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.
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Bill paints frame 4 with red oxide
Frame 4, freshly painted