Last July I turned 88 and and that number always rings in my ears because as a youngster during the Second World War, I learned about the famous German piece of artillery called the 88. That was because it had the bore of 8.8cms or 88 mm. That in itself was quite exotic because with us it was all feet and inches and it took me a long time to get an idea of what 88mm was like in inches (a bit over three inches).
Allied soldiers had the utmost respect for that gun. What it could do was far in advance of any artillery piece we had. Firing up to 25 rounds a minute, it could devastate tanks and trucks, was an effective anti-aircraft weapon and was easily transported. Undoubtedly the best gun of the war.
The British main artillery piece was a 25 Pounder. This was much more traditional and could not be aimed 3° below level or 80° up in the air. Its shells, each at 25 pounds weight (round about 11.4 kilograms) packed a wallop, but it would be a snappy team that could get off six shots a minute and the whole weapon was based upon the idea of trench warfare; where the artillery lobbed high explosives over the heads of their own troops into the lines of the enemy.
The first years of the war, our troops were mostly trying to take cover from the 88s and the Stuka dive bomber with its demoralising whistling-scream built into its wings.
At my secondary school we played military games as cadets. One day a week, Wednesday. we had to wear our sandpapery khaki uniforms and train to be soldiers in a war that came closer to swallowing us, year by year.
To avoid having to clean a rifle without ever firing it because we didn’t have enough ammunition, I joined the artillery and there gave my best, which didn’t seem to be good enough.
When a crusty army sergeant introduced us to the twenty-five pounder and told us the quirks of lifting the end of the carriage to swing the gun around left or right, he said.
“Be careful when you’re doing this. Don’t bust you fufu valve.”
I thought I must have missed something technical and promptly asked, “Please sir, what’s a fufu valve?”
From behind us, I heard a teacher’s voice over the collapsed class soldiers. “See me in my office, Kelly.”
Weeks later we visited the really big gun emplacements deep in the hills overlooking Cook Strait. There the soldiers gave us their best rapid fire delivery of all the things their remarkable guns and radar could do so that no matter what wind, current or devious tactic an enemy ship or submarine used, it was always in their sights. “Any questions?”
“Please sir, how do you miss?”
“My office, Kelly.”
In the military, it seems, you just do as directed. Ultimately you are someone else’s fodder.
But now I am 88 and it is not the 88s or the Stuka which bother me, they are museum pieces. though technology marches on. Now, I have to cope with the world of computers and the self-publishing universe through places such as Amazon. I try, and I still ask questions though I struggle ,and I love writing the books, but that is not enough. I may have been ducking for cover initially but I think, bit by bit, I’ll harness Amazon and the rest, gradually master the niceties of self-publishing and marketing and, perhaps, be content.
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