Gunfire over Rodborough

Roy Giles transports us back to a startling event in his childhood…

One sunny day in Autumn 1940, a group of boys were playing in Rodborough Avenue. The oldest were members of the Acklam, Tapper and Hunt families, aged then from about 9 to 13. Tolerated as ‘hangers-on’ were a pair of titches, me (2 yrs 4 mths) and my neighbour David Langley (3 ½).

War games

The game was ‘chasing Germans’. All of us had toy pistols or sticks of various lengths, and basic tactical play was being waged in and out of the front gardens on the eastern slopes of the Avenue, where it ended in a stony track.

Stroud’s town centre and the two steam railway stations in the valley formed the central backdrop to this scene. On our right behind one row of houses were the uphill slopes of Rodborough fields, with Rodborough Common and the Fort on the skyline beyond. To the left behind the other line of houses the fields fell sharply down, out of sight, to Wallbridge, the canal, river, and both railways.

Suddenly we all heard an unusual heavy droning noise, definitely not our RAF, and seemingly very low down. We all stopped still. The volume of engine noise increased, and then from behind Rodborough fields a dark-coloured plane sailed into our view – flying at our level, across our front, following the Stroud valley. “It’s the Germans!” we shouted: we went crazy, jumping up and down, making machine gun noises and pointing our sticks. We were looking straight at the plane, side-on, with the pilot clearly visible in the Perspex cockpit! Then, as the plane disappeared behind the left-hand Avenue houses, suddenly and without any warning, a shattering noise: heavy automatic gunfire, apparently all around us, echoing off the houses, and the sound of metal falling around the rooftops.

Picking up the pieces

As we ran inside, the noise stopped. Our mums told us that the heavy automatic gunfire, unbelievably loud, had come from Rodborough Fort, where it was known that the army had a 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannon mounted. We worked out that the Oerlikon was firing downhill and had probably aimed to hit the enemy plane just before it disappeared from view behind the Avenue houses. Firing at the plane before then would have certainly hit the densest part of Stroud. A less charitable opinion was that the gunners had no prior warning, and had neither seen nor heard the plane approach – it was so low down in the valley, well below the Common. Anyway, we on the ground, and the plane in the air, had escaped damage.

In the summer of 1946 our Dad came back from the RAF. He decided the front grass needed cutting. My younger brother Steve and I were playing in the road. Dad stopped mowing, and said “Boys, come and look at this.” Gripped between the blades of the little mower was a grey cylindrical metal object about 3 inches long, with a rounded blunt nose and a thin rusted metal skirt at the other end. “Dad – that is a shell that bounced off our roof!” and I told him the story. He then fetched his bike, put the (live) shell into his saddlebag, and pedalled off to Stroud police station.