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Backwords: A Bullet In The Pocket

…We schoolboys of 1939, for instance, were positively incensed when hostilities cut off vital supplies.
What sparked off genuine anger against Adolf was that he stopped us getting hold of footballs, cricket balls and train sets…

Mike Shaw tells some surprising wartime tales.

Wars are really disruptive to the important things in life.

We schoolboys of 1939, for instance, were positively incensed when hostilities cut off vital supplies.

Never mind that we couldn’t get fresh eggs, juicy oranges and proper chocolate sweets.

What sparked off genuine anger against Adolf was that he stopped us getting hold of footballs, cricket balls and train sets.

Even that evergreen schoolboy habit of collecting just about all things under the sun began to suffer.

But, as the old saying goes, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

So traditional collector’s items such as cigarette cards and foreign stamps gave way to wartime treasures like regimental badges and forage caps.

The most valuable mementoes paled into insignificance, however, when our wartime souvenir hunting was given a totally unexpected boost.

Out of the blue a lad became the envy of every one of us at school when he furtively dug deep in his pocket and revealed a shiny silver bullet fitted tightly into a polished brass cartridge case.

The great discoverer eventually revealed that his find of inestimable value had come from the wreckage of a plane which had crashed on the desolate moorland between Marsden and Meltham.

Inevitably, it wasn’t long before a group of us set off one Saturday morning in search of the wreck.

Guided by an experienced treasure hunter who had plundered the debris on previous visits, we tramped for what seemed an eternity across the moors near Deer Hill until we spotted the bits of wreckage partly buried in the peat.

It was, we were assured, the remains of an American bomber which had ploughed into the hillside.

Certainly there were souvenirs to be had. Chunks of the cockpit’s Perspex were scattered around and I remember my brother coming up with one or two bullets after digging in the soft brown peat.

I don’t think it ever occurred to us that the bullets might have been still live and dangerous.

If my memory serves me right at least one of them was polished up beautifully and stood for months, if not years, in a place of honour on our mantelpiece.

I do remember spending hours in our greenhouse painstakingly shaping a wooden plaque on which to mount a much-valued diamond shaped piece of Perspex recovered from the wreck.

As the years slipped by the relics lost their attraction and were either dumped in the dustbin or given away to boys bitten by the collecting bug.

But, remarkably, the story does not end there. In 1958 a 13-year-old boy walked into Slaithwaite police station holding an unexploded cannon shell.

He had four more shells at home, he said. His mates had some too. And they’d all come from what he said was the wreckage of a plane on the moors above Marsden.

An RAF rescue team called in to locate and inspect the wreckage confirmed that it was indeed the remains of a Flying Fortress which crashed in 1942.

After the crash, said the police, the bodies of the crew were recovered by the American authorities and the wreckage was marked on the map.

As a young Examiner reporter, I was sent out with the police and the RAF team to the scene of the wartime air disaster.

So there I was, standing on the spot where 16 years earlier I and my mates had knelt in the heather as we carried out our hunt for prized souvenirs.

Who says that history never repeats itself?

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