This month, our intrepid reporter Hazel Randall visited a local shooting club close to the Pellpax HQ. This is her report on the friendly and welcoming atmosphere at Badersfield Air Rifle Club.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, along with Joe Meakin and Ross Mitchell from Pellpax, I visited Badersfield Air Rifle Club, located on the old RAF Coltishall air base in Norfolk.
After its closure, RAF Coltishall, which operated from 1938 to 2006, was renamed Badersfield as a tribute to Sir Douglas Bader, one of the most famous and respected airmen of all time, who lost both legs in a crash when he was just 21 years old. Bader was stationed here during WW2, but was captured by the Germans in 1941 after bailing out over occupied France. The 1956 feature film, Reach for the Sky, based on the biography by Paul Brickhill and starring Kenneth More, was a box office hit, and in the 1976 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Bader was appointed a Knight Bachelor for ‘services to disabled people’.
Badersfield Air Rifle Club was founded in 2013 by Pat Gray. Paying for the development out of his own pocket, Pat, with help from friends and family, worked hard on the site, which had run wild during seven years of neglect. He described the clean-up operation.
“First we had to clear away the vegetation and level the ground. I hired an excavator and got a professional tree surgeon in to deal with the larger trees. The site had to be decontaminated by removing all the lead debris.”
The clubhouse is an old RAF building, which blends nicely into its surroundings. With so many of the original military buildings still intact, the RAF Coltishall site is frequently used as a film set. A few hundred meters from the club stands an old American ambulance; and apparently it’s not unusual to witness a car chase or a simulated shoot-out.
Badersfield Air Rifle Club began with 15 members and has grown to a membership of 53. The site is maintained by dedicated club members who have, bit by bit, added facilities and made this a really nice club to belong to. One of the latest additions is flood lighting.
“We’re hoping to introduce regular evening sessions soon,” Pat told me.
There are two ranges at Badersfield – the indoor 35-meter range and the long range, where targets stand at varying distances up to 50 meters. To make life interesting, the targets are of different types, including knock-down targets, paper square targets, and spinners; and every now and then there’s the tinkle of a bell target being hit.
Two of the club’s founding members are father and son, Peter and Nick Bowen.
“Dad’s 88,” Nick Bowen told me, “The oldest member of the club. He did his national service in the RAF and he’s one of the few people left who’ve served in an RAF Lancaster crew. He was a wireless operator.”
Nick, who worked for 34 years as a railway engineer, is club ambassador and a keen promoter of disabled shooters. Coping with his own physical disabilities, Nick is acutely aware of the needs of those with limited mobility or dexterity. But he’s also very much aware of the inclusiveness of the sport when it comes to physical ability.
“You could be short, tall, fat, thin, fit, unfit … it makes no difference to shooting. Anyone can do it.”
Another of Badersfield’s founding members was John Stubley, who was suffering from terminal cancer. John loved shooting, and despite pain and sickness, he continued to take an active part in club life until very shortly before his death. Now, in memory of John, there’s the Stubley Cup, an annual competition held in August and won last year by our very own Pellpax man, Joe Meakin!
Another Pellpax man, Ross Mitchell, is a regular shooter at Badersfield.
“It’s a nice friendly club. When I first went, I didn’t feel like an alien. They treat newcomers the same as long-standing members. The ranges are good, and you can shoot all year round, especially now they’ve got floodlighting. And the weekly competitions and social events are fun – very relaxed.”
Badersfield Air Rifle Club are based at RAF Coltishall, Norwich NR10 5AJ. They can be contacted via Facebook, and on 07885 412 414. New members of all ages are welcome. Having met some of the leading club members, I really can guarantee a warm welcome and a fantastic shooting experience.