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Boys will be boys!
A true story from 1947 told by Terry Hubbard, February 2003
THIS ANECDOTE IS BASED AROUND THE FOLLOWING COURT ORDER:-
IN THE COUNTY OF LEICESTER
Petty Sessional Division of Loughborough.
To: John Allsopp (11) Terrance Hubbard (11) and Clive Harrison (8) (hereinafter called the defendants)
and George Edward Allsopp, Brook Street, Herbert Hubbard, Brook Street and John Harrison,
Church Street Wymeswold in the County of Leicester (hereinafter called the parents)
INFORMATION has this day been laid by Richard Bullimore (hereinafter called the Informant) that you,
the defendants being children on the third day of November 1947, at Wymeswold in the County first
aforesaid, did steal 20 pounds of cordite of the value of 50/- the property of H.M. Secretary of State
of War contrary to S.J. 2 Larceny Act fil
AND information has further been laid by the Informant, that
you the parents are the parents of the defendants.
YOU ARE THEREFORE SUMMONED [each of you] to appear before the Juvenile court sitting at
the Court House, Loughborough, in the County first aforesaid, on Monday, the 15th day of December
1947, at the hour of 10-30 in the forenoon, to answer to the said information.
DATED this 20th day of November 1947
Justice of the Peace for the County first aforesaid.
THE STORY SURROUNDING THIS COURT ORDER
During the Second World War, Wymeswold was far from being just a quiet rural village in Leicestershire.
It had a very active wartime airfield with an attendant garrison of service personnel, quite a collection of brick-built air raid
shelters and its share of evacuee children.
For Wymeswold children, in the 1940's, there were no televisions, discos or clubs but they did have the benefit of the
cinema in Loughborough. However, since Hoton Road was part of the airfield at that time, journeys into Loughborough
were long (via Burton or Rempstone) and expensive. A trip to the cinema would cost a princely sum of about 1s.6d
comprising 5d bus fare, 6d for the cinema, 2d for a bag of chips and change for sweets – we are talking old shillings and
pennies so the equivalent today would be 8 pence, however 1s.6d was a lot of money in 1947.
(NB:This arithmetic is important for the story outcome)
So how did the children amuse themselves?
They watched the aircraft that were still in active service (transport and training flights) on the airfield, they would go
to the cinema on Saturday mornings and they would 'play' in the disused air raid shelters.
When I say 'play', I actually mean play pranks on unsuspecting householders.
A favourite prank was to tie a piece of
cotton to the doorknockers of houses near the shelters. The children would hide in the shelters with the other end of the
cotton thread, pull it hard and watch as the house owners came to the doors to find nobody there !
An even better prank was to do a similar exercise on the windows of the houses. With a weighted end on the
cotton thread and a safety pin pushed into the wooden window frames to act as a pulley, they could hide, pull the
cotton thread repeatedly and the weighted end would knock against the windows causing the residents extreme
annoyance because there was never anyone there when they looked out.
However, 'boys will be boys' and they soon got bored with these tame activities.
Then they discovered cordite !
The War Office was so concerned about the devastating effect of potential explosions within their huge ammunition
stock, that they created very large numbers of small ammunition stores around the countryside so that any 'accidental'
ignition would neither destroy life nor buildings and would only create small craters in rural fields.
That would have been fine if they had made these stores secure!
A number of these stores were located on the wide verges alongside Willoughby Lane. They closely resembled the
style of the shelters that we see these days in fields where farmers keep pigs i.e. half hoops of galvanised corrugated
metal set into the ground and sealed at one end. However, the security of these was pathetic to say the least. All that
closed off the open end was a canvas sheet tied to the metal work !
These temporary stores were stacked with live shells, smaller ammunition and cordite !
The wonderful thing about cordite was its ability to burn continuously in ANY situation and even under water.
The 'boys' quickly discovered a way to make fireworks for free (fireworks were not available in 1947).
Cordite was used in two forms in those days. The apprentices at the engineering 'BRUSH' works would (illegally) use the
black powdered cordite to fill narrow sealed metal conduit tubes. Once they had put a bung in one end with a cord or
taper for lighting, they could produce quite magnificent early forms of the modern firework rocket.
Subsequently, the 8 and 11 year-olds in this story (and many, many others who didn't get caught) discovered 'green cordite'.
It came in long strands like extra thick spaghetti and, once lit, would burn very brightly.
It was particularly spectacular when tied into bundles, ignited and thrown into the air.
Our 'gang of three' had watched some of the other children and quickly learnt where to get the cordite and what to do with it.
They would get the 'green cordite strands' from the Willoughby Lane ammunition stores and hide it in a stone bridge nearby
where they had managed to remove some of the stones and create a 'cubby hole' inside the bridge. The 'cubby hole' was then
concealed by loosely replacing the facing stone. They could then retrieve portions of their hoard at any time and create aerial
displays at their leisure.
All was well and (probably) tolerated and overlooked until one particular Scottish evacuee decided to use some cordite to
blow up the village school by placing it in a hole that he had decided to dig below the school building. He was caught and
prosecuted because of his deliberate intentions to cause damage.
Unfortunately, our 'gang of three' did not realise that they would have been wiser to stay 'low' at that time.
Instead, shortly after the incident, they resumed their activities and decided to have a cordite 'firework' display on
Queen's Park at the bottom of the Stockwell.
You can probably guess what happened next !
The family of the Scottish evacuee were so incensed that the village children were still 'playing' with cordite
that our 'gang of three' were 'shopped' to the police.
HENCE the COURT ORDER reproduced at the start of this article.
HOWEVER this story does have a quaint ending and remember that the hearing was at 10.30am !
- The children were 'told off' in court and instructed not to do it again.
- The parents were fined £1 for each child.
(remember the costs above)
- One child was 'clipped round the ear' and sent home to bed for the rest of the day!
- One child was sent back to school immediately (probably for a caning)
- Terry was given 1s.6d and told to go to the cinema because half the day had already been wasted!
...BUT Terry got caned the next day.........
(probably worth it to get 2 cinema visits in one week)
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