Gunning for comic effect
QUESTION The Dad’s Army script has the men carrying ‘.300 calibre Ross rifles’. Is this historically accurate? What is known of these weapons?
THIS is partly true and partly a conflation of two weapon types. The British Army did buy the Canadian Ross rifle for use by the Home Guard. It used the same .303 ammunition as the British Lee Enfield rifle. As well as the Ross, the British Army also bought American rifles that fired .300 ammunition.
During the Second Boer War, the British had refused to license the manufacture of their standard Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifle to the Canadians. This led to them developing their own version, the Ross rifle. The design was heavily influenced by the Austrian-built Mannlicher 1895 rifle.
The 1905 pattern Ross rifle had been successful as a target shooting weapon, but design flaws made it unsuitable for use in trench warfare during World War I.
In all, about 420,000 Ross rifles were produced, of which 342,000 had been bought by the British to make up for World War I shortages of the SMLE.
By 1916, all the Ross rifles had been replaced with the Mk I SMLE. However, the Ross rifle was accurate over long ranges. Therefore, it remained in use as a sniper’s weapon.
When Winston Churchill ordered the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers, later known as the Home Guard, in the summer of 1940, he envisaged about 500,000 men volunteering. However, nearly 1.5million came forward and they all expected to be armed.
In addition, all the rifles lost during the evacuation of France had to be replaced in what was known as the rifle crisis.
There were a number of P14, or 1914 model Lee Enfields held in reserve, and these became the earliest weapons issued to the LDV, while the army got priority for the replacement Mk III SMLEs. As part of the solution to the rifle crisis, Britain placed an order with the Canadian government for 75,000 Ross rifles.
Though all of these were issued to the LDV, they were eventually replaced with the SMLE. Orders were also placed with the US company Winchester, Eddystone and Remington, for the 30.06 rifle, which used .300 ammunition. About 500,000 were issued. Bob Cubitt, Northampton.
QUESTION Every Breath You Take is often used at weddings, yet it appears to be a song about a stalker. What other songs have been misconstrued?
IN December 1987, R.E.M. scored their first US Top 10 with The One I Love. It became the romantic song of choice for many music fans.
It was, in fact, an anti-love song that lead singer Michael Stipe described as being about using people over and over. It’s deceptive because it could be a love song until the line: ‘A simple prop to occupy my time.’
In a 1992 interview, Stipe said he almost didn’t record the song, calling it ‘too brutal’ and ‘really violent and awful’.
You’re Gorgeous by Stephen ‘Babybird’ Jones is often misinterpreted as a love song too, partly because of its poppy production, but is, in fact, the tale of a predatory photographer luring young girls into doing things they’ll probably regret. Richard Holden, Swansea. THE Kinks’ 1967 hit Waterloo Sunset is seen by many as a romantic song about pedestrians around Waterloo Station. It is, in fact, about a social misfit who’s only pleasure is watching life pass by: ‘But I am so lazy, don’t want to wander, I stay at home at night . . . No, I don’t need no friends, as long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset I am in paradise.’
Writer Ray Davies once said of the song: ‘It’s funny, but what is considered one of my prettiest songs is also one of my darkest!’
Dave Warner, Leicestershire. TWO classics are Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA and Tom Robinson’s Glad To Be Gay.
The Springsteen song is, amazingly, often taken by US politicians to be a rousing anthem for the joys of being American – in fact, the lyrics are a stinging criticism of the treatment of US servicemen, who suffered the trauma of fighting in foreign wars because they were unlucky enough to be ‘born in the USA’.
The Robinson song has become a cliché for writers who assume it implies a joyful celebration of being gay. It doesn’t – it’s a bitter attack on anti-gay attitudes. The chorus ‘sing if you’re glad to be gay’ is sarcasm and irony.
Ian Boughton, Dilham, Norfolk.
QUESTION The woman who invented the fidget spinner allowed her patent to expire and missed a fortune. Has a similar situation happened before?
FURTHER to the earlier answer, two men from my home town suffered the same fate.
In 1826, John Walker, a Stockton-on-Tees chemist, invented the first friction match. It revolutionised the production, application and the portability of fire.
Walker sold his first Friction Light on April 12, 1827, from his pharmacy. They were made of cardboard, but he soon began using wooden splints cut by hand.
Later he packaged them in a cardboard box equipped with a piece of sandpaper for striking. By September 23, 1829, sales of 23,206 friction lights had been recorded. They were sold for one shilling for 100 (plus two pence per case).
He was advised to patent his matches, but chose not to and, as a result, Samuel Jones of London copied his idea and launched his own Lucifers in 1829, an exact copy of Walker’s invention.
Jacob Morrison invented the first compression/ignition heavy oil engine in 1880, fully ten years before Rudolph Diesel’s. One of Morrison’s engines is in the Ford Motor Museum in Detroit. Ken Strachan, Stockton-on-Tees, Cleveland.
QUESTION Cinema names from a certain period seem to come from a pool that includes the Odeon, the Stella, the Savoy, the Adelphi, etc. Where did these kind of names come from?
FURTHER to the earlier answer, another cinema with an exotic name is the Ritz – used for years for the cinema at Serpentine Avenue, Ballsbridge, which started as the Astoria in 1936.
The cinema lasted until 1976, when it was converted into Dublin’s first Sikh temple. The Ritz came from César Ritz, known as the ‘king of hoteliers’, who gave his name to luxury hotels in London and Paris. John Hyland, Dundalk, Co. Louth.
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The wrong weapon? The Dad’s Army cast rehearsing with Lee Enfield rifles