by Frank Spittle

3.   From Home Guard to Rifle Clubs

When the Home guard units stood down for ever in 1957, the 8th Battalion of the Staffordshire Home Guard (based at the Riding School Drill Hall near the West Park Wolverhampton) had the honour of their shooting team being acclaimed as British Champions in the National H.G. 22 shooting championships. 
The Drill Hall, West Park, often known as the Riding School from its original use by he South Staffs Regiment.
One of the team, Frank Spittle, set a national individual record by dropping only one point in 14 rounds, 1399 x 1400, which obviously now, along with the team record, could never be beaten. 350 teams took part, and 8th Bn. Staffs H.G. score of 492 x 500 beat 6th Kent Bn. score of 487 x 500 in the final. The record breaking team of the 8th Wolverhampton Battalion were: Arthur Pask, Terry Marston, Frank Spittle, Don Green and Ken Sower. Knocked out in the semi-final was the team of Ronnie Dix, Bill Cook, Ralph Jones, Cecil Rowe, Cliff Everall, Ray Jordan

This unit was commanded by Captain Cliff Everall, of the well known business of Don Everall Ltd. A keen shooter himself, he was the driving force behind what was a very good shooting team. One of the team was Major Heyhoe, fitness officer, and father of the famous Rachel Heyhoe Flint. He had commanded the 23rd Home Guard Battalion, based at Chillingtons factory on the Willenhall Road and at the Park Hall. One surviving member of that unit became Chairman of Wolverhampton Small Bore Rifle Association, Mr Ronald Vaughan.

Several of the team members had harsh words to say about the rifle range that they had to use when shooting competition cards at the Riding School, West Park. Built at ground level in the main building, a wall running its length divided it from the other facilities and vehicle areas. Tanks, belonging to the Staffordshire Yeomanry would start up just a few feet away, ruining your "hold", your day and your score. Two large metal doors behind the firing point could be opened if needed, so that the tanks could simulate firing also, which they did by attaching a 22 rifle to the tank's gun barrel, taking aim with the gun and then firing the rifle.

During that time the Home Guard units all over Britain had to decide whether or not they should continue as a rifle club. Several clubs were formed in Wolverhampton, under the banner of the National Small Bore Rifle Association, whose H.Q. was in Codrington House, Southwark Street ,London. They retained their unit numbers but dropped the Home Guard tag, substituting H.G.. On disbanding, some of the 8th's team found their way to the 44 Club, situated on the Birmingham New Road, Lanesfield. This too merged with another H.G. club, the 22nd and became the 22/44 club. It was from this Lanesfield based club that Wolverhampton had one of its first success's. A team of Wolverhampton juniors, under Captain Cliff Everall, won the first British Junior Championship at Bisley. Cliff’s sons, Frank and Jim, did great service in and out of the firing line.

The old 21st H.G club continued its activities on the range that was located on the right, under the main railway bridge on the Stafford Road. It was regarded as the warmest range to shoot on in the winter as, during the war, the railway Home Guards had made an opening in the wall to the railway yards outside, opening on to the main coal yard. The huge pot bellied stove glowed a warm welcome to "shoulder to shoulder" teams for years afterwards thanks to the Great Western Railway and club officials George Crowther and Arnhem veteran Eric Retford.

The Stafford Street Drill Hall.

Another old indoor rifle range was in a cellar under the Drill Hall at the top of Stafford Street. Running under the road, it was dirty damp and cold. With a low curved ceiling, its 15 or 20 yard target distance made it a most unpopular venue. When it was offered to local rifle shooters some years after the war, it was turned down flat. Many Staffs Volunteers and then Territorial Army recruits were introduced to the sleeved down Lee Enfield Rifle on this range before getting the larger calibre 303 version for Mons or Normandy.
Albert Road range, on the other side of the West Park was used later by the 23rd Rifle Club.

It was a very strong club that had a fine lady shooter in Mrs Sheila Mason. She first appears in the record of prize winners in 1952, and became a British Ladies Champion and International Shot.

23rd Battalion Wolverhampton Home Guard. Commanded by Major Heyhoe (centre, front). A war time photo taken at Chillington Works.
Her husband Don, returning as a Captain from the Army to banking management, also shot for this club until well after the age of retirement. Other stalwarts of this club were George Careless, who had a metal-work business on Snow Hill, and the three Phillips brothers, Ray, Maurice and Bruce. George Costley J.P. of Wolverhampton, was chairman.

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