Tales from my youth - "Boy puts bomb on bonfire!"

Blair Gowrie By Blair Gowrie, 14th Jul 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>True Stories

Two small boys pick up live ammunition from a military training area, including two bombs, which they put on a bonfire to see what will happen.

And lives to tell the tale!

What idiotic, imbecilic, irresponsible boy would ever do such a thing? Alas, dear readers, I have to confess that that wretched boy was me!

During the war, the hills and dales above our small town, were turned into a military training ground at which live ammunition was used. The idea was to get raw recruits accustomed to being under fire before they were shipped out to feed the fighting then raging over much of the world.

As a result of this, discarded or lost ammunition was strewn all over the area, in fields, in ditches, in streams and in rivers. Most of it was in the form of cartridges for rifles or for machine guns. We boys would collect these cartridges, then break off the bullet from the top by inserting it into a crevice in a wall, then striking it downwards with a heavy object. This would break off the bullet and expose the explosive cordite inside the cartridge casing. This cordite we would extract and pack inside straws or other objects to make our own fireworks, which we would then light and watch happily as they fizzled and jumped around.

Didn’t adults or parents ever see us doing this? No they didn’t – somehow or other we managed to keep our activities to ourselves.

But not only was there small arms ammunition, there was heavier ordnance too. This came in the form of mortar or artillery shells, and one day we found two of these which were tube-like in appearance, perhaps twelve inches in length by two and a half inches in diameter, and these we brought home with us.

We didn’t know what they were, but we were sure they contained some form of explosive, and to find out we decided that it would be a good idea to put them on a bonfire

Next to our garden, and separated from it by a high and thick hedge. there was a large field where the local farmer sometimes kept his horses. In this field, and about twenty yards from the hedge, we built a bonfire, and when it was burning merrily, placed the bombs on it. We then scampered back to behind the hedge, lay down and waited to see what would happen.

After perhaps half a minute, the two shells plopped out of the fire on to the grass and started emitting dense clouds of white smoke. Now we knew what they were – they were smoke bombs used by the military as cover when attacking, or for concealment purposes. As the wind began to blow the smoke away from our house, and in the direction of a nearby wood, we jumped up and raced into the smoke enjoying every second of it. But after reaching the wood, the smoke began to dissipate, and after wafting through the trees, disappeared into the field beyond.

Was there any spoken or public report of this sudden cloud of smoke? No, there wasn’t, perhaps because it had affected nobody, and lasted only a few minutes.

But supposing these bombs had contained high explosives, not smoke powder, what would have happened? Well, there would have been a huge explosion heard within a radius of maybe three to five miles, some people, including us, might have been injured or killed, the windows of our house and the neighbouring houses would have been blown in, and when the authorities found out that the two of us, small boys aged nine and five, had been responsible, they might have plucked us from the bosom of our family and thrust us into the hard and cold confines of a remand home for wayward boys.

But luck was on our side, and here I am today to relate this story to you – a story kept secret for more years than I care to recall. Whether my brother remembers anything of the incident, I don’t know and I have never asked him. But even after all this time, the thought of what the consequences might have been still sends shivers down my spine.


Ammunition, Artillery, Bomb, Bonfire, Boy, Cartridges, Cordite, Fighting, Guns, Machine Guns, Mortar, Recruit, Rifles, Shells, Training, War

Meet the author

author avatar Blair Gowrie
Author of fiction, poetry, musicals and song lyrics.

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