Boyhood gun tale takes twist

Balclutha resident Mel Tapp holds an old water bottle he took from the Milton Town Hall more than...
Balclutha resident Mel Tapp holds an old water bottle he took from the Milton Town Hall more than 60 years ago, along with a World War 1 Vickers machine-gun. PHOTO: JACK CONROY

The tale of a World War 1 machine-gun stolen from, and then returned to, the Milton Town Hall has taken a new twist.

The Clutha Leader ran a story last month about a Vickers machine-gun taken by two 8-year-old boys about 60 years ago.

The self-confessed thieves, Selwyn Cardno and Stuart Smith, had reunited in the town they grew up in to see if the gun was still there, only to discover it had vanished again.

Now the Leader has been contacted by Balclutha resident Mel Tapp, who says not one but two machine-guns were under the town hall stage.

And he "stole'' the other one.

"I don't know how we heard about it ... We must have heard a rumour,'' Mr Tapp said.

Mr Tapp reckoned he was about 12 years old when the heist took place, and the year was about 1954 or 1955.

In a familiar-sounding tale, Mr Tapp and an accomplice slipped into the basement of the town hall through a grate in the side of the building.

"We got underneath and there were two guns and an old water bottle.

"We took one of the guns and the old bottle.''

He said in his youth gun culture was far more relaxed than it was now, and school pupils were regularly taught shooting in the grounds of the school.

All it took was a visit to the school caretaker to acquire ammunition for the boys' new toy, after which they headed "into the bush'' to test it.

"My father was in the Territorials and he had a breechblock lying around, which we inserted into the gun.

"The rounds were too big and we had to give them a good whack to get them in.''

They fired some rounds, and then thought they had better abandon the weapon before they were caught.

"We left it there... and it ended up with Ken Matheson for a while.

"He went and got it from the bush. His parents had a milk bar in Milton.''

Mr Matheson, who had since died, had told him he believed the gun had ended up with the Milton RSA.

Mr Cardno, the thief of the other gun, contacted the Milton RSA only to be told a Vickers machine-gun had been there previously but had disappeared.

The mystery continues. There could be two missing guns somewhere.

Mr Tapp's only souvenir from that time is the old military water bottle he found beside the guns.

JACK.CONROY @cluthaleader.co.nz

 

 

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