Shooting past and present

You might think that shooting was started as a natural spin-off from the Combined Cadet Force (or ‘Officer Training Corps’ as it then was).  But then you’d be wrong. Shooting at West Buckland (or rather the Devon County School as it was known then) began in 1906, some three years before the founding of the Cadet Force. The precise circumstances for the establishment of the Rifle Club are not known. However, it is likely that it was partially attributable to a cutting Inspectors’ report at the turn of the century that commented that while the School made good provision for instruction and sport, they made little or no provision for any other dimension to the pupils` lives.  Unlike today, after-school activities at West Buckland were thin on the ground. The Rifle Club, it would seem, was one of a number of initiatives started at that time (others included the building of the swimming pool) to help ‘enrich’ the lives of the pupils. The Register for June 1906 provides the record of its birth: ‘A new feature was introduced into School life towards the end of the Lent term by the formation of a Rifle Club – a preliminary step, we hope, towards a Cadet Corps.  The range is at the east side of the cricket field, where the boys constructed an embankment as a receptacle for stray bullets.’ [If my own experiences of School shooting are anything to go by, I’m sure the ‘receptacle’ would go on to catch a fair number of ‘stray bullets’ over the years…] As the only other (official) extra-curricular activity at the time was the Reading and Debating Society (succeeded by the “Phoenix Society”), it is unsurprising that the uptake was rapid: ‘About 45 boys [around half the School] have so far joined the Club; records of their shooting are being kept, and some of the best will be published in future Registers.’ In the early days competitions were held between the only two dormitories (as they were then called) – Brereton and Courtenay, growing to include Fortescue (c.1910-12) and Grenville (1918) when they were established.  There was also a prize on offer for best shot in the School – the Donegall Badge. 100 years on and, with the backing of the CCF, school shooting has a slightly larger reach.  Under the direction of the tireless Sgt. Dennis Morgan, the shooting team competes regularly in regional and national competitions, including the Mere Cup (South Wales), the Langport Trophy (Somerset) and the Ashburton Shield (held at Bisley, Surrey – the ‘home of shooting’).  Practices are now held twice a week, typically using .22 rifles in the Indoor Range (the green shed opposite the new Jonathan Edwards Sports Centre).  This used to be the School’s isolation hospital in the days when the danger of diphtheria and scarlet fever epidemics was a very real menace – nowadays the pupils are deemed sufficiently healthy for it to be put to a happier use. The School also shoots the larger calibre 5.56mm Cadet GP rifle or 7.62mm target rifle in the outdoor Crowl-Langley range, sited in the field beyond the new Astroturf and named after Dennis’ predecessor as School Staff Instructor. Shooting is also unique in the School in being the only pursuit with an active OWBA club.  The WBS Veterans’ Rifle Club is a small yet dedicated band of brothers that meets up for three meetings a year. The WBSVRC shoots against the School for the Crowl Cup (June) and the Derek Holt Memorial Trophy (September), and competes against veterans from such prestigious alma maters as Marlborough, Wellington, Charterhouse and Clifton in the National Public Schools’ Veterans Competition (Bisley, July).  In doing so, shooting is also the only activity in the School where both pupils and past pupils compete at the national level. (Very) occasionally the School produces a crack shot, with (at least) two shooters having represented their country. Frank Bromley represented England in 1948 and shot at the Filleigh range at Castle Hill for sixty years, and more recently David Pote also shot for England throughout the late 1990s. The rest of us unfortunately have to make do with hoping that their targets come back without looking as if they have been hit by a shotgun… If there are any past pupils reading this who fancy trying their hand at shooting again then please do get in touch. The Bisley meet this year is on Thurs 15 July. Click here for more details.  All skill levels welcome. Rifles and ammunition are provided, all you need to bring is a good packed lunch! Chris Boulden (94-03B) WBS Veterans’ Rifle Club Vice-Captain [With thanks to the Archivist, Berwick Coates, for the historical research]

Update 07 Feb 2011: David MacMullen wrote in to share his shooting memories from his time at West Buckland… “I was at WBS 1957-64 and in the School 8 from about 1960-64 when we had the old indoor .22 range at school and the long range at Filleigh. Sgt Major Crowle was expert at scrounging ammo from his oppo’s in other CCF’s in various Devon schools who didn’t shoot much (if at all). The deal was that he gave them expended cartridge cases, and we got new ammo in return. The result was that we never had any shortage and on occasions we were able to try out the Bren guns at Filleigh (very uncontrollable and greedy!). We had 2 boys RIM Cowan and A(?) Bennett who were both in the UK Schoolboys 8 at the same time. Probably in 1963. Bennett was a particularly good shot and I recall him getting ‘possibles’ (in my day 70 out of 70 at both 200 and 500 yards). We also did practice for the Marling Trophy at Bisley. Made more interesting at Filleigh by the fact that you started at the 600 yard firing point when the targets came up and ran to 500 yards. Fired 2 shots (all in 28 seconds) then reload, safety catch, then had to cross the river (!) down to 400 yards etc etc. till you got to 100 yards. Avoiding cow pats and other obstacles. At Bisley, on the Century Range, there were 100 teams of 8, all fining 2 rounds at each 100 yard interval. Very noisy!” If anyone else reading this would like to share their memories too, please do get in touch using the contact us page!