TTGU, Ep. 1, Ch. 8 – More Military Matters
It was not all play. Of course it wasn’t – I was here to become a soldier! And I actually enjoyed that.
I had been a bit of a crack-shot with a Lee-Enfield .303 when in the cadets at Grammar School. The “feel” of a rifle suited me fine. And I was a good shot. It was a talent which came naturally. I could make a 1” grouping (five rounds within a one-inch circle) at twenty-five yards with ease. That’s not bragging; it’s just something I could do.
I was less accurate at a hundred yards, but I knew that it was simply lack of practice – the School hadn’t got a range that long where I could try my skills. So I had to wait until, once a year, we went on a field-day to Cannock Chase. There, we fired over some land on which the South Staffordshire Regiment learned their stuff. Even on those once-a-year trips, I found a hundred yards was pretty easy.
The .303 was a lovely weapon, and I knew how to strip it down (hardly any stripping to do, really) and keep it clean before I went into the real Army. The rifle felt so snug in my hands.
The instructors when I did National Service were two men of the Enniskillens, and they were suitably impressed at this sprog of a National Serviceman who could handle his rifle with such confidence.
Those two Irishmen could shoot the tops of pop-bottles at fifty yards, which they did any time one of us tried to smuggle a drink onto the range when we should have been concentrating on not killing anyone – including ourselves. So their being impressed was a real accolade for me.
They gave the usual warning when they handed out the rifles: “This weapon has a strong kick. So hold it like you’ve been told and hold it tight. If you don’t, it could break your ******* jaw!” That did not give confidence to the other lads in our squad. But most of them did what they were told.
Aitcheson didn’t. He was so scared that the kick of his first round – a blank – made the rifle clout the side of his face. We all laughed, and louder still when a big Enniskillen lay beside – almost on top of – him and gripped the weapon for him while he fired his second blank. And his third. He got the idea eventually.
We were in the big hut which held the twenty-five yard range. We took it in turns, under very strict supervision, to fire our first live round. It was pretty easy – especially for me. But, when Aitcheson’s turn came, we all giggled and pretended to be ready to duck for cover.
We should not have worried: he held the rifle so tightly that he didn’t point it at the target. “Bang!” – the live round went straight through the roof of the hut. Our instructors showed their command of language!
Even Aitcheson learned eventually.
We went on from that indoor range to ranges in open country. These gave us distances of up to half-a-mile, well within the capability of the .303. I was good up to three-hundred yards and fairly good up to six-hundred, but a bit wobbly after that.
I have to say here that, when it came to firing a pistol, I could not hit Aitcheson’s roof from within the hut.
I enjoyed drill, too. Marching in step and in the military manner came easily to me. There were some lads who, at first, didn’t know their left from their right, and some lads who were total Pinocchios. A Pinocchio was someone who would swing his left arm when he put his left foot forward and his right arm when he put his right foot forward. That seemed to be a genetic trait or something and in many cases even the British Army could not cure it.
Right- and left-turns, coming to attention, saluting – it was a doddle for most of us. And we were developing a sort of group-pride by getting the timing spot on.
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