Another favourite passage: The Account of ‘Captain Grief’ V

And more…. of special interests to you weapons buffs, especially those of the artillery persuasion…..

~~~~The demonstration firing of the Piat took place on a paddy close to the camp. Grief, bursting with excitement, strode up and down before his platoon, sturdy Burmans in khaki shorts and head scarves who listened with no trace of expression on their flat, sinister faces while I named the parts and explained the mechanism with Jones translating. Then I cocked the thing, nipping my fingers in my nervousness, trying to ignore Grief’s barks of encouragement. “Take the strain, heave! Bags of action, bags o’ swank, Strang the Terrible pits his muscles against the machine, can he do it, can he hell, yes he can! Got it, corporal! Smashing, good show! Spinach wins the day!”

The target chosen was an old Jap bunker, a good solid construction, and I wondered if the Piat would even dent it – assuming if I hit it, for never having fired the weapon it was with no confidence that I uncapped a bomb, laid it carefully in place, and took up the firing position.

“Range – eighty yards!” bawled Grief, standing over me. “Well, eighty or eighty-two, we won’t niggle!” Silly bastard. “Wind backing nor-nor-east, visibility good, scattered showers in western districts! On your marks, take your time, and may God defend the right!” He flourished his hands and placed his forefingers in his ears. I had adjusted the supporting leg to what I hoped was the correct elevation, took a firm grip, lined up the sight, and pulled. There was an ear-splitting crack, the pad hit me a smashing blow, and as the Piat and I were shunted violently back there was a great crump from up ahead. I looked, and approximately halfway to the target a large cloud of smoke was hanging over a tiny crater.

“Jesus McGonigal!” roared Grief. “Ranging shot! Up fifty, direction, spot on, elevation – well, nobody’s perfect! Try again, corporal, remember the spider, we’re all with you, man and beast! Bags I be number two on the gun!”

He recocked the Piat himself, and by the time I had another bomb ready he was fiddling with the sight, adjusting the elevating leg, and squinting towards the target. “Gravity, muzzle velocity, density, intensity, one for his nob, and bullshit baffles brains! There – into the breach, old Whatsit, and if all else fails we’ll fix a bayonet on the bloody thing and charge! Fire at Will, he’s hiding in the cellar, the cowardly sod!”

I lined up the sight, held on like grim death, pulled the trigger, and being ready this time for the recoil was able to watch the bomb’s flight. It arced slowly up. dipped, and descended, there was a brilliant orange flash and a roar, a billowing back cloud, and beneath it – nothing. The bunker had vanished.

“Take that, you jerry-built abomination! Flaunt your roof at me, would you? I’ll huff and I’ll puff and you’ve had your chips!” Grief was off like an electric hare, with his platoon chattering and laughing at his heels. Well pleased, I followed more slowly, pacing out the range: it was exactly seventy-nine yards.

“He’d measured it, had he?” I set to Jones.

“Don’t you believe it, boyo,” he said. “He didn’t need to.”

Grief and his gang were standing around the wreckage-filled pit in which beams and thatch were tangled in the fallen earth of the roof. As we joined him he heaved a deep sigh and looked solemn.

“Alas, poor Will, everybody’s target, I fear he’s been fired at for the last time. He’s down there somewhere with his ears ringing and his arse full of shrapnel.” He shook his head and then was off again, sixteen to the dozen. “Not a bad bomb, corporal, not bad at all – and you can tell the manufacturers I said so, you unregenerate gremlin, you! Or was it firkin? Not that I give two hoots, I couldn’t care less, but I don’t want you wandering in a state of uncertainty. Right, Sarn’t Jones, dismiss the parade, depart and take your ease, and if anyone rings tell ’em the redskins have cut the wires. I’m going for a kip.”

To be continued…..

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