Fishing and Shooting: Guns of the Empire

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I CANNOT imagine what we are going to do about the guns. I almost think I shall just have to go off and buy another one, as if buying a 12-bore was like going down to Costcutter and picking up a pint of milk.

It started when the son, who was a gamekeeper but became a builder instead, borrowed my grandfather’s 12-bore which I inherited. The gun is a solid and very plain Webley & Scott made for the London gunsmith Charles Lancaster which my grandfather had in Waziristan in the 1930s.

They made millions of these unembellished “Empire” guns which were shipped out around the world and what they lacked in sophistication they made up for in toughness and reliability. You could hold off a score of the enemy with one of these and then beat them off with the butt when the ammunition ran out, and it still wouldn’t break.

Anyway he (son not grandfather) was somewhere in Perthshire and on the very high drive with all the birds coming straight over his head, the second barrel stopped working. Except it didn’t quite. It developed what in the motor trade they call “an intermittent fault”.

So when I took it to the gunsmith who is on completely the wrong side of the county let alone country, we fired a dozen cartridges at clays, and every time, the second barrel dutifully went bang. Of course.

He took it apart while I peered over his shoulder nodding sagely. The springs were pronounced fine and the firing pins in one piece. In other words there was nothing obviously wrong.

Of course, I couldn’t remember how many times it had gone click instead of bang and the relevant son couldn’t remember either except that it had all been very annoying at the time. And he was rather inclined to say it was all my fault anyway.

So I came away thinking I’d better establish if there is some sort of pattern to the misfires so next time I’m out I’ll take a spare gun just in case this one develops a permanent click. But here we have a problem.

The Westley Richards (provenance: wife’s uncle) does not eject very well, if at all. Which leaves us with the WR Pape of Newcastle which was made in 1907 and is the best of all the guns except that it is positively lethal with a loose rib holding the two barrels together and would cost more to repair than it would be worth. Mercifully there is the other son’s Spanish Black Sable which may be 40 years old and came from the delightful, but now deceased, Maj Ian Thwaites, a pigeon-shooting neighbour who to our secret delight would invariably greet a good shot with: “I say, that was a bit of a snorter, what?” They don’t make majors or guns like that any more.