I well remember the constant rat-a-tat
tatting sounds of machine gun fire......... and the boom!.....
boom!.....the sound of big heavy guns being tested. Fired into
the large sand banks with red warning flags fluttering on poles.
We could see all this activity from our house, safely perched
high up in Sladedale Road.
I remember the big silver grey barrage
balloon that used to float,
tethered in the Arsenal grounds. We was told that they was used
as target practice.
I remember the Meteor planes, fast twin
fuselage jets, flying and firing their machine guns at targets
that trailed far behind Tiger Moth planes that would tow them
through the skies above us in the Plumstead Common areas not
long after WWII.
As kids we went on trips along the sewage
embankment that skirted the Woolwich
Arsenal's fence. This fence was big and tall. It had to
be. It had to keep out folk who were intent on spying and sabotage
and what have you and was electrified during the war period
and still carried the old warning notices positioned at intervals,
along the fence.
I well remember one outing when I got
through this fence, me and me mates. We explored this big old
building in there. It was quite run down, as was every thing
else around us in there. In this huge rundown building coloured
crape paper streamers were fluttering in the wind that blew
through the broken windows. There was a large notice, announcing
to the resident ghosts, 'A Very Happy Christmas 1947'. Every
thing was just how it had been left after that long gone party.
(This would have been then about 1954-5).
We found lots of spent shells, whilst
looking around inside the Arsenal.
Much was thrown at this big and, strategically, very important
target during the war so, consequently, there was much to be
found and picked up by us kids.
We would go back quite often to look for more bullets. We all
soon had tobacco tins rattling with our prized collections of
shells. The bullets that we found came in different sizes and
shapes, from cannon, fired from German planes, to .303 to dumdum
bullets, around 8mm or so.
We were told as kids that the dumdum
bullets were illegal to use as they were designed to spread
out on impact and cause horrible gaping wounds! This was exciting
morbid stuff to us kids and these were especially sought after.
(I later found out that these particular bullets were sometimes
cut across the snubbed point with a deep crosscut that would
cause the bullet to spread out on impact). We even found the
occasional live bullet, the cartridge case base being unmarked
from the firing pin which indicated to us that it hadn't been
It was our thing as kids to take all
these treasures to school. To show and to swap with other kids
who also had collections. However, once the powers that were
found out about these "dangerous things that we were bringing
into the school" they banned them. I wonder why?