1914’s must-have Christmas gift: the ‘British-made’ toy soldier

Posted on December 12th, 2014 by The British Newspaper Archive

Today’s most-popular Christmas toys include Frozen dolls and tech gadgets, but it was a very different story 100 years ago. Newspapers from the time reveal there was a clear trend for ‘British-made’ military toys in the year that Britain joined World War One.
 
An advert for 1914's Great Miniature Battle in the Daily Mirror

Daily Mirror – Friday 04 December 1914
Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

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The ‘Great Miniature Battle’ of 1914, with trenches and barbed wire

An advert for Gamage’s department store appeared in the Daily Mirror on 4 December 1914, describing ‘the most realistic thing in Toy Warfare the world has ever seen’. A large battle reconstruction had been set up in the store’s toy hall, featuring ‘Field Guns and Howitzers fired by real gunpowder, trenches and barbed wire’.

We’re able to learn more about the miniature battle thanks to the following article, published in the Dundee Courier on 12 December 1914. It revealed that the Battle of Yser, which occurred in October 1914 and resulted in an Allied victory, was acted out four times every day. The spectators would then ‘rush to buy soldiers – from 5½d to 90s per box’.
 
A description of Gamage's WW1 toy soldier battle reconstruction was printed in the Dundee Courier in 1914

Dundee Courier – Saturday 12 December 1914
Image © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

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During WW1 there was ‘never such a demand for toy soldiers’

The Dundee Courier also included an interview with one of the Directors of the department store. It revealed that, despite working around the clock to produce British and German toy soldiers in 1914, Gamage’s was overwhelmed by demand.

Children’s toys had often been imported from Germany, but in 1914 with the two nations at war, ‘British-made’ toys received a surge of popularity. There are currently 4,329 matches for the search term “British made” in newspapers from 1914 at The British Newspaper Archive, compared to 1,602 matches in 1913. This is a 35% increase in the popularity of the term, taking the number of pages currently available online for both years into consideration.
 
British-made toy soldiers were very popular in 1914

Dundee Courier – Saturday 12 December 1914
Image © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

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