Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Romance of Explosives

I have been pulling book boxes out of storage to go through and check them. Talk about a walk down nostalgia lane, for they include the remaining bit of my old family library.

The introduction to John Read's Explosives (Pelican) reads:

Tells of Explosives, their Magical Creation, their Fierce Energy, their Sudden Disruption, their History and Romance, and their Uses in Peace and War

The Romance of Explosives? It seems a different world, and indeed it was.

I grew up in a world where the events of the Second World War were still quite close. The family book shelves included not just John Read's Explosives, but also a series of self-defence guides designed for use should the Germans or Japanese reach English or Australian shores.

Want to know how to construct a Molotov Cocktail, how to mount a patrol behind enemy lines, how to blow up a train? It was all there. As children, we built cracker guns powerful enough to blow a ball bearing through a garage door; experimented with blowing things up; played with petrol or other flammable spirits; built large forts out of the family wood supply.

Guns were ever present. Not hand guns; they were illegal, the stuff of American crime novels or westerns, but practical rifles for use in hunting or vermin control - 202s, 303s, 310s, shot guns. Down at my aunt and uncle's farm, the fire arms were loosely stacked in the back room along with boxes of ammunition, hats, a stock-whip, household tools and roll your own tobacco.

The assumption was that young people knew how to shoot. I didn't in fact; guns were around, but I was a townie.

I remember how mortified I was when I went to my first and only cadet camp.

This had a very Second World War, even First World War flavour: we lumped around 303s, sten guns, bren guns; we were given bayonets and told to charge and stick straw models; given blanks and after a safety demonstration (at short range, metal fragments from blanks can inflict serious wounds) told to charge across a field yelling and firing; yell, damn you! said the instructor.

Early in the camp, we were taken out for target practice. I was handed a 303, a live magazine, and pointed at the range. I had in fact no idea what to do. Finally, one of the Cadet CUOs realised that this odd fish did not know how to load or fire the gun, so I was given some instruction. Covered in shame, I went back to the range.

I found I wasn't a bad shot. Later, I did some competitive rifle shooting at the local range, not far out of town, again using 303s. Range practice was very popular. On quiet, hot, weekend days in summer, the sound of range firing would drift across the town, clearly audible from our house.

Odd memories.        

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