When I was at Bishop’s we still had a cadet detachment, with regular drill every Wednesday afternoon. In Junior Matric (Std 9/Grade 11) ‘A’ Company under Rex Pennington drilled with Lee Metford .303 rifles handed down from the Boer War days. They were fully operational except that a modification to the breech prevented a live round being chambered, though blanks were accepted and were issued during ‘Cadet Week’ towards the end of the year. The rifles were kept in the Armoury which formed part of the basement of the Memorial Hall.
During my matric year, the armoury was spring-cleaned and two Mausers dating from WW1 were turfed out. Both were missing their bolts and I suppose the armour master thought they were useless. I was mad keen on anything to do with guns and managed to persuade one of the recipients to part with his for the massive sum of Fifteen shillings, in today’s money probably equivalent to about R80.00. There was a bit of damage in that a short section of the barrel which protruded beyond the foresight had been shattered, clearly by being hit full-on by a bullet, and that may be the reason it came back to South Africa as a trophy, either from Europe or more likely South West Africa. And of course, the missing bolt. But now I had a genuine Danzig 1905 8m/m Mauser and I was delighted!
Later that year (1956) my father, who was a retired SA Naval Officer, was invited to attend trials aboard a British warship, I think she was a frigate, HMS Sparrow, and he managed to take me along with him. We were to attend gunnery practise off Cape Point. Twin-barrelled 40m/m Bofors anti-aircraft guns fired vast amounts of ammo at a drogue towed by an aircraft about 3000 feet above us (brave pilot!), and the ships 4” guns fired at a floating target rather like a cricket screen moored on the horizon about 10 km away. All very exciting. I told the Gunnery Officer about my Mauser acquisition and he offered to have his armourer examine it and clean it up properly.
When I got it back the damaged muzzle had been removed as well as all surface rust and I was well pleased. Sometime after that, I was in Rawbone’s gun shop in Cape Town and asked the proprietor, a Mr Klein, what the chances were of my obtaining a bolt so as to make the gun complete. Virtually nil, he replied. At that, another customer in the shop who had overheard the conversation said that he happened to have a bolt without the rifle which would fit my rifle without the bolt, and a deal was struck! A week later I collected it and now my Mauser was complete! The story doesn’t end quite there. I now had a functional firearm and realised it would have to be licensed. I presented myself and the rifle at the Muizenberg police station and said I would like to apply for the licence.
The constable called the Station Commander. “Oh,” he said, “and where did you get this from?” So I told him the whole story… A few days later the Bishop’s Vice-Principal, Mr GC Hunneyball, who was also OC the Cadet Detachment, called me to his office. “What on earth have you been up to?” he asked,” I have been summoned to appear in the Simons town magistrate’s court to answer a charge of illegal possession of a firearm and you have been cited as co-respondent to appear with me!” I was gobsmacked! I then had to tell him the whole story and it was the first he had heard about it..... But there was a fortunate ending.
My dear father had many friends from many walks of life, and one of them was the attorney general in Cape Town. He instructed the police to drop all charges and to issue me with an application form to legalise the whole matter. The licence was granted a week or two later, and the dust settled. So what happened thereafter? Firstly, the incident formed some sort of a bond between GC Hunneyball and myself and we became good friends over the years, particularly when he became OD Secretary in the 1960s. And the Mauser? A gunsmith turned it into a sporting rifle which I used for many years. Its first job was shooting Impala for rations in Swaziland. But eventually, I sold it to upgrade to a more modern weapon.
Should have kept it…
Jem Ricketts (1958S)
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