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Woolwich Arsenal Days and Bullets

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 fired.

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?

Colin Weightman

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