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Kees's story

War games

Photograph of young Kees By the spring of 1944, we were ready for our own war games. The school had been occupied by the Germans and so goodbye homework, hello holidays!

Inspired by the big war taking place all around us, my friends and I spent countless hours preparing for a war of our own. Making weapons for our future battles was our biggest pleasure.

I managed to make a sort of hand grenade with a bottle and a bit of carbide. Carbide was a crumbly white stone which my mother broke up and placed inside the lamp we lit at night. We no longer had electricity or oil for our lamps. My father therefore patented a "carbide lamp" for us, made of two tin cans fitted one inside the other. The top can had a small tube with two tiny holes through which the gas whistled as it produced a bright, white flame. The bottom can contained the carbide stones. My mother would pour a bit of water on them before quickly fitting the cans together. It was, however, a dangerous device, and the lighting of the lamp kept us in suspense night after night. If too much water was poured onto the stones, the lamp could explode once it was sealed. It happened often, but it caused more fright than real harm.

Nevertheless, I found this an interesting idea for manufacturing bombs for our battles. The technique was to stuff a few pieces of carbide into a not-too-solid bottle, add a little too much water, seal it carefully, then toss it at the enemy. My top-secret tests seemed conclusive.

One of our trials backfired, however. As the two camps faced each other, we tossed a bottle bomb which refused to explode. One of our brave warriors went to retrieve it so that we could reload it when it suddenly exploded. My friend called it quits after receiving glass fragments in his legs and we sounded the retreat as our enemies hooted with laughter. Best to stick with proven weapons from now on.

This first idea sparked what I considered to be an even more brilliant follow-up: a flying bomb. When pig breeders slaughtered the hogs, they always gave the bladders to children to make footballs. All we had to do was dry the bladder on the clothesline before blowing it up until it adopted the more-or-less round shape of a ball.

I concluded that the carbide gas that lit our lamp and made bottles explode might well be used to propel a bottle strung to a pig's bladder. I made a number of complicated sketches for this new device, but the project never saw the light of day.

We also made bows and arrows. I manufactured extra-sharp arrows by gluing the needles from my father's turntable with candle wax. My arrows refused to fly straight, however, and ended up getting lost in the trees. Our humble catapults were still our most reliable weapons.

Kees Vanderheyden
Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Canada
12th March, 1997

Kees has written other stories about his childhood:

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