Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Little Boy

When I was a boy, (and I believe this to be absolutely true) I was quite capable of de-fusing a 1000 pound, WW2, German bomb, but - thankfully - I was never put to the test.

Being born shortly after the war, close to a huge area of military significance, I had developed a healthy* unhealthy* (*delete as appropriate) interest in the armaments of the previous decade, and had acquired a military manual which dealt with every aspect of unexploded munitions dropped by the enemy on us Brits.

The house which I had been brought up in had been occupied by the Irish Guards in WW2, and had a cupboard in which their munitions were stored. The inventory was still chalked up on the door and included a box of hand-grenades which - I was disappointed to discover - had long since been taken away, so I had to buy my own one - a good, British, Mills fragmentation bomb.

I soon learnt that it was a simple matter - when dealing with Jerry's 1000 pounders - of gently unscrewing the timer-fuse from it's housing, placing it in a bucket of water, then inserting a rubber tube into the main body of the bomb. At the other end of the tube would be an ordinary kettle, and a good many cups of tea could be drunk whilst waiting for all the stinking, high-explosives to steam out harmlessly into the surrounding earth.

You had to be careful though, as Jerry quite often dropped bombs which were designed not to go off, and these were fitted with booby-trapped fuses. The use of stethoscopes would determine whether or not these were clockwork, or fitted with an anti-tamper device which would be set off on removal. They would sometimes reverse the thread, causing undue stress on the trembler-switch. My manual contained descriptions of all the latest, cunning traps which were discovered before 1945, so I was ready for them.

One day, I was invited with a school friend's parents to go for a picnic near Frimley ranges, and we were told not to touch anything which looked like a bomb, when we went off alone for a walk. I found a 2 inch, spent mortar shell so - of course - I picked it up and proudly carried it back to the parents, who disappeared into the undergrowth as I approached waving it in my hand. I shouted to them from some distance that it was obviously a flare-shell, as the body was empty and painted white, but it took a while to convince them that I was - thanks to my manual - well up on colour markings for British munitions. Here follows a guilty admission...

A few weeks later, I painted the casing of the shell matt black, then applied two, red rings around the upper portion. This is the code-marking for an anti-personal, shrapnel device.

I then went to the village green under cover of darkness, and stuck the shell into the centre of the grass with the fins at a rakish angle, in an attempt to suggest that it had been fired over there from some distance.

Next morning, on my way to school, I was both horrified and thrilled to see the entire area cordoned off, the shops and houses evacuated, and several military and police vehicles parked nearby, with uniformed men gingerly looking at my little joke through binoculars. The cowards.

Maybe it's a good thing that I never discovered a live UXB in the neighborhood, despite my obvious qualifications and strong sense of social duty...

1 comment:

  1. In the light of the recent arrest of Ray Gosling for the alleged, self-confessed 'murder' of a boyfriend some years ago, I hope I now do not get a knock on the door from Surrey Constabulary about the unsolved 'Village Green' episode of about 50 years ago. I was very young, remember.