Rifle Range post 7

Back in august there was quite a buzz about something that was found up at the rifle range, during the construction of the fence around the backstop by the South Downs rangers. The first many people knew of it was Nightingale Lane being closed off by the bomb disposal squad.

Thanks to Chloe and Bruno, part of the team putting in the fence, a photo was taken of the item as it was uncovered. The photograph below shows the fins of a 2 inch mortar round and the characteristic ‘flash hole’ configuration between the fins and the body, signifying that this was a smoke or parachute illumination mortar round from the Second World War.

2 inch smoke/illumination mortar round (photograph by Bruno Aveiro)

While it wasn’t an HE (high explosive) round, calling the police was the correct thing to do – these objects might be over 70 years old, but they can still be extremely dangerous. Illumination rounds contain phosphorous which burns ferociously, and are designed to act like flares, lighting up the night sky. The image shown below is an inert 2 inch illumination round, missing the cap on the body and the cap on the end of the fins (which would have retained the propelling cartridge).

2 inch illumination mortar round

2 inch illumination mortar round, showing empty interior

Quite why a mortar round was there is not clear. The most likely reason is that it is an overshoot from the South Downs training area (used extensively by Canadians from 1941), and an incident in May 1944 shows that this sort of thing was not out of the question. However, it is possible it may have been used on the range in conjunction with night firing exercises. An illumination round will burn for 25-35 seconds as it descends by parachute, giving plenty of time to spot and shoot at targets on night practice.

The finale of the Big Picnic last month was the popular tug of war, which due to the sloping nature of the field, gave a slightly unfair advantage to the team located down slope. The judges, being good sports, allowed the teams to swap ends and have another go. This might not seem particularly relevant to the history of the rifle range at first glance, but an article in the Worthing Herald, from October 23rd 1942, suggests otherwise. It describes a training event by the Home Guard, involving a simulated assault on Bramber Castle – the castle itself, defended admirably by Steyning and Bramber Home Guard, had its defences breached by the Worthing Home Guard, as they crawled through a culvert under the railway and surprised the defenders. After their successful exercise, a picnic lunch was provided, followed a shooting match on the Steyning range and topped off by a tug of war. The correspondent noted that the ground ‘sloped badly’, giving a favourable outcome to the team located down slope. This was the scenario unknowingly recreated 76 years later, at the Big Picnic in September (more than likely in the very same field). While there are no photos of the tug of war in 1942 known to survive, there are some of the 2018 match, one of which is shown below.

2018 tug of war – this team has the disadvantage of pulling up the slope

In 1942, unlike in 2018, the teams then went off to the Castle Hotel for a game of darts.

Finally, the first autumn target session took place on a gloriously sunny day in October. The remains of a chewy-sweets-and-crisps party were evident in the target store and it would have been nice if the children involved had known how to clean up after themselves. As they obviously didn’t, we did it for them.

Remains of the chewy-sweets-and-crisps party

Now that we have one target frame resurrected, our aim is to slow the rusting/decay of the other seven frames. There are two types of rust (bear with me on this) on the frames; one that can be wire brushed off and the other that needs that needs to be hammered off and comes away in large chunks. We spent our day tackling the second rust type, hammering and chiseling – it was all rather noisy, the sound reverberating off down the valley. Frame number 4 was then given a red oxide coating and the results are plainly seen.

Bill paints frame 4 with red oxide

Frame 4, freshly painted

 

 

 

Rifle Range post 6

On the 9th September 2018 we were privileged to be be part of the Big Picnic event, setting up at the 200 yard firing position, for ‘target practice’. We had four rifles (deactivated and obsolete calibre) on hand, representing the evolution of the small arms used by the Volunteers and Territorial Force/Army from 1860 up to the start of the Second World War. These included an 1861 short Enfield, a Snider, a Martini Henry and an S.M.L.E. (Short, Magazine Lee Enfield).

Steve and I got the target into place, a field telephone was brought out of storage and a red musketry flag hoisted. Field telephones were used by the shooters to communicate with the markers in the gallery, though we haven’t yet located the cable connecting the firing positions to the markers’ gallery! When the red flag is raised at the firing position, it signals to all shooters to ‘cease firing’.

Red musketry flag and the 200 yard firing position bank, looking west towards the target

Imperial Sussex Yeomanry at the same location, looking east (early 20th Century)

Second World War field telephone

We had a good number of visitors throughout the afternoon, coming to see the site and have a go at (mock) target practice. A surprising number had been in the Cadets, the Army or in rifle clubs, and it was really good to hear their stories of shooting on a rifle range. Lots of the kids got to have a hands-on go with the S.M.L.E., many of whom commented on how heavy the rifle felt and how far away the target was. Steve Handerer, the range warden from the 1980’s also dropped in and gave the work his seal of approval, which is very good news.

Thanks to everyone who came and made the day a really enjoyable event.

Visitors getting a brief rifle range induction

‘Target practice’ on the range, with a 1918 dated S.M.L.E. (deactivated)

Rifle Range post 7

Rifle Range post 5

The main job completed at the targets over the summer was to give the workshop platform and markers’ gallery a good old clean up. This meant chopping back much of the vegetation behind the targets and clearing of the build-up of soil and rubbish within the target pits, as well as moving many wheel barrow loads of soil and chalk rubble from the workshop platform. The amusing new graffiti appeared only days after we had previously exposed the wall the in picture below.

Robin, Ollie and Steve hard at work on the workshop

Bill takes on the unenviable job of cleaning out the latrine

The culmination of this was a visit from Percy and his high powered jet spray – bringing a bowser of water up to the site, he sprayed down the target frames and pits one evening in September. The spraying made a huge difference and proved the drainage system still works! The frames have not looked this good for many years.

Markers’ gallery, after jet spraying

Markers’ gallery in November 2017

To accompany this, Percy, Roger and myself gave the vegetation on the mantlet a vigorous haircut, allowing the shape of the bank to be more properly defined from the valley firing positions.

Target visible over the trimmed mantlet bank

The site is really coming together now, but we have plenty more jobs in store for the autumn.

Rifle Range post 6

Rifle Range post 4

On June 3rd 2018 we opened up the site (as part of the Steyning Festival) to allow anyone interested to see the work we had been doing. We had two types of wooden target frame built for the occasion (Steve designed collapsible versions for ease of transport) – a 6ft frame, with the SDS logo and a 4ft frame with a typical military target (as used in the mid 20th Century).

SDS logo on the 6ft frame, visible from just beyond the 300 yard firing position

4ft frame with a military target visible above the mantlet, from the valley

The vegetation on the top of the mantlet was very dense, so we had to do a bit of pruning the day before the event, to ensure that the targets would be visible.

4ft target raised into position, viewed from the back stop, looking east towards the firing positions

6ft target raised into position, viewed from the rear

The carriages operate very smoothly and the frames can be raised and lowered with very little pressure, even fitted with the heavy wooden targets.

6ft frame bearing the SDS logo

The final visitors of the day with some of the conservation team

We were really pleased at how many people came up to visit on the day, a number of whom had their own stories of the range. We’d like to thanks them all for coming as well as for their interest and support.

Rifle Range post 5

Rifle Range post 3

On the 24th May the carriages and pulley wheel were returned to site and with the aid of P.A.C. Welding Ltd, the frame was pieced back together. Paul and Kaz did a great job, despite the heavy rain.

Target frame 1 undergoing welding repair work in the pouring rain

Finally, frame 1 was complete and in working order thirty years after the range closed.

Robin checks out the work on the repaired frame 1

Steve had made some wooden frames (to original military specifications) to slot into the carriages and we couldn’t resist putting them in place to see the whole system in operation.

A four foot wooden target frame (minus the actual target) raised into position

In addition to this, the team have put in a heroic effort cleaning the workshop platform. The timber framed workshop was dismantled many years ago and all that currently remains is the concrete base on which it stood. There was a significant amount of chalk rubble on the workshop platform, which had slumped from the valley side and all of this needed to be removed.

Workshop platform before we started cleaning it up

Workshop platform after cleaning

Amongst the chalk rubble, we found fragments of roof material, guttering and various fixings, from the structure. Olly claimed the best find, however, with one of the original metal shuttered window frames.

One of the original metal shuttered window frames.

This rounds up all the work to take place to date and at this point, I need to thank the small but dedicated team who have made the project a success:

Bill, Diccon, Justin, Matthew, Olly, Steve, Steven, Robin and Roger.

If you have any annecdotes relating to the range or want to ask any questions about the work we are doing, please do get in touch with Justin at:

sdsriflerange@gmail.com

Steve, Robin, Olly, Diccon and Bill enjoy a cup of tea in the target store. The weather was occasionally so bad we adopted the ‘This is survival’ motto, graffitied onto the wall behind.

Rifle Range post 4

Rifle Range post 2

Since 2017 the Rifle Range Volunteers have been focusing our efforts in the markers’ gallery (the long roofed area where the metal target frames are situated). Out of the eight target frames on site, frame 1 seemed to be the best preserved and we decided to concentrate our efforts on restoring this one to working order.

Frame 1 after raising the ‘carriages’.

Steve came up with a plan to remove the carriages and the pulley wheel system of target frame 1, which we achieved with minimal intervention and lots of elbow grease. They were then taken off site to be blasted and painted.

Pulley wheels and carriages after removal

The metal frames are taken out of the valley

The carriages loaded on the roof rack, on the way to the sand blaster

Once cleaned up it was evident that there was some serious rust damage to one of the carriages and a small amount of repair work was required. This was accomplished with the use of Steve’s garage and tool kit.

The repaired carriage

All the wheels within the roller mechanisms were removed, cleaned and greased and the remaining elements of frame 1 were de-rusted in situ (on site) with power tools.

Steve removing rust with power tools

Bill and Justin, removing rust (photo: Robin)

All bare metal of frame 1 was coated with red oxide and given a top coat of a military green.  Everything was set for the reassembly of target frame 1.

See our next Blog for more!

Rifle Range post 1

In November 2017, when the restoration of the Rifle Range began, we focused our efforts in the markers’ gallery (the long roofed area where the metal target frames are situated):

Plan of the markers’ gallery showing the main working areas

The first job was to tidy up the rubbish, resulting in six rubble sacks of glass, cans, food packaging and much more. Rubbish is a big problem up here and we are only the latest in a long line of people who have volunteered to clean it up.

The markers’ gallery contains eight metal target frames all of which are placed in brick and concrete pits. These pits had filled up with many year’s worth of organic debris, not to mention large amounts of rubbish and metalwork – cleaning these was our second challenge.

Markers’ gallery before we started work, with the target frames and pits on the left

Diccon, Roger and Bill cleaning the target pits

The largest objects removed from the pits were the two Oxford Allen autosythes (grass cutters) which were dumped here when the range closed. These were so heavy that five of us were required to heave each one out.

Olly, Diccon, Robin and Steve and the second Oxford Allen autosythe

Once the pits had been emptied it was clear that all of the target frames were essentially complete, each of them with their two ‘carriages’ resting on the base of the pits. When in use, the carriages were connected to one another by a cable, running over the top of a pulley wheel. Placed in these carriages would have been two canvas covered, wooden targets, one in the front and one in the rear so that when one carriage was raised (and its target visible for shooting at) the other would be simultaneously lowered, for repair.

Out of the eight frames on site, frame 1 seemed to be the best preserved and we decided to concentrate our efforts on restoring this one to working order. More on our next Blog . . .

Bird watching

Songs of the Dawn

Despite some very inclement weather our ‘Songs of the Dawn’ dawn chorus walks have been remarkably successful this year. Nightingale has been in full voice, and Cetti’s Warbler was also heard. It is thought there are two of each species singing presently on the Rifle Range. On the 29th April, we were treated to the song of a Wood Warbler, a first ever record for the Steyning Downland Scheme, although it hasn’t been heard since and was probably on its way to the woods of western Britain. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing last Sunday (14th May), and other birds to be heard include Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and Yellowhammer.

The final Songs of the Dawn Walk for this season (a longer version of our walk, this time without breakfast) takes place on Friday 2 June.  For more details and to book, please follow this link.

Photo of volunteers at tea break

SDS Conservation Volunteers

 

Vols clearing 1

The Conservation Volunteers have been busy clearing the footpath from Mill Lane Allotments up to Steyning Coombe.  We have also been carrying out maintenance on the fencing in Steyning Coombe to make sure that our heard of Dexter cattle don’t go exploring the Downs.  Our next session is on Saturday 16th July when we will be helping with the Big Seed Shake – meet on the Rifle Range at 10am.  There will also be some other jobs to do around the site in the afternoon.

Contact me if you would like further information or to join our group.   The group will meet again on Wednesday 3rd August.

Sarah Quantrill sdsvolunteers@gmail.com

 

 

Bunch of elder flowers

Elderflower cordial anyone?

Bunch of elder flowersThe elder trees are out in bloom and if the weather stays fine this weekend it’s a great time to get out and pick a few heads of elderflower to make some delicious and refreshing elderflower cordial (or even wine!).   Please pick responsibly and leave some flowers for wildlife.

We like this Elderflower Cordial recipe from River Cottage.