The hobbies and games children loved in the 1940s

What toys and games do you recognise?


by Lorna White |

Hobbies and games in the 1940s used to be simple and involve lots of imagination. A good job too with the war years still a close memory and most families not having a penny piece to spare. Author Elaine Everest looks back on some of our favourite traditional games and vintage toys.


Playing outdoors

A slice of bread and scrape, a bottle of water with a paper stopper and the gang were ready for adventures. Soap carts, play acting and it never cost a penny!

Wheels for the soap carts came from old prams and there were always a few planks of wood about. A piece of washing line to steer and ‘bob’s yer uncle’ the kids had transport.

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‘Be home before it gets dark’ was the only rule laid down by parents and off we’d go on our big adventure. Even in the towns and cities there were adventures to be had climbing amongst the bombed out buildings with never a thought for our own safety. Sadly these days are long past


Fivestones (or Jacks)

An interesting game of dexterity that is no longer as popular at it used to be. It helped if the player had large hands, as the object is to throw the five stones into the air and catch them on the back of the hand.

What followed was a method of picking up the remaining stones until all have been collected. Jacks are a very similar game where five metal-pronged ‘stones’ are used whilst bouncing a small ball. This could keep a child quiet for ages!

Two balls up the wall

Start slowly, Mum would instruct, as we held two balls in our hands and threw them up against the wall one by one and carefully caught them. Once confident we’d add another ball then another. We’d let one bounce, throw another under one leg. The combinations were endless.

The only time we got in trouble was when we bounced the balls up a wall where someone was trying to get a baby to sleep. Then we ran like hell!

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Cowboys and Indians

A stray feather stuck on our hair for the Red Indian and a stick or a finger for the gun and imagination went into overdrive. Was it Saturday morning pictures that fired kids imaginations to play this favourite game? Even better if someone had received a feather headdress or a sheriff’s badge for their birthday. If a toy gun appeared in a Christmas stocking then that child was king. A packet of caps to supply the all-important noise and we could play for hours



As autumn approached there were trips to the woods to find the largest shiniest conkers without having our fingers stabbed by the harsh prickly cases that protected the conker. Then the joy of dreaming of owning a winner – a champion conker!

Threaded onto a bootlace, or a strong piece of string, we could soon have a winning conker that had smashed others to smithereens in combat. Sadly today this favourite playground game is deemed too dangerous for youngsters.

Stamp Collecting

With menfolk serving overseas during the war this opened up interest in the postal stamps of other countries. Children would spend hours pouring over stamps to careful stick into albums. A cold evening by the fireside discussing the stamps of the world with parents as they were carefully handled with tweezers and glued onto a page designated for that country could fill many happy hours. How many adults still have theirs?

Penny for the Guy

This may have been a seasonal event but the making of the guy and the collecting of pennies- and having the best pitch took all of ones time leading up to November 5th.

Making ones own Guy Fawkes effigy weeks before the big day would start with begging old clothes from Dad or grandparents. We’d stuff the body with balls of screwed newspaper before drawing a face or using a mask. The ‘guy’ would be loaded onto a barrow or a pushchair, if we could beg one, and then head off to the best ‘pitch’. Polite calls of ‘penny for the guy mister’ would be rewards with a few coppers thrown into a tin can or cap. The money collected would be spent on fireworks on 5th November. The poor guy would end up on the bonfire!


Brownies, Guides, Cubs and Scouts

Most children belonged to one organisation or another. It was almost a right of passage before adulthood and to this day hold fond memories for many older folk.

The Brownies and Girl Guides for girls, with Cubs and Boy Scouts for the lads would take up at one evening of each week and often church parades on a Sunday where it was an honour to carry the pack’s flag. Useful tasks such as tracking, tying knots, and first aid would be learnt which lead to being awarded a badge that had to be sewn onto the uniform. Older children would go camping in the summer. Happy memories!

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Cigarette cards and matchbox covers

With so many adults smoking back then a popular hobby was to collect the cards inside the packets to swap with friends. These cards were also educational and sets were collected. Today many of these sets of cards are highly prized.

Colourful covers to the matchboxes could be steamed off the boxes and stuck into scrapbooks with a little flour and water.

The Butlins Girls by Elaine Everest is now available in paperback.

For more nostalgia, pick up the latest copy of Yours Retro magazine.

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