Military canteen with incised game board
This aluminum canteen was standard issue with the Spanish Army before the Civil War and was used by both sides. Its peculiarity in this case resides in the fact that it has a game board engraved on one of its sides.
Games were all important on many fronts throughout the conflict, particularly on stable and secondary fronts—like Guadalajara, where the canteen was found—where combat was sporadic. As in most other wars, soldiers spent only a fraction of their time fighting. After instruction, fortification work and maintenance, soldiers had a lot of free time and very little to do. To deal with boredom, men read newspapers (or were read to), wrote (or dictated) letters, chatted and played games. In stable positions of the Spanish Civil War, it is actually relatively common to find domino or checkers pieces. Often, as in this case, the men made their own gaming materials, out of material such as animal bones, tin cans, tiles, and other objects. They used pebbles, coins or shell casings to make the pieces. Playing games was a way of killing time and strengthening ties with comrades. It was also a form of psychological evasion: the concentration needed for playing cards or tic-tac-toe allowed soldiers to forget about their situation. Besides, gambling historically increases—even to the point of addiction—in contexts of danger and high unpredictability, as in the case of war, where life itself is at stake. At different times, military authorities have tried to ban or curtail gambling, often unsuccessfully. In the case of the Spanish Civil War, we know that some military chaplains disapproved of gambling and fought against it.