Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Saturday, 14 May 2016
The cover of WW2 British propaganda booklet. My header photo is taken from it, and I believe you can see my father in it, peeping out from the back row - though his sister didn't.
Well they took the Bath bomb away yesterday (they must have driven past hundreds of houses in the night) and blew it up in a controlled explosion. Either it was a very small explosion, or it was very far away, because I didn't hear anything. Salisbury Plain is only about 20 miles away from here, and you can hear them practicing with big guns on certain days. It would be cruel to relocate immigrants escaping war-zones in Devizes.
I taught myself lots about bombs when I was a kid, and we lived quite close to the main ranges - like Frimley - as well as the Home of the British Army, Aldershot. I would sometimes wander around the acidic, sandy common land in search of mementoes, and found quite a lot of stuff which was fascinating to a boy of that age.
A friend's family invited us to a picnic on one range which was open to the public, and we knew we would not be bombed half way through the cucumber sandwiches, because the red flag which they hoisted onto a white pole to alert everyone that live firing was taking place, was not being flown.
After the tea and cake, my friend and I went for a wander, leaving the parents sitting on a blanket. The father's advice as we left was, "Don't touch anything." Yeah, right. I wouldn't have bothered to come were it not for the delicious prospect of touching military hardware.
A few hundred yards into the range, and I spotted my prize, lying amongst the heather. A two-inch mortar shell lying on its side, looking very attractive indeed.
"Don't touch it!" yelled my little friend, and I said that I was not going to - yet.
I went round to the end of the shell and got on my knees to confirm my suspicions - it was empty and harmless. The cylindrical body was painted white, signifying a flare, and the propulsion holes between the fins were blown out, showing that the shotgun cartridge-like charge had already done its work. I pointed all this out to my friend before picking it up.
We walked back to his mum and dad, and they both tried to bury themselves in the sand when they saw what I was carrying. I had to wave the shell a few inches away from dad's face to show him the empty tube before he calmed down and reluctantly allowed me to take it in the car back home. He did not know that I was a little authority on bombs.
The mortar shell sat around in my bedroom until I got bored with it, so then I hatched a plan to have one last thrill of excitement before I said goodbye to it forever.
My daily walk to school took me past a little village green with a few shops around it, and the green was the centre of a sleepy hamlet in which hardly anything ever happened since the nearby borstal had closed down. I was the last naughty boy in the area.
One night, I painted the body of the mortar a matt black, then I painted two red rings around the lower end. For those in the know, this colour scheme represents 'anti-personnel, shrapnel'. The original, pure-white body was 'flare shell' for illuminating the battlefield.
The next night - under cover of darkness - I went back to the village green and pushed the hollow end of the bomb into the grass, setting it at a pleasing angle, as if it had landed there from a distant firing position. Then I snuck back home.
The next morning, on the way to school, I was simultaneously delighted and horrified to see that the whole area had been cordoned-off, the shops and houses had been evacuated and a lot of military vehicles were parked around the cordon at a safe distance. Some men in uniform were looking at my little mortar through binoculars.
As I approached, a policeman came up to me and I thought I was going to be arrested on the spot for sweating and going red, but he just told me to give it a wide berth by crossing the road on my way.
What a nasty little bastard I must have been - and maybe still am.