Crossing the rifle range

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From WW2 People’s War – An archive of World War Two memories, written by the public, gathered by the BBC

Contributed by John Hewlett

Contributed on: 10 May 2005

Taking a short cut

There were perhaps six of us children, all under 11, who used to take a short cut home from school by cutting through a field that was used by the Germans for rifle practice, and mortar practice. If there was shooting in progress when we turned up, they would always take a break until we were well clear.

Once we watched them practicing with mortars, using dummy rounds and a dummy village consisting of cardboard houses. The buildings were very small, and would have made good accessories for a 00 gauge model railway. On another occasion, the field was deserted, but they had been there recently because we found a pistol on the ground. There was no-one in sight, so we gathered around in a circle to admire this find, only to be interrupted by a uniformed arm reaching into the circle and taking the pistol with a polite "danke". This was an officer in a very smart uniform, and as he left for his barracks we followed behind him.

He must have had a runny nose, but had no handkerchief, so chose to blow his nose by leaning forward, closing one nostril with a finger, and blowing snot into free space. I expect we have all done that, but usually you must take into account the wind direction. Our officer did not, and we then learned our second German word for the day. It begins with sh... in both languages I think.

At the end of the field was a mock tank. built of wood on an old lorry chassis, and using a section of steel chimney stack as a gun. After the rifle practice there were frequently unused bullets to be found on the grass, sometimes a full clip of five. We collected these, broke off the heads which were made of wood, picked out the cotton stuff and then poured the gunpowder into a small heap under the tank. A small trail of gunpowder to the outside was then ignited with a match and we all ran like the wind. We looked back once to see smoke pouring from the 'gun'.

By morning, the ruins of the tank had been removed. We innocently went past on our way to school.

When we came back that afternoon, the tank had been replaced with a large bill board with the head and shoulders of a British soldier on it. We could not have them shooting at British soldiers. The next day coming home from school we had some crayons. I was hoisted onto the shoulders of the biggest boy and instructed to change the shape of the helmet to the German variety, and to add a toothbrush moustache under the nose. The following morning the bill board had been removed. Nothing replaced it. We had won.

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