February 26, 1941
As I mentioned in my last letter, I am at present at an old and famous artillery camp for a ten-day shoot and have to date had two days of actual firing. On the first day, I was No. 2 and as such it was my duty to open and close the breach. The whole trick is to catch the breach lever just as the piece is coming back from the recoil. In case you don’t know what I mean, I will try to explain. As you can readily imagine, the shock from the explosion is quite considerable, so that some means must be devised to absorb it and avoid wear or breaking. Towards this they have what is known as the “buffer” and “recuperator” system. This is a hydraulic system using oil and air (compressed). This allows the “piece” or barrel to slide back smoothly after each round. The recoil is about thirty inches and a good No.2 catches the breach lever just as the piece is sliding back into position which throws the empty cartridge clear, leaving the bore free for another round. This was the first time I had ever been on a gun crew during a shoot, so of course I was quite a little excited. The first round went off with quite a bang and left my ears ringing and I must admit slightly dazed. I did, however, remember to catch the breach lever to throw the “empty” in the orthodox manner. I felt so pleased with myself that I completely forgot my duties, which also included closing the breach after the second round had been put in place. I was brought out of my trance by the Sgt., who said in a stage whisper “For blankety-blank sake close that D. breach.”
Apart from that, everything went off according to schedule and I really enjoyed it. Today, we were again out on the range and this time I was in the layer’s seat, which is the most responsible job on the gun. Apart from “laying” the gun, which includes putting the correct switch on the dial sight, the correct angle of sight, range and the seeing that the “bubbles” are all level, you have the responsibility of actually pulling the firing lever. This proved to be quite a thrill, which I enjoyed to the full. To make things even better, our gun proved to be the most accurate in our troop, which was very gratifying.
Well, so much for the gun and after a brief description of the camp, I will answer the questions in your letter. The camp is a large military camp and headquarters of British artillery. The barracks are quite comfortable but the mud is pretty terrible. However, we have our gumboots and just have four more days, so why “beef.” In regards to an invasion threat, I believe it is much closer than most people think. However, if you could see all our coast defences, you wouldn’t worry about the outcome. I do think that our real danger lies in his submarine warfare, which can be very serious. In fact, unless he can devise some method of increasing our shipping losses, he might just as well pack up right now. Please don’t think the Gerries are through yet, as this is far from the case. It seems to me that Spring should see action and plenty of it.