At a disused airfield near Finmere, we found really interesting things such as anti-tank mines and hand grenades, as well as very light pistols and cartridges and also what appeared to be German calibre ammunition. The grenades came in a box with separate detonators and fuses that had to be assembled into the actual Mills grenade. These we put on our bikes, well covered with coats, and took back to a cache near the Temple of Worthies where we assembled them and practised throwing them into the sand pit behind the temple.
Some exploded most satisfactorily but occasionally some didn’t and we did not bother to investigate why this was. We later discovered that the fuses and detonators were covered in grease to prevent them rusting and this had to be wiped off before use, otherwise the firing pin that was released by the handle could stick and not ignite the detonator. This sandpit was used by the CCF as a training ground for the recruits to learn how to jump and fall without hurting themselves thus it was not surprising that on the next training session someone found a grenade and brought it to the Master (Freddie Archer) who assumed it was a dummy training grenade that had been issued by the Armoury, which was in the nearby Gothic Temple.
He therefore sent it up to the Armourer who took one look and panicked as he knew that he had never had dummy grenades and this one had the pin out and the lever gone! He recovered, however, and was able to unscrew the fuse cover and disarm it by removing the fuse which had not ignited due to the grease. As might be expected this incident together with other bangs and fireworks led the Headmaster to announce at assembly that he would grant an amnesty to anyone who had any form of ammunition if they left it at his study during the next few days. This was of course a wonderful challenge to us boys and we decided to look for the biggest shells that we could carry and dump them at his study.
Peter de Roos (Bruce 53)
Rodney Tulloch (Bruce 53) and I, both first termers in Bruce in 1948, were intrigued by the airstrips built during the Second World War in Buckinghamshire, post-war they served as ammunition dumps. The nearest one was Tingewick, a few miles by bike. On close inspection we saw rows and rows of ammunition crates covered by khaki tarpaulin. We climbed the fence halfway down the runway out of sight of the watchtower.
In a small wooden case, we found 12 neatly stacked UK issue Mills bomb no. 23 hand grenades with detonators on the side. These looked manageable so we took two each and put them in our trouser pockets.
We cycled back to School with slightly bulging pockets and dubbed the grenades “cones”. The next day we took our bikes to the woods behind the Palladian Bridge and we tossed the grenade as far as we could. The resulting explosion was most satisfying. We repeated this exercise over several days in different wooded locations until we ran out of stock. We then returned to Tingewick to get further supplies.
To change routine, we went on a mission in the woods after dinner and the explosion seemed particularly loud in the silence of the evening. Then, we and another culprit, decided to lob three cones simultaneously into the sandpit used for weekly OTC training to see if we could get them to explode concurrently. It seemed as though they did.
The following Wednesday, OTC cadets went sandpit jumping. The first boy to jump found one unexploded cone. The OTC Officer-in-Charge told the boy to bring it up to the Armoury. One of our friends had agreed to hide some cones under his study floorboards. When he returned his rifle and noticed the cone, he knew trouble was looming and not unreasonably reported us and the cache.
Rodney and I were summoned to JF Roxburgh’s study, who very calmly asked us where we had obtained the cones. We told him the whole story. JF informed the base commander who was ultimately responsible for the lack of security. A military truck was sent over and Rodney was detailed to show our cache in Tingewick. The cones hidden in Stowe were picked up separately.
Rodney Tulloch (Bruce 53)
We would bicycle to Tingewick Aerodrome, a few miles away, when it was thick fog. In those conditions we felt it was safe to cross the perimeter fence because the guards could not possibly see us. Once among the skeleton Nissen huts and tarpaulin-covered stacks, we had a range of serious munitions to examine. Best of all, there were wooden boxes each containing a dozen
‘36 grenade’ Mills bombs, the British hand grenade, complete with fuse primers. The great thing about these was that they were portable. They could be slung, one box on either side of a bicycle crossbar. So back we took them and hid them safely.
There was a sandpit which was an ideal place for trying out the grenades. Pulling the pin did not set the fuse burning because you were firmly holding the lever in contact with the body of the grenade. It was throwing the grenade that released the lever and the plunger and set the three-second fuse burning. We threw at night from behind a bank on the lip of the borrow-pit. This was good because you were quite close to the explosion but not in danger of the blast or the flying fragments that were designed to do the damage. One night we threw three together but were rather disappointed that the resultant crump seemed no greater than was made by one. Three days later it became clear why.
Freddy Archer, the Master who commanded the recruits of the Combined Cadet Force, took them to the sandpit for a “river-crossing” exercise with toggle ropes. There at the bottom of the pit, were two unexploded hand-grenades with their pins and levers gone. Freddy sent a couple of the recruits running with them up to the Gothic Temple nearby, which, with a wooden hut, was used as the Armoury for the Corps.
Years later, having been in the Army and with access to the relevant training manual, I realise how dangerous this was and how lucky we and Freddy were not to have deaths on our hands. On this occasion the Army Ordnance Corps were contacted and they came and presumably did what was necessary. However, it had become evident that someone at the School had access to hand grenades. An amnesty was declared if the culprits came forward and any remaining bombs were surrendered. Peter and I consulted and decided to give in. But the Army wanted to know how we had got the grenades, so I agreed to go and show them how it was done. One afternoon, an Army three-ton lorry arrived and I was solemnly loaded up and driven to Tingewick where I showed them the approach route and which munitions we had examined – and borrowed from. The soldiers were rather amused by the whole business and thought it showed a good deal of enterprise on our part.