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We Were There

CBBC's Ben Shires brings you a Family Mission from IWM's We Were There team. The We Were There team are a group of special volunteers who have witnessed conflict. They volunteer their time to talk to our school and family visitors to the museum, retelling their experiences and true life stories. For this Family Mission we spoke to members of the team who lived through the Second World War.

Mission Briefing

Created during the UK lockdown in Spring 2020.

[Ben Shires] Hello there! The folks over at Imperial War Museums have a very special family mission for you this week with the help of some incredible volunteers. These volunteers make up the We Were There team - a group of veterans and eyewitnesses to conflict. You'd normally find them talking in the museums to families and school groups about their experiences of war and conflict but at the moment they aren't able to do that. The team of veterans and eyewitnesses all have different experiences and memories from a number of different conflicts, but today we're shining a spotlight on IWM's Second World War We Were There team.  

As a child in wartime, toys were scarce. PlayStations and Xboxes hadn't even been invented yet, so you had to take good care of the toys that you did have and make up your own toys and games and some of those games you might even recognize today. The We Were There team remember lots of different ways that they used to pass the time as children.  

One volunteer, Bernard, remembers a game of tag played by his whole class out on the playground where each tagged person would join an ever-increasing line making it very difficult not to get tagged. Whilst Gladys remembers lots of different rhymes for skipping, another veteran – Alan – recalls collecting and swapping bits of shrapnel and shell caps from the bombing – probably not advisable today. He also remembers spotting different aircraft with the help of Aeroplane Spotter which was published every two weeks and cost three pence. The paper included quizzes, silhouettes, articles and pictures of aircraft and Alan studied it intently. And if you enjoy identifying aircraft today, then why not pay a visit to the IWM Duxford Air Show taking place in September. Alan also had a brilliant idea for a homemade game of battleships, and you can find that on the IWM website. 

Although it wasn't all fun and games as Kitty pointed out. By the age of nine when war broke out, she didn't have much time for games as she was too busy looking after her younger brothers and sisters whilst her mum went out to work. And Kitty also had a job of her own chopping and collecting firewood and that money was very much needed.  

So, this week the IWM We Were There team are setting your family mission challenge they want you to have a go at the games and past times that they enjoyed during the 1940s. The details of these games and instructions on how to play them are over on the IWM website so give them a go and let us know how you get on in the comments. You could also tell us the games that you enjoy playing and also any stories or questions you might have for the We Were There team. They might not be able to see you in person at the moment, but they still love hearing from you.  

Make sure that you have lots of fun with this week's mission and thank you so much for joining us over the last 20 weeks. Our missions have included learning the Charleston Stroll dance, baking eggless cakes and everything in between and we've absolutely loved having you on the journey with us. This will be the last mission for a little while, but all our previous missions are available on the IWM website for you to catch up and we'll be back in October with more missions. But until we meet again, bye for now. 


Your mission this week is to have a go at some 1940s style games or past times and to let us know what you’ve been up to, or what you think of the games our We Were There team told you about. Let us know on social media so we can tell them all how you got on! You’ll find some samples of their games below.

Alan’s rules for “Battleships”

Two children play with a toy battleship
Children made up their own games © IWM D 20619

Minimum of a two player game. Additional players will need to join forces to become a team.

Step 1: Draw out a grid with squares, numbered 1-24 across and A-Z down. It should look a bit like a crossword puzzle chart.

Step 2: Agree how many ships you get each. For example, you can both have a maximum of 5 Battleships, 5 Aircraft carriers, 5 Cruisers, 5 Destroyers and 5 Frigates each.

Step 3: Each player then marks the agreed fleet on the squares. Keep the layout secret!

Mark your fleet using the key below

Then let battle commence! Taking it in turns take 'shots' for example, "A4" or "N6" and thus knock out a Battleship or Frigate. You get 20 goes each (optional) and then see who has been most successful by adding up the scores.


  • B = Battleship (10 points)

  • AC = Aircraft carrier (8 points)

  • C = Cruiser (6 points)

  • D = Destroyer (4 points)

  • F = Frigate (2 points)

Alan's Skipping Rhymes

We Were There volunteer Alan delivers a talk at IWM
Alan from the We Were There team © IWM

"There was always a lot of skipping - mass participation, sometimes say six people together on one line, with chanting songs and counting.”

Here’s one of the rhymes:

Sister Susie’s sewing socks for soldiers. How many socks does sister Susie sew

And you keep going until you miss a skip!

Gladys' game of “Cannon”

Gladys, one of IWM's We Were There volunteers
Gladys from the We Were There team © IWM

Gladys remembers there being no money so things were made and games were improvised. Sometimes they would play rounders and cricket – but sometimes they didn’t have all the equipment needed so they would make up some games! Like this game she called “Cannon”.

They would use:

  • 3 sticks of firewood
  • A tennis ball

Step 1: Against a wall lean two sticks vertically and the third stick balanced across the top - a bit like a cricket bail.

Step 2: All take it in turns to throw a tennis ball to try and knock the balanced stick off.

Gladys remembers everyone would run for cover while the person who had knocked the bail tried to hit them with the retrieved tennis ball - if hit, you were out! While trying to take cover the other aim for the players was to try and avoid the tennis ball and rebuild the cannon yelling ‘Cannon’ as soon as this was achieved!


Don’t forget to tell us what you think of their games over on social media so we can let our lovely eyewitness team know what you’ve all been up to – they would love to still hear from you all!

BBC Teach

Evacuees from London explore the Devon countryside
© IWM D 2222
Evacuees from London explore the Devon countryside

IWM worked with the BBC to produce a series of short films for KS2 students about the Second World War, featuring our We Were There team. Follow the link below to hear more from them directly about their memories of the Second World War.

Watch the short films

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