02 Aug 2011

“Come Friendly Bombs!”

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The Westley Richards scalloped boxlock action was particularly handsome.

If you were an American millionaire, a belted earl, or an Indian maharajah, you’d go to London and buy sidelock best guns from the likes of Olympian gunmakers like Purdy, Boss, Churchill, or Woodward. The ordinary American or English gentleman of limited means would buy excellently well-made, but far less expensive, boxlocks produced by the workshops of down-to-earth makers like Greener or W.C. Scott in Birmingham.

The Birmingham gun trade armed the British Army for the victory at Waterloo. It produced the Brown Bess and the Baker, Snider, and Enfield rifles that won the Empire, and the Martini-Henry that stopped the Zulu charges at Rorke’s Drift. It armed the Confederate Army in the War for Southern Independence. It produced the rifles, pistols, bayonets, machine guns, and artillery that determined the fate of Europe in two world wars.

The Gun Quarter of Birmingham; like Gardone, Italy; Oberndorf, Germany; Tula, Russia; or Springfield, Massachusetts; is one of the world’s great historic arms-making centers, boasting a leading role in gun manufacture for more than three centuries.

But a pusillanimous group of British politicians has recently announced that Birmingham’s historic Gun Quarter is going to be renamed, specifically in order to renounce its association with the arms trade.

The Birmingham Post reports:

It’s been a symbol of Birmingham’s manufacturing excellence for 250 years, but the city’s Gun Quarter has lost its biggest battle of all.

One of Britain’s oldest industrial areas has been renamed after council leaders claimed local people no longer wanted to be associated with the weapons of war.

The streets where highly skilled tradesmen produced two million muskets to fight Napoleon are to be known in future as St George and St Chad in recognition of a church and Birmingham’s Roman Catholic cathedral.

Opponents of the name change say the Gun Quarter has been sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.

St. George, a soldier saint renowned for killing a dragon, would probably have no personal aversion to the arms trade. St. Chad (who turns out to be completely personally unconnected to the 2000 Presidential Election in Florida) was an abbot and bishop of Mercia, the patron saint of medicinal springs, and must have had a personal interest in agriculture, as traditionally his feast day (March 2) is particularly propitious for the planting of broad beans. His views on weapons are unknown.

Of Birmingham today, a city willing to spurn the memory and achievements of Westley Richards, William Powell, Greener, Webley, and W. C. Scott, one can inclined to say with John Betjeman:

“Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now”

From the equally outraged Steve Bodio.

2 Feedbacks on "“Come Friendly Bombs!”"


The mention of the Martini-Henry and the Zulu reminded me of this excerpt from a end of the 19th century essay on the adoption of magazine fed rifles by European armies.

England has lately adopted a small bore-0.303 inch calibre-modified Lee magazine rifle-a Lee with most of the strong points of the mechanism modified out-after making a long series of most amusing steps of development in order to reach the conclusion that this arm was suited to her needs. For some years she has been more than content with her famous 0.45 inch calibre single-loading Martini-Henry rifles and Boxer cartridges-guns almost as bad in principle of breech mechanism as our own Springfields, and cartridges even worse than the United States regulation ones- and in her late “wars with peoples who wear not the trousers,” her soldiers have gallantly fired on the enemy when they knew full well what a horrible punishment they were to receive from the brutal recoil of their weapons, and have borne their torture with true English grit. An English officer informed the writer that the practice was a great aid to gallantry in battle in South Africa, for “when a fellow has been so brutally pounded by his own rifle half a hundred times, he don’t so much mind having an assegai as big as a shovel stuck through him; it s rather a relief, don’t you know.”


Nice quotation. Thanks, David. I really ought to move it up on to the blog.


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