I have 2 trophies for winning western division gunnery competitions, from a long way back, but the memory, is just like yesterday....that gun, my gun, the worn stock, polished mahogany nestled against your jaw and mouth, your nose smelling traces of trench-smells in exotic killing grounds like the Somme and Ypres, waiting for the mist to clear, peering over the parapet through the raised sights, sensing the wind, easing the trigger back at the end of an expelled breath, the accurate tight grouping on the dim silouhette target, second pressure, BANG!
Jeez, you'd be deaf as a post afterwards and the bruise on your clavicle, and the weight of the thing, the physicality, the smell of cordite in your nostrils and the metallic taste in your mouth, and the piercing hammer-bells in your ears, and then, afterwards, the ritual comfort of pouring 8 pints of boiling water through the barrell. 'Same amount of boiling water as blood in your body, Private', wondering how they did that in 1917 in a filthy trench with no electric kettle and afterwards, the oiled pull-through string and wad, stowed in your tunic pocket, like a scapular!
And then the feed, in Kinsellas Hotel, awkward in our uniforms, snake-guard high boots, laced to the top, air eagla na h-eagla agus na peist, the never ending laces drooping like anacondas below our football socks, hardly camoflage colours but stopped the chaffing, our appetites too young to join Eamon and Tom in topping up the bill with Guinness. Imagine looking forward to sharing two weeks in a tent full of over-sexed cadets, amid the sand-dunes at Finner, just so we could fire the Gustav Machine, the Bren Gun and the Energa Grenade. 17 year old Boys playing WW1 soldiers, with real 1918 rifles and real bullets in Ireland in the 1970's.
Y'know....watching all the bang bang movies, you know that the action is fake...there is no way that anyone can function with the bells ringing in your ears and the recoil...then one day we had to cover the Butts...resetting the targets and pasting the holes over them...real rounds buffeting the sand-hill over your heads...the ping and poof...and the absolute knowlege that you would never hear the offending shot were you the target...just the carnage...puts those 2 unfortunate British soldiers and the Polish Pizza delivery men in Antrim in stark perspective...something our kids sadly lack with the TV and movies de-personalising violence.