Colchester Rifle Club
An anecdote of a club outing to Bisley for full-bore practice....................................."The Blunderbuss"
A 2008 visit by members to a famous ammunition manufacturer..............................A trip to Kynoch
and a third that is simply of historic interest ..........................................................Champions of Civilian Marksmanship
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Some say that the best things only happen around once in every hundred years. Anyone who knows Les King reasonably well will be more than aware of his great organisational abilities. He is more than capable of arranging an outing that will be long remembered by those taking part. Those memories would become even more poignant when he accepted help and advice from a friend and colleague.
" Let's book transport 'in the
spirit of the original' ", said Terence, " I know of a local firm
still running little charabancs ideal for our small party" he said.
"Yes." said Les, " We'll make this a trip never to be repeated!"
At around 0630 hours on August Bank Holiday Sunday, members started to arrive at Layer, bleary eyed but in good spirits, with the prospect of an unusual day's historic (and isn't that the word) shooting ahead.
Steve Hunt was one of the first to arrive for the 7.00 am planned departure. But then he had only come home at three o'clock that morning from a party. Not a moment of the weekend was to be wasted...... or so he thought! Mark Brewster, on the other hand, who had been at a stag party also until the early hours, was not going to waste any opportunity to catch up on his sleep. A coach ride was just what the doctor ordered.
The Harvey family arrived with their youngest who was about to experience his first ever ride on an autobus, well three autobuses to be precise. This must surely be a new Colchester record. We had thought that the purpose of the outing was to select a team for the Centenary Match, not a suitable coach. As the party assembled, our lovely cream coach arrived. "Dodge" it proudly proclaimed on its bonnet. Never was a truer word put into chrome print.
Our transport had been especially booked by Les, who had been most specific about our requirements. A thirty-odd seater to accommodate only seventeen people in great comfort, along with a large boot to ship about fifty rifles in large cases, ammunition and all the accoutrements of a sophisticated shooting team. This was also done in the knowledge that the return journey would be made with even more equipment. The N.R.A. had kindly agreed to a loan of scoreboards and easels for the Centenary Match at Middlewick. These would take up at least the rear set of spare seats.
"What's this", said Les." It's only got twenty seats!". Then he walked around the back, "and no boot! Where's all this kit going to go?".... pointing to about a ton and a half of ironwork and cases spread around the drive and car park. The driver looked non-plussed. But not half as much as Les!
The story unfolded. The superb vehicle in which we were supposed to have been conveyed had broken down the night before.(Alarm bells started ringing - but only faintly. They were to become louder!) This was the alternative that his boss had instructed him to use. There was an intermediate sized bus, but the large one having broken down, the boss had left for Gatport Airwick in that at about the time Steve Hunt had arrived home that morning!
assembly and luggage would patently not fit on the present vehicle. The
driver would go back to his base and get a twenty-nine seater that was there
and return to pick us up. Shooting started at eight-thirty, but we should
still be there soon after nine. Then it was suggested that a little time
could be saved if we could manage to get everything and everyone aboard
for the short trip to their Colchester base....... (wrong). 'Your base is
actually at Great Tey?. Oh well, never mind, that's still not too far".........
(wrong again). It took twenty minutes to load the kit aboard, let alone
the crew. Steve Hunt stood in the aisle at the rear, holding back the one-and-a-half
tons of equipment in case we had to make an emergency stop. He was heading
for a pressing appointment.
Each approaching bend further illustrated the point that a great weight in the rear of a small coach seriously affected the handling. As the suspension bottomed over each bump, those fortunate enough to be seated were grateful that there was enough leg room to allow them to prop their frame into position against the strange motion.
As we swung into the farmyard in Great Tey, the glorious sun accentuated the rich brown rust spots on the line of what we knew must be retired coaches parked alongside the barn. Relief showed on each person's face as they spotted the larger and marginally more modern coach last in the line. "No; that's the one that broke down yesterday" said the driver." We're using the one parked this end." To all concerned this one seemed no larger than the one from which we were now in the process of prising ourselves. "That's true", said our driver struggling to further endear himself to us, " but it has more seats on it!". "It still doesn't have a boot" exclaimed Les, only showing a relatively small degree of exasperation. The tightness of his..... lips was the only give-away of the mounting pressure. That and the comment to Terence along the lines of "even Gill told you that their coaches were quite old, and Graham, if I remember correctly, said that their vehicles looked a little tired. Don't you remember?"
Terence was trying hard to forget but, as the day unfolded, this he was not to be allowed to do. " Spirit of the original" he reminded Les.
Twenty minutes later, at around eight o'clock, we had reluctantly embarked on our second bus. It looked outwardly identical to the Dodge, but nobody walked round the front to spot that it was actually a similar body on a chassis powered by Volkswagen. More than a few of the team were showing signs of impending stress. Had they known that we were aboard a vehicle whose smaller sibling had shown a propensity to burst into flames on motorways, the angst might have been greater! The seating arrangement was akin to that found on a military transport aircraft on a parachuting mission - tight as Les's ...lips; and I don't know if anyone else noticed the sign on our twenty-nine seater that announced "TWENTY FIVE SEATS" in bold letters beside the driver. Perhaps he'd never seen it either. The seat backs were upright, legroom non-existent, and the load-master had excelled himself. Our far aft C of G allowed the pilot to pull back on the stick and give us a good impression of being launched into space! Not dissimilar to the set off of a dragster either. However, the impression lacked the aspects of acceleration and speed, but at least we were finally on our way. Or were we?
Driver: " I need to refuel, there isn't much in the tank."
Les: "O.K. where will you stop en route?"
Driver: "Marks Tey"
Les: " Isn't that in the wrong direction?"
Driver: " Yes, but that's where we buy our fuel"
Les: said nothing, thought much!
minutes later we pulled up on the forecourt and our driver disappeared for
five minutes. Already the seating was taking its toll. It was really uncomfortable,
but that sat well with our demeanour as the driver climbed back in his seat
and set off without putting any fuel into the tank!
"Problem with paying, we'll have to go to Kelvedon" At least that seemed in the right direction!...........(wrong yet again).
Up the Kelvedon slip road we went.......... and back down the Colchester bound one! This was familiar territory. Les was toying with the idea of going to see if Gill might like to come to Bisley after all! Then another forecourt - another hour. Fuelled up at last, we set off.................. for Easthorpe! It was now obvious how much longer a journey can take if much of it is made in the wrong direction. One high speed "U-turn" on the dual (spelt DUEL) carriageway later, we were convinced that things were at last moving our way..... along with the large truck that had been bearing down on us! A friendly return wave of thanks from our driver, and we settled into the familiar drone of high speed modern coach travel, plus the vibration and the oil fumes. My feet were getting a massage from the floor - a great sensation for a little while. Then I noticed how hilly Essex had become since the last time I drove the A12.
A typical sunny summer's early morning brought the customary cycle race to our trunk road, though heaven knows why. Our sluggish pace was further reduced by our inability to maintain a reasonable speed in the outer lane between successive cyclists. We were continually brought down to their speed up the hills whilst the rest of the automotive world hurled past outside. We were only able to overtake one by the good grace of the occasional motorist or trucker who slowed to allow us to move out to overtake. Some might think I am joking. But don't forget that the turn of speed of a road racing cyclist downhill is altogether a different kettle of fish. You could tell that Les's habit of organising competitions of all kinds might be getting the better of him. A competition to count the number of overtaking cyclists whilst we were on the dual-carriageway was not the most encouraging of his ideas.
The conversation turned from the concerns of each successive moment to the relative merits of routing to Bisley on the M25 either North or South about. All present this day have now seen the answer proved beyond a shadow of a doubt! The long climb out of the Dartford Tunnel at less than the minimum motorway speed illustrated the point. In fact much of Kent did the same. The southern route was considerably extended by the driver's inability to coax the coach away from the tunnel toll booths in the right direction. It was continuing with its attempts to get as far East into Essex as it could within the day. Had it succeeded in going backwards over the bridge we would have surely found ourselves in the Guinness Book of Records, which is where we thought we were heading anyway.
one professional and several amateur mechanics aboard, there were many pairs
of finely attuned and well qualified eyes and ears monitoring both our progress
and the vehicle's technical wellbeing. With a good few miles under our belt,
and more time than you could ever imagine in which to assess the situation,
the level of fumes, noise, driver ability, and a hundred other aspects were
faithfully mentally recorded. Any hint of change would be immediately registered.
Somewhere approaching the A3, having just peaked a long incline, the ensuing
gear change heralded a severe power loss. Thirty-six ears pricked up. Thirty-six
feet started mentally pedalling. (The figures credit the driver with the
same thinking as his passengers..... a questionable supposition). Before
we could apply sufficient effort to the plan there was an enormous report
(a bit like this one), and unidentified components flew out of the side
of the vehicle amongst the unsuspecting traffic.
The motor seemed unwilling to quit without at least trying to get us clear of the motorway, but it was confounded by a more easily disillusioned driver. Not that his disillusionment had anything to do with the barracking that he had earlier received from behind..... somewhere near where Ann Jelbert was sitting.
Entreaties to the driver for the conversion, of all twenty-two miles an hour remaining, into coasting towards the approaching slip road fell on deaf ears. Not surprising if he had been driving that coach for a few years! He pulled onto the hard shoulder without spotting that it petered-out in about a hundred and fifty yards...... along with the engine. The saving grace was the fact that we rolled to a halt alongside the only door in the huge wooden noise barrier stretching miles along that part of the motorway. The gap between this and the Armco was only about two or three feet. Hardly a suitable place for any of us, let alone a young Harvey in his pushchair. Both the traffic level and the sun were rising to a high level. The door opened onto a wooded valley as if we had enjoyed some fairy-tale escape from a nightmare. Steps went down to a dry river bed (drain), and a path led to a minor road passing under the motorway. Peace at last. Only the possibility of a passing policeman losing his sense of humour when finding an armoury in the back of a broken down bus caused any further anxiety. That and the fact that half the day had gone by, and we seemed less likely than ever to attain our goal! At this point Les had an idea for another competition, more to relieve stress than for any constructive purpose. The driver had walked back to see if he could find the article which had decided that it too no longer wished to travel on the bus. There appeared to be enough debris spread about to build another entire coach, but even Hugh Bolton shied away from this plan. However Les thought that we could put all the parts in a pile and see who could detect our missing parts first! The idea fell on ground almost as stony as the hard shoulder.
It had already been established (when leaving Layer) that the driver's mobile 'phone alternately either had no dial out facility or a flat battery, or perhaps the shoestring had broken. Anyway, Mike Cerrino's mobile became our only contact with civilization. Our call to the driver's boss woke him from his slumber in the Gatport Airwick coach park - or that was his story - where he was trying to cut down on the tacho time he'd amassed from the previous day's misfortunes. He agreed to drive up the M23 to rescue us, and arrived only shortly after Steve Penrose completed an impressive marathon to a reportedly nearby shop to buy a newspaper. Everybody then expressed surprise that our own misfortunes had not already been put into print in the Daily Mail. Surely the whole affair would have been a major scoop!
The new (and I use the word advisedly)
coach was another dog. But a significant improvement for all that. The seats
were at least as well space as the first ones of the day, and it had a boot.
The third transfer of all the equipment took place. The human chain would
have done credit to any fire-crew restricted to buckets! Our own marginally
less despondent driver took over, and we left his boss at the side of the
motorway with coach number two which was now lying on the hard shoulder
in submission with its wheels in the air. The poor chap had only just arrived
in what outwardly appeared a perfectly serviceable coach ( a point yet to
be proven) and was now languishing with a wreck.
Justice at last!
were only a few short miles to the A3 junction, but it soon became apparent
that coach number three also needed an injection of funds. Especially in
the engine department. Exhaust and oil fumes were penetrating the rear emergency
exit door seals and the engine compartment panels respectively. But it didn't
vibrate quite so much, and the seats offered much improved legroom. We were
also not threatened by a cascade of heavy items from behind in the event
of a sudden stop. Smiles returned to the faces of a group who had thought
they might never see home again - not to mention Bisley. The less trusting
amongst us were still listening carefully to the running noises, with justification,
but we hoped the worst was over. Until the prospect of the return journey
came to mind!
We arrived at Bisley with only one hour before the new lunch hour started at twelve thirty. Barely enough time for the 200 yard details. The good news was that the sun was shining and we were about to commence what we had come through hell and high water to do. The bad news was that the coach wasn't staying. It still had a party to collect from Gatwick. Would we ever see it again? Did we even want to?
Somehow, with everyone's co-operation, all the equipment was unloaded with another human chain and since it couldn't be left there, it all had to be ferried to the points with us. The prospect of having a coach which would follow us around Bisley to provide a base for our kit, and somewhere to sit in comfort between times, faded with the smoke haze as it pulled out of sight round the London and Middlesex...............
By five o'clock, we had managed to get through our day's planned Centenary shooting practice and enjoy shooting a few other rifles as well. Steve Penrose kindly put his Gemini stocked, Walther barrelled .762" at the disposal of one and all, (perhaps he already has a new barrel on order), and others were able to shoot extra-curricular rifles they had brought with them. It had earlier looked as if this might be impossible.
We had not quite finished tidying up, when that familiar cream paintwork appeared through the blue haze, heralded by the rhythmic "pfft.. pfft.." of an exhaust manifold leak. Our man was back. He had been to Gatwick, collected the other party, returned them to Colchester, waving to his boss as he went past, and then made the journey back to Bisley. Impressive - both he and the coach. Perhaps there was hope for us yet!
We loaded up, including all the N.R.A. boards and easels. The driver agreed that his tacho hours indicated a short break was necessary, and we all filed into the L & M to build up the Dutch courage needed for the return trip. We even bought him a couple of soft drinks. We must have been softening ourselves. Shortly after six o'clock the coach was boarded with some trepidation.
Bisley in the glorious evening sunshine was a treat, added to by the tour
of the caravan site to empty Les and Gill's caravan of his large purchase.
This proved to be the entire contents of the N.S.R.A. armoury, which Les
had taken time out to procure, much to the amusement and amazement of all.
This really did take up all the back seats!
The homeward journey passed almost uneventfully by comparison. The noise and fumes seemed less obvious, an indication that we should all have visited "the Donkey" before we left in the morning. Perhaps we can make such an arrangement with Alan for the next occasion. Our slow progress was slightly less painful, but showed up when the hour, which I had 'phoned home as an ETA, passed whilst we were still passing Brentwood. No matter, a little optimism never did anybody any harm, and at least we were still on the move, ..... or were we? I awoke suddenly from my gentle doze as we slowed unexpectedly........ "Only a fuel stop? at Easthorpe again? Phew!"
Through Stanway to drop Lisa and her son off near home, (Colin would come back to collect the car from Layer and save her the last few miles of torture), and we were cruising the streets of Colchester towards Layer. At least nothing could go wrong
this close to home. Then there was a tremendous thump. "What the heck was that?"....
Nothing could be seen in the dark, but at least we were still on the move. And in the right direction. We chose to take no notice.
Kingsford Park slid by in the darkness and the brakes squealed as they took the speed off for the bend round the bridge - memories of a Dutchman lying at the side of the road beside his powerful red motorcycle flashed through my mind, and my nostrils flared with that characteristic imaginary smell that comes with such memories. The bodily aroma of one, clad in leathers on a hot day, having just escaped death by the narrowest of margins.
One final burst of power up the hill, and the gateway appeared in the dim beam of the headlights. Several rushed to be ready to open the gate as quickly as possible. Another minute in this box was not to be contemplated. "Driver, where's the door handle?" .... " On the left of the door" .... "Oh no it isn't!" The memory of that awful thump came to mind. The bloody door handle had fallen off!....................
A frantic search in the dark seemed to take forever. Those in the back were clenching their teeth and fists at the same time. At last someone got a grip... a few fumbling moments and the fresh air cascaded into our airless spaceship. Or was that a spaceless airship. My mind was in turmoil. The surge for the door was expected; to be back on home soil was as if being transported to heaven. Who cared about the cars stopped in the road impatiently waiting whilst this coach blocked their way.
The gate was open and the slightly larger coach number three was tearing the branches away either side. Would the windows survive the beating; who cared, we were nearly there! One last squeal of the brakes and I was pushing at the back of the queue. Thank God it was all over.
The coach miraculously made it from one end of the drive to the other without breaking down. We all had visions of being in Layer and not being able to get the cars out of the car park. Why had we become such doubting Thomases? There was really no reason, was there?
My last thought as I watched the driver struggling to open the boot containing all our hardware was that the handle couldn't really come off in his hands, could it?
First published on Friday 31 May 2002:
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For enquiries of the Colchester Rifle Club, please email: Contact@Colchester-Rifle-Club.org.uk
Enquiries concerning the website only should be directed to: