THE PERIOD FROM 1950 TO ABOUT1965
Chapter 15. Guns galore.
We were seeking out guns in earnest now and they were around in abundance. Keith, older now and a full member of the gang, found in his loft another un-returned Home Guard weapon. It had been his father's before he had left his mother never to return. Divorce in those days was either very rare or not spoken about. Keith's mother had taken up with an American airman who came as a lodger and changed bedrooms! Things like this were meant to seriously affect a child. It certainly did Keith, he worshipped his new Dad. It seemed that his real father had been very strict and couldn't really take children. Now this new American was totally the opposite. He loved us to hang onto his every word as he told us lurid shooting stories. One evening he gave us his side arm to handle. We touched the big .45 auto with great reverence.
Keith's real father had been in the Home Guard and in his garden shed we found a box of W.D. .22 ammunition. This prompted us to make a systematic search of the whole house for something that would shoot it. Keith's mother worked late and Keith had to let himself in and make his own tea. This gave us a lot of time to really look round.
In Keith's box room, his bedroom, there was a loft hatch that looked too small for an adult to get through. One afternoon after school before his mother arrived home from work, we used the ladder from the garden to get up into the little loft hatch. Keith got right into the dark hole, I just stood on the ladder peering in for fear of meeting one of my old foes, spiders. As our eyes became accustomed to the gloom, outlines took shape. There were a mass of domestic things, a wooden carpet cleaner, boxes, a bucket and some paperhanging brushes, some pictures and a large lampshade, but we were looking for a gun. Imagine how we felt when Keith pulled out of a roll of lino a bolt action rifle! This he handed down to me. It was sleek and wonderful. Keith heaved himself down out of the hatch and we sat on the bed working the bolt and trying the sights.
Next day I was standing next to Keith in school assembly, this was a strictly silent occasion or we would suffer the consequences. He had an aura of excitement about him like someone who had just received news of great good fortune. I gave him a questioning look and he replied by making a hand movement of cocking a hammer and pulling a trigger. We both faced the front when a master started to take an interest in our activities. My mind was a buzz, what was he trying to tell me? He certainly wasn't pulling back the bolt of a rifle. After assembly as we filed silently out under the eyes of the prefects, he managed to whisper "Found another!" My heart pounded as I walked behind him to our form rooms. As we parted direction he let his blazer flap open just enough for me to glimpse a pistol butt in his inside pocket! All that morning until break I was unable to concentrate on any work. My thoughts were full of excitement and anticipation about the pistol, yet apprehension and incredulity that Keith should be foolish enough to bring it to school! At break we met in the open at the far end of the windswept playground. Out of sight places like behind the cycle sheds or in the old air raid shelters were always full of smokers and regularly visited by the staff on duty. The cane was rarely used now; it had given way to a new word 'detention'. However I think that our little secret would have evoked the full wrath of the head which meant him wielding his cane.
There was an incident the term before when one of our home made bombs had exploded in the outside boy's toilet. The report was terrible under the echoey corrugated iron roof. The two boys that were caught in there were caned. I felt sorry for them being punished having already endured the harrowing explosion. We all knew that the real culprit was a descendent of Chatters. The two boys were in the toilets every break. They were known as "The wanker's union"!
At the far end of the playground where we could see the approach of any teacher, Keith showed me the gun. It was a Webley .38 service revolver that he had found in his father's trunk in the loft. When he found it it was full of bullets!
Other guns were around, usually little Belgian made single shot hammer pistols that fired .22 shorts or Flobert caps. One boy in the newly introduced 5th year who was studying engineering had actually made a superb little single shot break open .22 hammer pistol in lessons. The metal work teacher advised him on tempering the barrel! Official attitudes were rather more relaxed in those days. To obtain a shotgun license you merely had to buy one at the post office for ten shillings. Firearms licenses were only five shillings but had to be obtained from the local police station.
A boy in our next street was reputed to have a .303 Lee Enfield rifle. We sought him out and he took us into his garden shed to show us the gun. We were in awe of this modern weapon that was still the standard arm of the British Army! We later heard that he had swapped it for a motorbike.
- Tony Sheppard