Learning Chess in World War II


In the last war, 1939-1945, I was a child in Germany. My parents lived above my father’s bookshop in the university town of Heidelberg.

The shop had previously been a bank and in the basement was the ‘strong room’ in which the bank customers’ security boxes were kept.

After the conversion to a bookshop this room, with very thick walls and a heavy door, was designed to be the children’s reading place. The walls were lined with shelves housing all the colourful story books and games for all ages. Tables and chairs were provided.

When the air raids started my parents, sometimes reluctantly, woke us children to take us down to the ‘strong room’ — where we would happily read books and play and hardly heard what was going on up in the sky and the bombing of the nearest cities Mannheim and Ludwigshafen.

On some occasion, while we were sheltering from the bombers flying overhead, my father produced a chess board and taught me the moves of all the chess pieces and gave me the first insight into a game I later taught my sons, one of whom became a Junior Leinster Chess champion and is still actively involved with his chess club on the Northside of Dublin.