – for example, nurse figurines.

Join us as we examine some valuable vintage toys in the MINT Museum of Toys’ collection to see what they can tell us about children’s lives during the 2nd World War.

1. Mickey Mouse German Airplane

Maker: Tippco
Year of Make: c. 1940s
Material: Lithographed Tin
Country of Origin: Germany

One of the most memorialised events of World War II was the Blitz, a German campaign carried out against the United Kingdom that involved the bombardment of towns, cities, and industrial targets between 1940-1941. The attack resulted in hundreds of thousands of children being evacuated to the English countryside for their safety

Playing amongst reminders of war became a daily occurrence, such as shrapnel hunting in bombed-out sites. War-themed toys and games also became a way to help children process what was happening.  Ironically, while a toy such as this Mickey Mouse German Airplane might have frightened British children as a memory of the Blitz, it was seen as a symbol of triumph and power by German children in its country of origin. 

Learn more about vintage Mickey Mouse memorabilia or the story behind Tippco’s die-cast toys and how Nazis took over Philip Ullman’s Jewish-owned company during World War II.

2. Hitler Pin Cushion

Maker: Bassons Dummy Products
Year of Make: c. 1941
Material: Plastic and Fabric
Country of Origin: United States of America

Toys weren’t just visual representations of what was going on – they could also be powerful and provocative propaganda for constructing larger meta-narratives about good, evil, and who’s considered the Enemy or the Other.. For example, this Hitler Pin Cushion mocked Hitler and raised morale amongst Americans back home even as the war was going on in Europe. Sales of the toy even helped to support the war effort overseas.

3. Shingun Soldier

Maker: Masudaya
Year of Make: c.1930s
Material: Celluloid
Country of Origin: Japan

Vintage toys are also valuable in helping us understand the lives of children during the Pacific War. This Shingun Soldier wears an outfit typical of the Japanese Military during the 1930s, which would have been a familiar, yet painful, sight to children in Singapore and throughout Southeast Asia during the war years. The attitude of the invading Japanese was that they needed to ‘civilise’ the local population, and a main avenue for this was through the country’s youth and children. Local children were made to learn Japanese, sing the Japanese national anthem, and even follow a Japanese school curriculum that could include traditional Japanese sports and arts such as judo. Some were also required to join Japanese associations, with the idea being that consistent exposure to ideals of Japanese superiority would eventually lead to re-education of a young pro-Japanese population. 

See Old Toys in a New Light at the MINT Museum of Toys

Toys are a way for children (and even adults) to process and understand the world around them, so it’s no surprise that they gained a new significance during tumultuous times such as World War II. Beyond having fun, toys communicate particular messages, offer reassurance, create propaganda, and craft larger narratives about wartime events and experiences.

Visit the MINT Museum of Toys to see more valuable and historic vintage toys, including toys related to the Battle for Singapore. We also offer virtual museum tours you can enjoy from the comfort of your home and an AR-aided experiential museum learning activity when you visit our premises in Singapore!

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