Chapter 9. Big bangs and naughty tricks.


- Tony

Someone at school, so the word went round, had some explosives. They were in fact warning detonators. These had been stolen from the signal box on the Central line at Ruislip station. They were light blue metal discs about the size and shape of a boot polish tin. The signal man placed them on the railway line in thick fog so that an approaching train would roll over them and the report would act as a warning,

At school they were a form of currency and highly sought after. They had various schoolboy uses. Fireworks were only available on the run up bonfire night on the 5th of November so to be able to shatter adult nerves in say March was quite a coup! I remember being invited by a gang to try my luck at hitting one of these detonators that had been wedged in the fork of a tree. It was quite a distance away for safety reasons I estimate about forty yards, quite a stretch for the average air gun. A group of boys of assorted ages were trying their luck at hitting it. One young boy swore that he had hit it but there was not enough power in his Gem air rifle to detonate it. I loaded my BSA with a special pellet, hung at the point of aim for a long time and squeezed the trigger for a perfect shot. There was the loudest explosion that I had ever heard accompanied by a satisfying display of spiraling pieces and a cloud of grey smoke. I felt like William Tell after shooting the apple from his son's head or Robin Hood when his winning arrow split the sheriff of Notingham's champion's arrow straight down the shaft or Annie Oakley standing on the saddle of her galloping horse and shooting the middle out of the ace of spades with her pearl handled, nickel plated colt Peacemaker! I was, for that moment, the best. When we recovered the tin top that had blown some yards away, there was a second pellet mark just visible enabling the young Gem to share a little of the glory.

Although we could never afford one of the light blue detonators, we had similar exploits with 12bore cartridges. These were obtained in the following manner. We would go squirrel hunting in Mad Bess woods. Someone with a catapult would lob big pebbles into a squirrel drey until the squirrel dashed out. Then the chase was on. We rushed through the tangled undergrowth eyes skywards oblivious to the brambles and thorns snagging our clothes and scratching our flesh as we followed the quarry. Squirrels have one great failing, their curiosity! Even if safely hidden on a wide bough they lacked patience. If we marked the place with the sights of our guns where the quarry had disappeared and stood motionless and silent for thirty seconds, the animal would not be able to resist taking a peek to see if we had gone. One glimpse of the head and three springs uncoiled in unison sending special slugs to there furry grey mark. Such tough little animals were rarely killed outright but if crippled, stunned or otherwise brought down were dispatched quickly by Alan's mongrel.

At that time the ministry of agriculture gave a bounty of one shilling for every squirrel tail handed in. This was a good source of revenue but as an added bonus the bullet or cartridge used to get the squirrel was replaced free. Our story was always that our father was a farmer and couldn't get into town and we were delivering the tails for him. We would often share twelve shillings and a dozen 12bore cartridges which had a good black market value as we were under age to buy them from the ironmongers. Some we would empty the shot out for use in our special pellets, but as one cartridge gave us about seventy pellets, we only needed to open a couple. The cartridge was then used for target practice the cap presenting a tiny target but when hit went spinning off with a loud crack and fizz leaving a pall of blur smoke.

- Tony Sheppard