First published in American Rifleman, July, 1989.
By Orson O. Buck
Shooters of the U.S. beware. Give way an inch to the anti-gun lobby and you'll end up like the poor folk here in Great Britain. And it's not just handguns I'm talking about.
Regulations which have recently come into force have made all semi-auto rifles larger than .22 Long Rifle illegal. If you’ve got one (and each is individually licensed), you have to hand it in. After much hassle in parliament it’s been agreed you get paid for it—at the time of writing (February) just £150 ($260). It’s legalized robbery!
And now even shotguns have to be individually registered as well, although as yet, there’s no limit on the number you can have.
There’s always been a sneaky bit in United Kingdom firearms legislation, too. It forms Section 5 of the 1968 Act, and it allows the police chief of each area discretion to refuse a license. It’s mostly been used pretty reasonably—an alcoholic finds it rather difficult to own a rifle, for instance—but if you’re getting on in years and a bit frail…?
The other day I witnessed a heartbreaking scene. The owner of a superb firearm, a sniper rifle from World War II, was virtually in tears as he hammered a bullet into the rifling at the breech end and then proceeded to fill the chamber with weld metal. Why? Because he was talked into it! His three-year license was due for renewal, and the police said he was too feeble to go hunting or paper-punching anymore. So, logically, he couldn’t have any use for it, he had to sell it if he could or surrender it to the authorities—with no compensation—and it would be destroyed. The thought of this was intolerable to the old chap, hence the welding exercise. At least that way he could hang it on the wall and dream of days gone by.
What days, too! As a Scotsman he'd hoped to be drafted into a Scottish regiment, but it was not to be. During the Great War of 1914-18 the British Army had encouraged men to enlist in county regiments and units even more localized. Such battalions as "The Manchester Pals'' were formed where most of the men knew each other and came from a very small area indeed. They fought well, these formations. Too well. In the big battles of that war whole battalions were virtually erased in minutes—20,000 casualties in the first hour of the Battle of the Somme.
Can you imagine the effect on a small town when it learns that practically all the men it sent to the war are never to return? The collapse of civilian morale was so great as to be bordering on revolt in some cases. So when the next war came that was one lesson the army had learned. Men from the draft were distributed among regiments that bore no connection to their home localities. Our man, then, found himself in a light infantry unit.
But he did well there. Finding that he could shoot straight, he was sent on a snipers’ course and passed with flying colors. Then to Italy with the 79th Division (the badge was a yellow battleaxe on a blue background—maybe some of you vets remember seeing it). On to Special Forces, a high score, a couple of wounds, and he was back on the civvy street.
Wanting a rifle for hunting and target shooting but not having a lot of pennies at the time, he looked around for one of the surplus No. 4 Enfields that were becoming available and that he knew so well. He saw one advertised, mail order, complete with scope sight. In due course it arrived. Now, one thing a soldier remembers, after his ID number, is his rifle's serial number. The one in a million chance had come up; this had been his very own tool, the one he'd scored with again and again.
For many happy years he shot on the range, using the ordinary aperture Sight but occasionally fitting the scope from its steel box when it came to taking a deer or two in the winter and the light was poor. This was one of the plus points of the No. 4. The scope could be dismounted, carried separately in a transit case and refitted immediately before action without any loss of zero.
The rifle itself was specially selected, in .303 British of course, and the battle sight, a 200-yd. zeroed peep, was milled off to permit mounting the scope, but the ladder sight was left intact. Two machined steel blocks were screwed to the left side of the receiver. Each has a threaded hole. The bottom halves of the scope rings are an integral part of a steel bracket which carries two screws with two large knurled-heads. These screwslocate in the receiver blocks, giving repeatability of lock-up every time. Naturally, the inevitable presence of machining tolerances meant that every scope rifle job was a one-off, and this is corroborated by the sight and rifle numbers being entered on a label in the transit box.
After 45 years (the combination was made in 1943), the scope's lenses are still clear although of only 2X. Eye relief is rather critical, of course. Each end of the scope tube has a slide-over shade, and the reticle is the post and rail type. The sight is fabricated from brass and immensely strong, but obviously this strength carries a weight penalty. In fact, the complete job, rifle plus scope, turns in at just 11 lbs. unloaded. Of course, when used with the scope the stock had to be higher than standard at the comb in order to get a firm "pinch" with the cheek. This was achieved by having a wooden block with two short pins which dropped into holes on top of the butt and was secured by a leather strap. Unfortunately, this block has gone AWOL over the years, but it would probably have added another 8 ozs. or so to the total, giving an all-up of over 12 lbs. loaded. Quite a handful.
But now all our old "Tommy" can do is doze and dream…that stag on the hill when the snow was 3-ft. deep but the sky a brilliant blue…that machine gun whose crew dropped one by one…
Korean War Sequel
The tale of the British “Tommy” who rediscovered his World War II rifle has its sequel in Henry G. Upfold of Arizona.
Earlier this year Upfold visited a gun shop in Sierra Vista, Ariz., to purchase a handgun. Spotting an M1 Garand on the wall, Upfold asked to examine it.
“I recognized the number right away,” he told a newspaper reporter, explaining his formula for remembering the rifle’s serial number, 1994017. "I was 19 when I was in Korea. 9 is my mom's birth month. 4 is my birth month, there was a zero, and I was 17 when I enlisted." he explained.
Upfold was issued the rifle by the Army in Sasebo, Japan, en route to Korea in July 1953. It was to remain his constant companion there until he turned it in at Taegu, Korea, in November 1954.
“I slept with it, and I've been through the mud and rain with it,” said Upfold, who is retired because of disability. He was able to purchase his old rifle, and a trip to the range confirmed it was still as accurate as he remembered.