During the High Street period, I made friends with John Highman and Peter Wareham, finding that we were all interested in shooting. Peter had a couple of old American Daisy air-rifles and John two old air rifles. I did not have an air rifle, so would go out with either one of them to use their spare air-rifle potting tin cans. Air-gun pellets were non-existent, but we bought a couple of pound weight (a kilo) of number 3 or 4 shotgun pellets which although not a tight fit, they rolled down the barrels, gave us some good fun for many months.
I was a bit envious of John as he was in his school’s Army Cadet Corp and received .22 rifle instruction. It was through our constant air-rifle shooting that we became pretty good marksmen, as Peter found later when in the army and attached to the SAS, and I did as a Royal Marine Commando. Strangely, we never shot birds or at other small creatures; it was all target shooting except for trying to shoot flies and spiders off walls.
My last attempt for many years to shoot rabbits came about when Allen Hart (son of ‘Hearty” Hart, the village shoe maker, saddle maker and cobbler who was also the head of the Church bell ringers who used hand bells throughout the war; and was also the bandmaster of the village band. This I seem to recall was six or more villagers, including ‘Hearty’ Alf Chambers, ‘Jacko’ Jackson with a side drum, bugle, trumpet, fife, flute, accordion and I believe a big drum), acquired a number three garden gun, a single shot, smooth barrel using a cartridge about two inches (50mm) long and the thickness of a pencil, containing lead shot the size of poppy seeds. This was really only for shooting sparrows in the garden with a range of about 30 feet (nine metres). The paper cartridge case burnt up when the gun was fired leaving only the brass head in the gun.
Alien had obtained permission to shoot in the fields down Greenway Lane. We spent several sessions going around the lane and fields, plus hiding up, but never shot a rabbit. We would really have needed to have been about three paces away from a rabbit to have done any harm. We eventually used up the ten cartridges shooting at match boxes. I was eighteen when I shot my first rabbit.
13: THE ARMY ARRIVES
The village was also host to a number of military units. The first, apparently, the Kings Royal Rifle Corp. Then several others followed by a Newfoundland Artillery unit of 25 pounder guns and in 1943 by the first American troops with their 40mm Bofor type anti-aircraft guns. Peter Barnard, another evacuee who was at Church Farm, had started me up on stamp collecting and then also Peter Wareham. The Newfoundlanders were a fine source for used stamps and I built up a nice collection through them.
Another time Lord Lovat’s Scouts, a Commando unit came to the village for rest and recuperation. It was suggested that the Scouts could give the Home Guard some training acting as an invasion force. That night in bed, I was awoken by the sound of a hunting horn blowing. Farmer Tom Oliver was the village Home Guard Commanding Officer, and his system for calling out the Home Guard was by going around blowing his hunting horn. I laid awake listening to the hunting horn fading away and fully expected to hear the church bells ringing to denote invasion.
It must have been this night when the Home Guard was to be tested by Lord Lovat’s Scouts. Going to school that morning I saw the whole unit of Lord Lovat’s Scouts paraded in front of The Cross and Lord Lovat giving his men a dreadful dressing down. Words I heard were, “if this was Germany, you would be dead now.” Hearing later from the villagers, it appeared that our Local Home Guard, knowing all the area, had successfully ambushed all the Scouts and ended this night’s exercise without the Scouts achieving one of their objects. No wonder the Scouts came in for a dressing down!