By Former President Leslie Simpkins
The club was born out of the Home Guard rifle sections. In 1944 when the threat of invasion had disappeared the Home Guard was instructed by the Government to continue in being and form rifle clubs to continue the training of marksmen for the next war?
This club was formed from the members of the Number 26 Platoon of the Stevenage Home Guard, and members of the number 6 Platoon Stevenage Home Guard. The club was called 26 (Stevenage) Home Guard Rifle Club.
The subscription was 2/6 initially but by the time I joined in April 1951 it had risen to five shillings.
Members used two local ranges plus Bisley for full-bore.
The garden of the Home Guard Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bullied, in Hitchin Road Stevenage, was the location for the .22 range. I cannot remember the number of firing points, certainly no more than four. The butts were made out of railway sleepers in an E shape without the central leg of the E. Sand was banked in front with the whole back stop about six feet high. I used an old twelve fifteen BSA single shot martini action. There were three or four of these rifles stored in an unlocked former coalhole? Outside the Colonel’s back door.
I cycled from Baldock on Sunday mornings for the regular weekly meeting. When I owned my own rifle I simply slung the slip over my back and set off up the Great North Road. Ammunition was sold by the club at 2/6 a hundred rounds. These were ICI training rounds produced for the services and the HG.
The pistol section shot in Evan Fletchers factory in Hitchin Street, Baldock. Evan was a splendid pistol shot. In the ceiling of the workshop were the targets he had shot at 50 yards with a .38 revolver to win the “Gaillie” cup with a record score. Evan had been selected to shoot for England in the 1948 Olympic Games. The Olympic Committee decided in the end that Evan was a “professional” since part of his income was earned through the buying and selling of firearms and that he could therefore not be a competitor in the “amateur” Games. The “range” was located on the first floor of the workshop. On arrival if you heard members shooting, the shots could be heard in Hitchin Street, you waited at the foot of the stairs. When silence fell you kicked the bottom stair and somebody would yell out OK come up, or wait depending on what was happening above.
There were three firing points. At the top of the stairs the ten-yard range was located. This was the reason you waited down stairs until given the all clear. Your target was pinned to the front of a tea chest filled with leather shavings from the manufacture of billiard cue tips. Above the box was the glass screen round the stair well. The two twenty-yard firing points were on the far side of the workshop. A hole had been made in the wall to the next room to give the required length. Two tea chests were located in this space. One had to be agile to get through the gap to change targets. The shooter on the left shot at the right hand tea chest and the right hand shooter shot at the left hand tea chest. There was no danger of you shooting on the wrong target. You could only see your own target. Before shooting commenced it was necessary to line up the arms of the fly presses to get them out of the line of fire. The leather shavings in the tea chests easily stopped the bullets. Periodically Evan cleared them out, and replaced the shavings.
There were no Range Officers in the club. When you had finished shooting you picked up your gun etc and returned it to its box. No one checked the firearm to see if it was safe. There was one incident. R.G. (Dick) Parfitt owned a Spanish made ‘Star’ .22 semi-auto pistol. Having finished shooting, or he thought that he had, he must have picked his pistol up with a finger inside the trigger guard. There was a loud bang followed by a number of members yelling at Dick. Fortunately the shot missed everyone. Surprisingly it missed all the machinery as well and buried itself in the wall.
Evan accidentally shot himself one Sunday morning and quickly died. This accident was caused because neither Evan nor Sam Higgins ensured that the guns were clear after their rabbit shooting expedition. Mrs Fletcher, Evan’s mother allowed the club to continue to use the factory range as she intended to keep the business going assisted by her daughter Mary and Mary’s husband.
Eventually Mrs Fletcher decided to sell the business and the club was asked to leave. In those days, the late fifties, the Drill Hall, Bedford Road was very busy. The pistol section found that the range was only available for a booking on alternate Tuesdays. By this time the prone rifle section was also shooting at the Drill Hall. They shared every Friday night with the George W. King Ltd rifle club. At that time, our late President Rusty Hempstead, was secretary of the King’s club.
The pistol section was thriving at this time. Members shot in the Surrey County Small-bore Rifle Association pistol leagues. The majority of the pistol shooting members shot in these leagues and this caused pressure and congestion on shooting nights. The rifle section was in exactly the opposite situation. There were only six members. They fielded one team of five in the NSRA Leagues.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1958 the pistol secretary, L.C. Simpkins, proposed that the Rifle and Pistol Sections swapped shooting nights. This proposal was accepted and voted through by the members present. Thus the pistol section took over Friday night as the sections regular evening. Apart from a very short period when the club and the ICL club amalgamated, when we met on Tuesday evening, the ICL night, the club has met on Friday since 1958!
Due to the closure of the TA range on February 28th 2017 the club has moved to shoot at Lewsey Community Centre Luton on Saturday mornings once or twice a month (9:30 – 12:30). we are still looking for a range closer to home.