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15 October 2014
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Home Guard Weaponry

by CSV Media NI

Contributed by 
CSV Media NI
People in story: 
John Luke
Location of story: 
Ballymena, Cullybacky, Cushendall, portstewart
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 May 2005

This story is taken from an interview with John Luke, and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions. The interviewer was Mark Jeffers, and the transcription was by Bruce Logan.

[The Sten gun] was made more or less for hand to hand fighting, house-clearing and that sort of thing. It was a semi-automatic. It could be made fully auto, there was a button on it. To be honest the button didn't work half the time, if you pulled the trigger the whole lot, it just emptied the magazine. It held 32 rounds. They said it cost half a crown or 5 shillings to make. It was so crudely made. If you fired it you had to hold the barrel of it, but it got so warm you couldn't hold it, so just you dipped it in the nearest water and cooled it down and rattled away there and it didn't do it a bit of harm.
I've seen fired-at targets 75 yards away with it, and the bullet sticking half way thru the target. There's no great ... It's simply made for shooting from here to there, house-clearing and that sort of thing. The wee barrel was only maybe 7-8 inches long.

The technical school, they had a wee workshop, they made these gun barrels for the MOD. And at Cullybacky, a couple of miles outside Ballymena, they had a shell factory where they made 6-inch shells. And another, Fraser and Houghton, also in Cullybacky, they made bullets, .303 bullets. Seemingly they specialised in making tracer bullets, which were bullets that you fired at night and could see where they went. They had some powder inside them which burned as they travelled. And you could see if they were going in the right direction or not. We used to fire them up Slieve Aneath. You were given a clip of 5, and 1 of them was a tracer.
sort of give you a guide. They used to put the targets up in pitch dark, you can imagine what it was like on top of a mountain at nighttime. They hung a lot of old tin cans on it and put a rope on it. You lay down on the range, and when everybody was ready someone pulled the string and rattled the tin cans, and surprisingly enough you hit it. Then you had some crank who would lie down along with them and shoot the wee lights either side to give you a guide. All sorts of carry on like that. You get a crowd of people together like that. I could tell you a whole lot of stories about things that happened up there, boys doing crazy things. It was all taken as good fun, but the training really was.
2 camps in Cushendall and one at Portstewart. The camps at Cushendall were under canvas. The one at Portstewart was up at Cromore House, where Cromore Halt is just outside Portstewart. I’m sure you know where Cromore Halt is, Portstewart station. It’s a big house, it's now an old peoples home, Cromore House itself. There was 2 big camps there. The Americans were in 1, we were in the other. Some good craic about that too.

The Home Guard had .303 rifles, that was the standard equipment for everybody. They had the Sten guns, which was the small automatic weapons. They had what we called the cup discharger. It fitted onto the end of .303 rifle and it actually fired hand grenades. There was a plate you screwed in the bottom of the grenade and you were able to fire grenades 50 yards or thereabouts. Then they had what they called blast grenades, they were made of bakerlite, but you got a fair bang off them.

We were doing maneuvers in Cushendall. One of head instructors had a boat, and he always took it down. It wasn't a big boat, but he took it down, and when we wanted fish we took these blast grenades on the boat. We threw them off the back of the boat, sailed round in a circle, and when you came back the fish were there lying. It was a handy way of getting your tea. They were dangerous at close range, you weren't supposed to throw them at anybody. Not so much maybe the blast as all the old stuff that flew, the gravel and whatever. That what we used them for, fishing at Cushendall. Very handy.

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