Cadets, Armoury, 1951 

Older than the School itself surely, 
the ramshackle shed with great padlocks,
long dark racks of old rifles –  
‘Boer War veterans’ was the joke.

The armoury: sinister, secretive,
hoard of things dangerous.
Wasn't there a Bren Gun there as well? 
The best job in Cadets was minding it. 

The Army kept an eye on it, and, to run
the school cadet corps – well, half 
the staff were returned soldiers.
the enemy defeated, now they'd discipline us.

Hadn’t Mr Bolton been a major in Tanks!
Now he was a grumpy geography teacher,
expert on the North African desert. 
Boys, we could fry eggs on that hot metal!) 

But Cadets – certain schools took pride
in keeping them going. Drilling in squads
on Tuesday afternoons, some with rifles 
issued from the armoury, heavy old 303s.

Or, privileged, marched to the rifle range, 
issued with tiny light rifles, 22s, 
strictly supervised, firing at paper targets. 
Watch out for stray pedestrians passing.

The one Bren Gun was much prized.
The most select squad worked with it, 
dismantled it piece by piece, 
oiled, understood, reassembled. 

If you signed up for cadet camp, ;
in the school holidays you could wear khaki,
go by truck to the army base,
sleep in barracks, eat in the mess 

and fire their Brens all afternoon. 
Failing such routes to manhood as sport, 
I chose soldiering, drilled, saluted, 
reported for duty. I’d shoot my way there. 

The butt nestled into your shoulder,
vibrated with killing power.

 Max Richards

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