NOSTALGIA: We had more backbone during the war

The letter of commendation from the Southern Railway management. It took two months to send it.
The letter of commendation from the Southern Railway management. It took two months to send it.
10 things you'll remember if you grew up in Portsmouth

10 things you’ll remember if you grew up in Portsmouth

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Do you remember last year when a Second World War bomb was found in the harbour mud and much of southern Portsmouth was closed down?

It was not always like that however, such as during the Second World War when the authorities had a little more spine to them.

Driver JC Riley.

Driver JC Riley.

On the night of August 25/26, 1940, a German bomber dropped a delayed action high explosive bomb.

It landed near Green Lane crossing close to Hilsea gasworks.

It lay buried deep in a crater awaiting the very brave UXB boys.So what to do?

Two volunteers were called upon and the pair who came forward were Driver JC Riley and Fireman William Durrant of Fratton Locomotive Department.

Fireman Bill Durrant

Fireman Bill Durrant

They were asked to place a trainload of coal wagons alongside the crater located on the down side of the tracks.

This enabled the up line to be used for reversible working, so up and down trains used the up line only with a pilot man.

The operation was a complete success, so much so that the two railwaymen were invited along to the BBC to be interviewed on the radio (sorry, wireless) and paid the princely sum of one guinea (21 shillings or £1.05) including expenses.

They also received a letter of commendation, although two months later, from Southern Railway's top brass.

The line was re-opened to full working a few days later whereas today it would have taken a month of Sundays as we know.

• My article on the pom-pom guns used on warships to shoot down attacking planes, featured on Friday, April 13, bought memories flooding back for Ted Saunders, of Portchester. 

He tells me that but for a ‘block’ on the guns there could have been many cases of ‘friendly fire’ against their own ship, the one the guns were firing from!

He tells me: 'As part of my apprenticeship I worked in the gun shop in Portsmouth Dockyard.

'One of the tasks I was given after some training was to go on to the ships where these guns were fitted with my instructor.

'We had to mark out the cams [a rotating or sliding piece in a mechanical linkage used to transform rotary motion into linear motion] to stop the guns firing at certain points.

'If this had not been done, in the gun crews' eagerness to shoot enemy planes down, they may have shot the ship's mast, funnel or even the bridge to bits as they trained the gun mounting around following the attacking aircraft.'

Ted continues: 'We would fit a steel blank on the gun mounting, train the gun mounting around and mark on the blank where obstructions were so that anything they did not want shot to pieces, wasn’t.

'We would then take the blank back to the gun shop and machine it so that the gun could only fire when it was clear of any parts of the ship.

'We machined a groove in the blank that a probe followed and as the gun was fired electrically the probe switched the power off when the gun was pointing at a part of the ship you wanted to keep,' Ted adds.

As you can imagine these guns could be trained very quickly so the gunner had no time to consider the things he should not have been shooting at. Therefore, some sort of cut-out or 'block' was needed to restrict the guns' movement.

I expect things are very different nowadays, and no doubt it's all controlled by computers.

One final note on these guns comes from my ex-naval colleague Barry Jefferies.

He tells me that when having a practice session a plane would fly past towing a conical shape with a balloon attached a few hundred yards behind it.

One day the bullets went a little too close to the tail of the plane and the pilot radioed down: ‘Oi! Tell those gunners I'm towing this flipping thing not pushing it!"