11:POLICE & POACHING
I never knew anyone ever being lodged in the cell in PC Clarke’s house although he did make arrests. He patrolled on his Raleigh two crossbars police bicycle. Batteries for cycle lamps were very scarce but carbide lamps were still used. However, the problem with carbide lamps that if you turned them off, it took a little while to relight. PC Clark had an ingenious system of carbide lamps on his cycle, front and red rear. The rear lamp was fed through a piece of rubber tubing from the front lamp, whilst he had concocted a Heath Robinson type of spring loaded shutters which snapped over the front and rear light when he stopped to make his points or observation, saving him putting out the lamps and being ready to use if he had to dash off.
Now, after all these years, can be revealed my secret poaching forays. Secret; as I confided in no one else. It was in my second year at Gold Hill. Once a month a mobile Hardware plus van would go around the villages and farms, stopping at places like Gold Hill. The van contained everything needed or wanted from farming tools, ordinary tools, screws, nails, pots, pans, cottons, lamps, candles and other household needs. I was intrigued by seeing hanging up, a cluster of bright brass wires with strings attached. I asked my friend John Eveleigh what they were and he informed me that they were rabbit snares used for catching rabbits.
An idea formed in my mind. The surrounding fields were alive with rabbits – I could supplement our meat ration by catching rabbits. During the following weeks, I carefully hoarded my pocket money and kept casually asking John how rabbit snares worked. You find the rabbit runs, peg down the string, open the wire to a noose and leave it, however, not where animals were in the fields.
The next visit of the mobile Hardstore found me waiting until all the customers had gone and was about to drive off. I asked the driver for three rabbit snares paying the great sum of three pennies each. Hiding them away so my mother could not see them, I made my plans. As dusk fell I slipped away to one field where there were rabbit runs and carefully laid out my rabbit snares. It had never occurred to me that if I caught a rabbit, I did not know how to pouch it, clean it or skin it! Early next morning before school, I vas away to my snares expecting to find three rabbits – nothing. So I took up the snares as cows would be in the field after milking, and hid them.
This went on for several months, weather permitting, without results. I was unaware that one needed to know certain things about rabbits, their habits and human scent and foot marks all over the place. I gave up in disgust. However, in one of my boy’s magazines there was a story about a woodsman using arrows with blunt ends to shoot rabbit. A new idea formed.
Ross Hart (from the New Inn) and myself had started to make bows and arrows. The bows were ash tree branches, the arrow made from hazel nut sterns. He pottered around first trying for distance, then shooting at tin cans. Ross always made better arrows than I did which flew further and were more accurate when shooting at tin cans some twenty feet (about 6 metres). However, not to be outdone, I secretly made some arrows with two inch nails (50mm) in the head, which I found would stick into trees although only one in four hit the tree. Now I had my lethal weapon for taking rabbits. Hiding the bow and arrows in a field, I would go out at dusk, retrieve them and go and lay behind a hedge waiting for the rabbits to come out.
The fact that there were rabbit holes on both sides of the hedge was not considered important. Several sessions of this with no results, not even seeing a rabbit, made me decide on a change. This time I would lie out in the field, arrow ready with the bow in a horizontal position and shoot the rabbits as they came out of their burrows.
Even this did not work even though I laid flat and was soaked to the skin many times and waited what seemed like hours. I did not know what I was doing wrong, so after several weeks I gave up idea I could shoot rabbits – however…..
Several months later, two older lads cycled over from Hammoon or Manston to chat with the local lads. I stood on the fringe of the group until all sat down on a bank talking away. I heard rabbits and catapults mentioned so quickly slid down as close as I could to them. One boy produced his catapult which looked massive, and related how using ball bearings he was able to knock rabbits over. That was enough for me, a new idea gleamed. I would make a catapult. Secretly, construction started only to be confounded by lack of elastic.
First I obtained some rubber bands, then ‘borrowed’ some broad elastic tape off my mother which I replaced as it did not work, also it was very scarce in wartime and would be missed. Several weeks went by when one day I saw another lad cutting rings from an old cycle inner tube. I had found my propulsion. The bartering became hard but by offering a half chewed toffee bar, I obtained about six inches (150mm) of rubber tubing. The project was on, the construction completed. Ammunition – no chance of ball bearings, I still had a few glass marbles but quickly lost them in the fields when practicing. Stones did not seem to work for me but I suddenly found that acorns were fairly good ammunition, flying some distance. I practiced with acorns and became rather good. Another good thing about acorns was that no one questioned a pocketful of acorns, whereas a pocketful of stones would demand an explanation. The catapult was hidden in our shed. It only needed to be retrieved and I was ready for action. The catapult and acorns were carried for all out of school periods for many months without a rabbit falling to my skills. The catapult fell into disuse when we moved to the High Street.