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National Army Museum
  • 10.00am - 5.30pm
  • FREE
  • Chelsea, London

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The dressing gowns that earned their stripes

6 min read

Antony Mallaby's dressing gown, c1943

Children in the Second World War

For some children, war can seem very exciting. The Second World War provided many thrilling stories of heroic deeds. These fed the imaginations of boys who grew up reading adventure comics in the years that followed. However, the reality of growing up in wartime was very different.

In Britain the war created a sombre mood of toil, privation, fear and suffering. Children, like adults, had to put up with many shortages. Food, clothes and even sweets were rationed. Many children had to bear long periods with their fathers away and - with more mothers also going out to work - the war placed a great strain on family life. Coping with the loss or injury of a family member or friend was also a common experience.

London evacuees leaving for the countryside, 1941

Schoolboys survey bomb damage, London, October 1940

Many children were also separated from their families and evacuated to the countryside or abroad to keep them safe from enemy bombing. Although this was an adventure for some, for others it was very distressing.

Children who were not evacuated, or who returned too soon to the cities, had to endure the nightly terror of the Blitz of 1940-41, and later the attacks from flying bombs (‘doodlebugs’) and rockets.

Antony and Aubertin Mallaby

Born in July 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, Antony Mallaby spent his early childhood in Camberley, Surrey. He was only six years old when the conflict ended and, being so young, was only dimly aware of what the war was all about.

However, many of the sights and sounds, such as searchlights, air raid warnings and doodlebugs, were vividly impressed on his mind.

Antony Mallaby with his father Brigadier (later Major-General) Aubertin Mallaby,

Antony with his father Brigadier Aubertin Mallaby, c1941

Brigadier Aubertin Mallaby Deputy Director of Military Operations at the War Office, 1941

Antony's father, Brigadier Aubertin Mallaby, worked long hours as Deputy Director of Military Operations at the War Office in London before being posted to the Far East in 1943.

He was appointed Director of Military Operations at Army Headquarters in India and then given command of the 49th Indian Brigade in 1944. He was killed in action at Surabaya in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) on 30 October 1945 following a clash with Indonesian nationalists.

As well as missing his father, Antony was also sensitive to the news of other friends and relatives who had suffered losses. But these feelings were tempered by the excitement created when other family members came to stay owing to wartime circumstances.

Antony’s dressing gown with formation badges sewn on, c1940

Antony's dressing gown with badges sewn on, c1943

Dressing gowns

These dressing gowns, decorated with military badges, belonged to Antony. They helped him gain an awareness of the war.

His father collected many of the badges and others came from family friends and relatives. They formed a special connection for Antony, especially after his father's death. It was his mother’s idea to sew them onto the dressing gowns.

Of particular importance to Antony were the badges relating to his father’s service in the Far East, such as the red fighting cock of the 23rd Indian Division and the red shield and white sword of the Fourteenth Army. His friends at school were impressed and began collecting badges themselves, starting the kind of craze that many schoolchildren today will be familiar with.

The gowns also helped inspire Antony to follow in his father’s footsteps. He joined the army in 1957 and went on to serve in Aden and Northern Ireland.

Brigadier Aubertin Mallaby receiving the CIE from General Sir Claude Auchinleck, c1945

Brigadier Aubertin Mallaby receiving an award from General Sir Claude Auchinleck, c1945

Lieutenant Antony Mallaby, 17th/21st Lancers, near Dhala, 1962

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