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Post Cowboys, Indians, and Games Children Play
Created by John Eipper on 12/22/17 5:16 AM

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Cowboys, Indians, and Games Children Play (John Heelan, UK, 12/22/17 5:16 am)

There have been some interesting studies exploring how children's games reflect the contemporary times in which they are played. By 1914, people could buy Christmas crackers decorated with Dreadnoughts (British battleships). Shops offered toy machine guns and a board game about sinking German submarines, called "Kill Kiel."

During WWII, I recall playing "Cowboys and Indians" (armed with makeshift bows) or "Tarzan and Jane" in the jungly undergrowth of a local park. Later we moved to "Germans and Soldiers" with pretend Tommy guns (the adjective reflects the generic "Tommy Atkins" of the British Army).  I have reported previously in WAIS how we as children were shot at by a German aircraft on the Yorkshire Moors near an Army camp. Later the influence of US comic books (and UK copy publications) drifted us towards space guns and flying saucers.

I note that the influence of "Shoot'em up" video games now seem to absorb the interest of our grandchildren.

JE comments:  I'm pretty sure the Tommy gun refers to the US inventor John T Thompson.  Tommy Atkins in the Great War trenches used the Lewis gun.  Thompson's invention didn't appear until 1919.

Here in Cuba, kids might reinforce nationalist ideology by playing Revolutionaries and Imperialist Mercenaries, although from my observation they prefer baseball and soccer.

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  • Tommy Gun and John T Thompson (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 12/23/17 4:55 AM)
    A minor pedantic remark to John Heelan's interesting post of December 22nd:

    The "Tommy Gun" is not indeed named for Tommy Atkins, but rather for General John Taliaferro Thompson (a distant relative of mine), inventor of the M1 Thompson Submachine Gun:


    JE comments:  I couldn't resist being pedantic either when commenting on John H's post.  Thompson's home is on the Ohio river waterfront in Newport, Kentucky, where there is a historic marker.  There is an excellent German beer hall (Hofbrauhaus) nearby.  Cameron Sawyer will be able to tell us if John Taliferro Thompson is related to Confederate General William B. Taliaferro (pronounced "Tahliver"), a Virginian described by Wikipedia as "strict, aloof, and unpopular."  The surname is from a prominent Virginia family of Italian origin.

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  • Tommy Atkins (John Heelan, UK 12/23/17 5:06 AM)
    John E (22 December) is probably correct in ascribing the "Tommy Gun" to its inventor.

    However, "Tommy Atkins" as a description of a UK Army squaddie predates the "Tommy gun" by more than a century. (I also recall being trained on LMGs--Brens--with the instructor complaining they were too accurate and thus wasted ammunition.) I believe that Lewis LMGs were first used in 1914, so well before "Tommy Guns" were issued to infantry.

    JE comments:  A light machine gun (LMG) wastes ammo if it's too accurate?  I must be missing something.  We could assemble a list of the synecdoches used to refer to troops from different lands.  During the US Civil War, it was Johnny Reb and Billy Yank.  German soldiers have been known as Fritz or Jerry, although the latter is derived from the word "German" itself.  "Fritz" was no doubt called that way only by his enemies.  French trench rats in WWI were Poilus (hairy ones), which is not a name per se.

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    • Krauts, Milicos, Alfileres (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 12/24/17 4:10 AM)

      Regarding John Heelan's post on "Tommy guns" and John Eipper's comments on soldiers' national nicknames, I recall that German soldiers during WWII were also called Krauts. This derogatory term for a German soldier comes from a typical German food sauerkraut. Kraut is a German word recorded in English from earlier past century onwards as a derogatory term for Germans in general.

      In South American countries, army people are pejoratively called milico o milicón.  This word comes obviously from the term militares. According to a ex military friend there are other less common derogatory names for the different ranks in the army, such as alfiler for an alférez (second lieutenant), capirucho for a captain, and coroncho for a colonel.

      JE comments:  Yesterday in Varadero, we saw an English sign advertising a Corporal Massage.  I suppose it would be a good way to alleviate a Major Headache.

      In Chile, the slang name for police is Pacos.  Unlike Spain, where Franciscos are called "Paco" for short, you'll never see Paco used as a nickname for a Chilean Francisco.


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      • Ruperts and Rodneys (Timothy Ashby, South Africa 12/25/17 9:56 AM)
        The former chairman of my company, Lord Guthrie (ex-Chief of the General Staff and Chief of the Defence Staff) told me that young subalterns were referred to as "Ruperts" because the ORs (Other Ranks) seemed to think that all callow, upper-class young officers were named Rupert. Lord Guthrie would know as he was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst.

        Another friend, the son of Air Marshall Sir John Whitley, told me that RAF officers were called "Rodneys," but he didn't know why. This same friend (an Old Etonian but hardly a "Rupert") chose not to follow in his father's career footsteps but instead served as a subaltern in the 11th Hussars (aka the "Cherry Pickers" or "Cherry Bums"), famous for being part of the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War.

        By the way, the decoy mannequins dropped by the Allies during the 1944 Normandy invasion were called "Ruperts" by the British forces. Could this have been a derogatory reference to young, inexperienced officers fresh out of Eton, Harrow or Rugby?

        JE comments:  Cool!  And let's not forget the best male nickname of all from the UK--the "Guy."  Wasn't Guy Fawkes the origin of the generic "guy"?  Burn that Guy...

        (Greetings from a quick layover in Miami.  Christmas Day is a splendid time to be in airports.  Everyone is so nice!)

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