by Frank Spittle

1.  NARPA and Air Rifle and Pistol Shooting after World War II

The Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs suspended air rifle shooting during the Second World War. Under its postwar title of The National Small Bore Rifle Association it declared, in a letter from the secretary Mr Jerry Palmer to Frank Spittle, that the National Small Bore Rifle Association was not interested in air rifle shooting at that time. Moves by an awakening group of bell target and paper target shooters in the Hinkley and Northampton areas in the 1960s to form some reorganisation for the air rifle sport, saw the emergence of a new organisation, the Air Rifle Clubs Association.
Its secretary and organiser, Mr Dennis Commins of Northampton, is one of the unsung heroes of shooting sport. The re-establishment of competitive airgun shooting, particularly at the six yard distance in this country is, in the main, down to him and his committee. Recognition by the Central Council for Physical Recreation followed, but it would be fair to say here that this was due to the direct intervention by a senior member of the Royal Household, the Duke of Edinburgh, who was chairman of the C.C.P.R.. In 1973 he said that he considered that there was only one organisation for air gun shooting that was worthy of the title ‘National’, and this was conferred upon the Air Rifle Clubs Association. 

They changed their name to the National Air Rifle and Pistol Association.

During these developing days of NARPA the first National Championships were held at Rushden in Northamptonshire, soon to be followed by the immensely successful Cosford events, one of which coincided with the aircraft museum open day and saw thousands of people at the championships.

During this time, the Gun Trade Association Members and their ‘Sporting Trust’, gave wonderful support to this fledgling new organisation for air rifle and air pistol sport.

The air pistol was now of equal importance in the competitions. Guns Review proprietor, Mr. Tee, gave his support in money and in the printing of paper targets.

NARPA Championships at RAF Cosford.

Wheelchair shooters on the Aldersley Rifle Range.

Millard Brothers of Scotland on once occasion gave a cheque for several thousand pounds. Webley and Scott, B.S.A., among the other members of the gun trade, did the sport proud.

In 1974 representatives of N.A.R.P.A. at the Bournemouth Conference of the Central Council for Physical Recreation, (C.C.P.R.) had the satisfaction of seeing their efforts on behalf of disabled members of airgun shooting accepted by Sir Ludwig Guttman, the founder of the Stoke Mandeville Centre, into the area of wheelchair sports. It would be fair to say that initially he was very much against shooting of any sort. It was perhaps the demonstration of the Sport of Air Gun shooting, and an exhibition of shooting equipment, by Wolverhampton enthusiasts in 1975, at Stoke Mandeville, that proved that here was a new sport for disabled people, giving them an entry into a sport of the able bodied. Twenty years later, advanced electronic sighting equipment was used in the new National Indoor Centre at Aldersley Stadium, Wolverhampton, that opened the way to visually impaired and blind sports people to take their place on the firing point.

Another very important step in the progress of N.A.R.P.A. was the Sports Council’s decision to pay the salary of a National Development Officer for Air Gun shooting in Britain. He was based first in Northampton, and then in the town centre of Bridgnorth, Shropshire.

When a Cosford national championships had to be cancelled owing to a clash of dates at the R.A.F. base, another venue had to be found in the Wolverhampton area. Hilton Equestrian Centre, just north of Wolverhampton, was ideal, apart from the floor which was of loose material to accommodate the horse riders using the centre.

The championships were such a success that they were drawing people who arrived carrying sporting air guns with telescopic sights. Rather than turn them away, it was decided that they would be allowed to compete among themselves on the field alongside the building. These were then classed as the ‘Field Target’ shooters, and a special Outdoor Shooting section was formed with the title N.A.R.P.A. Outdoor Shooting Section, O.S.S.. 
From such small beginnings, and due again to people with foresight, Field Target with the air rifle became an important national sport. This advanced form of air rifle competition is recognised by the National Rifle Association at Bisley by the provision of an excellent site near the Running Target Range.

Another important venture that involved N.A.R.P.A., was persuading the management of Bilston Swimming Baths in the West Midlands, to provide the only permanent municipal air rifle range in the country, having ten lanes with electronic target changers plus three Bell Target places. This was placed in the area underneath the pool and was opened by the Mayor in 1974 with a match between Town Councillors and Council Officers.

N.S.B.R.A. badge on a presentation plaque. In 1975, a site for the new National Air Rifle Centre had been provided by Wolverhampton Council, but was opposed by the National Small Bore Rifle Association on the grounds that it should be at Bisley. This led to some bitterness by N.A.R.P.A., who had done so much for the grass roots air gun shooter, whose main discipline was at the six yards distance with card or bell target, and not the international distance of ten metres that was now beginning to become increasingly popular with the National Small Bore Rifle Association, the accepted body controlling international shooting.

For a while, members of both organisations, N.A.R.P.A. and the N.S.R.A., accepted competitors into their competitions.

But it soon became apparent that the senior body, The National Small Bore Rifle Association, with a vastly larger membership, Sports Council funding, and the only way forward to International status for an aspiring airgun shooter, would soon dominate national participation with the air rifle and pistol. Another very important factor was that the N.S.R.A. was a ‘trading body’, enjoying the best of both worlds of Sports Council support and raising capital through trading, enabling it to employ full time staff to run its affairs and give a far superior service to shooters. The National Air Rifle and Pistol Association, on the other hand, had only the Sports Council assistance for its Development Officer’s salary and could hardly set up in opposition to the gun trade that had so splendidly supported them, by selling direct to its membership.
It was becoming obvious that N.A.R.P.A. would soon have to cease its activities in the area in which it was doing the most good: at the grass roots of shooting interest.

But it shouldered one last responsibility of the National shooting organisations when it volunteered to produce air rifle instructors for ‘Action Sport’.

Air rifle coaches course.

This was a Sports Council’s initiative for providing Action Sporting Centres for the use of the under privileged and out of work victims of the depression. Using rifles and shooting equipment generously loaned by a Midland firm, over thirty instructors were passed out at Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Dudley. The first of these Centre managers to qualify for shooting instructor certificates were Mr Josh Johnson, British Karate Champion, Mr Geoff Pond and Mr Tony Rains. The then Director of Action Sport, West Midlands, Mr Derek Anderson, made the presentations to the managers at the Park Village Recreational Centre, Wolverhampton.
Action Sport's Air Rifle Coach's Course presentation at the Park Lane Centre, Wolverhampton.

Left to right:

Derek Anderson (Director, Action Sport), Tony Raines, Josh Johnson, Geoff Pond; and Frank Spittle, front left.

The National Air Rifle and Pistol Association closed its doors in 1980 at Bridgnorth Town Centre Shropshire, a victim of its own success. It had given over ten years of wonderful effort to airgun shooting by re-establishing the interest in the sport that has had such an important influence on British shooting since 1900.

Many regretted the passing of the N.A.R.P.A. organisation, that had succeeded by the way of the voluntary effort and work of its membership and unpaid staff. A part of shooting history it may be, but some of the older and, in the main, Birmingham, Black Country, or central England shooting fraternity, bell and six yard participants, still look back with justified pride on how much they achieved, with so little. Most of all, perhaps, was the enjoyment they had doing it.

When the National Smallbore Rifle Association assumed the now defunct National Air Rifle and Pistol responsibilities, it did at least inherit the benefit of financial assistance from the Sports Council for a Development Officer for airgun shooting, and a well presented training scheme manual, for developing airgun shooting and clubs at basic and grass root level. These were handed to Mr Ron Russell, secretary of the N.S.R.A. on the demise of the National Air Rifle and Pistol Association.

It also had the site at Aldersley, Wolverhampton, for the provision of a National Centre, that had been continuously striven for since 1970, the birth centre of air rifle sport in the United Kingdom.

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