I was stood second in line behind a mate of mine, Sgt. Pete, ex of Met and a really good guy. Pete was not a `natural` with anything, although his wit was razor sharp and his brain was the size of a planet. On this occasion he was attempting to re-qualify on the mighty 9mm Browning, standard issue to the County force in which we now served, as well as the British Army. The training pistols were so knackered that, when gently shaken, they would actually rattle like an old Ford, such was the sloppy fit of the moving parts. Stoppages were frequent and as with all SLP's there is a strict drill that must be followed to the letter, lest bullet holes start to appear where they shouldn't.
Pete was under instruction from "Nutty", another larger than life civvy instructor. Nutty was a great raconteur and could hold us spellbound with his tales of derring-do in the wartime Royal Navy including when, as a boy seaman on HMS Sheffield, he was involved in the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck. On one fateful incident during the pursuit, HMS Sheffield was almost torpedoed in a `blue on blue`, when a flight of RN Fleet Air Arm Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers mistook her for the Bismarck, swooped down and promptly attacked her. Nutty regaled us with a blood chilling account of how all the torpedoes, equipped with new fangled `proximity detonators` blew up as soon as they hit the sea. Fortunately, this incident of two-fold serendipity meant that not only was HMS Sheffield spared but also the Swordfish squadron could return to HMS Ark Royal and be re-equipped with conventional `contact` torpedoes. Re-armed, they took off in appalling weather, found and attacked Bismarck and crippled her by damaging the rudder. It was an attack of incredible bravery and determination, not least because, on the second attempt, they flew their slow moving, obsolete biplanes into withering German anti-aircraft artillery fire. Absolute, bloody heroes.
With instructors like Nutty we felt incredibly lucky, although one of his other instructor colleagues had heard it all before and didn’t feel quite so impressed. Ges was a former Colour Sergeant in the Royal Green Jackets and therefore a top rifle shot as well as an excellent tactical instructor. Having heard Nutty’s Bismarck story` ad nauseum, he once rather unkindly suggested that the Fleet Air Arm probably tried to torpedo the Sheffield just to shut him up, ether way, Nutty was used to being shot at by accident and deaf to all forms of verbal abuse, two essential qualities for a police firearms instructor.
Back on our range there was no German battleship to shoot at, just 6 paper targets. Sgt Pete had already successfully loosed off 6 rounds and was required to do a magazine change, which he completed after much shouted `guidance` by Nutty. A fresh mag of 10 rounds was slapped into the pistol and he resumed shooting. After 4 rounds there was the usual stoppage, but he froze. One could almost hear him thinking, `Er, Now what happens next`? Nutty stood and watched, hoping against hope that the penny would drop and the stoppage clearance drill would flow like clockwork, but no, not on this occasion. Nutty stepped in and shouted, "Mag off, Mag off" into the Sgt's ear - Nutty was formerly a Naval gunner and so had the voice that was developed as a necessity of that particular discipline.
Pete winced at the instruction and removed the magazine. What he then should have done was to place it on the deck, pull back the slide of the Browning, check the breech was cleared of the blockage, replace the mag, make ready and carry on shooting. What followed seemed to take place in slow motion, which is usually an indication that you’ve had an adrenaline injection. He stared at the magazine in his left hand (still with 5 rounds therein) stared at the Browning in his right hand, noticing the partly open ejection port containing a badly fed, live round sitting there menacingly. Having both hands full, he worked out that he needed to free up one of them to complete the drills. He got confused as Nutty bellowed even louder instructions to, "CLEAR STOPPAGE, MAG ON, MAKE READY, CARRY ON".
Pete then developed a drill all of his own, tucking the Browning under his left armpit and then transferring the magazine to his right hand. At this point another Pc and myself found ourselves staring down the barrel of a smoking 9mm Browning Hi-Power, with a badly fed live round up the spout, from a distance of about 3 feet. At such a range the muzzle resembled the entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel without the traffic jam. The Pc dived left and I dived right, which from our positions resulted in a mid air head-butt, temporary concussion and much swearing.
After the hiatus had died down and Nutty had recovered the situation with an up and down bollocking, the shoot moved on to prone position firing. Once again Pete was on the point and two other likely victims were waiting in that most dangerous of places, behind him, for their turn except this time everyone was extra specially alert. The drill this time was that on appearance of the target, one was to draw the pistol, get quickly into the prone position, then make ready and fire all 12 rounds. As the target appeared, Pete blanked again and promptly drew the Browning and cocked it whilst diving to the floor in one simultaneous `Hollywood` movement. As he hit the deck he knocked the wind out of himself and let go of the pistol which, in its cocked state, slid down the range spinning like a top, while the rest of us did a sort of Sammy Davis Junior tap dance routine.
I believe Nutty may have shouted, `take cover` but by then him and the still prone Pete were the only ones left in the range.
Poor old Pete, now sadly departed this earth to the ravages of cancer. May his God care for his soul.