Wednesday, 9 April 2008

How I fired the last shot of WWII

Brother Tobias has done one or two silly things. Well, quite a number really.

One of them happened in 1996. It was a hot summer day and metal detectorists had been out in the field behind the house. Amongst the livery buttons, musket balls, milk bottle tops and smudgy roman coins they had discarded in a small pile at the end of the drive was a rusty cylinder with a pointy end that looked like an old weight from a grandfather clock.

Being the original recycling man with nothing better to do, I retrieved it and started cleaning off the rust with a hammer and a wire brush. After a while a fine brass line appeared around its middle, and a faint alarm bell sounded in my tiny, gin-befuddled mind.

Quite intelligently I reasoned, "This just might be unspent munition. Bashing it about might not be a good thing. Better make sure it's all right."

This was a clever, sensible thought.

Wiring it to a metal rod in the sunken garden and positioning a lighted gas torch to play on it probably wasn't.

After I'd walked away and made a cuppa, it dawned on me that it might be difficult to choose an appropriate moment to go back and turn the blow lamp off.

As I leant against the workshop supping tea and pondering the life-span of a gas cylinder, the pros and cons of waste against personal risk, and whether we had any chance in the current Test series, there was an almighty explosion.

I'm not talking 12 bore shotgun here. I'm talking Royal Tournament or a sizeable artillery piece on Salisbury Plain.

When the birds started singing again some time later I found myself in an involuntary crouch, with Earl Grey soaking into my trousers (I promise it was tea), and a schoolboy premonition that I was in trouble. I crouched on for a while, wondering if there was collateral damage, if anyone had been killed, whether they could see me if I could not see them, and how long I could stay huddled in a foetal position by the workshop in wet trousers pretending I wasn't there.

When I finally got up to inspect the damage, I found my blow torch was a mangled wreck. There were pockmarks in the limestone paving of the sunken garden, a bent metal rod, some shredded leaves and no sign whatsoever of the clock-weight.

After a prolonged search all I found, fifty feet away in the field, was a truncated, pointy thing that a friend later identified as the nose-cone of a WWII 50 mm anti-aircraft shell.

Moral: If you find a pointy thing, don't invite a town planner to sort it out.

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