It was early March of 1967 when my brother Steve arrived home after a cross country drive from Las Cruces, New Mexico. He was working for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and was being reassigned to its station in Arequipa, Peru, and was taking some home leave before heading south.
During his stay he entertained the family with his travel travails and adventures, one of which was to be in Hannibal, Missouri on the night Hal Holbrook’s one man show Mark Twain Tonight, portraying Hannibal’s most famous native son, was televised. He did not get to Hannibal and was disappointed. Had he not stopped in Fulton, Missouri on the way he might have made it.
Asked why he made a side trip when he had a goal he replied that it was in Fulton, at Westminster College, where Winston Churchill had delivered his Sinews of Peace speech on March 5, 1946. Behind a massive podium the on gymnasium’s stage he delivered the lines, “From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.’
He also made multiple pointed references to the ‘special relationship’ and the ‘fraternal relationship’ with two ‘kindred systems of society’ that existed between the United States and most of the English speaking nations of the world which share common cultural and historical ties to Great Britain.
English writer George Orwell had earlier noted the enmity between the post World War II superpowers and, in his 1945 essay You and the Atom Bomb, used the term Cold War to describe the hostility, without armed conflict, which existed between the Eastern and Western super powers and their spheres of influence. With the post World War II political situation as it was Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” became the metaphor for the division of Europe during the nearly half century of Cold War.
At the time I was in my last semester at Mitchell College, a local two year junior college, where I was undergoing academic rehabilitation after a less than stellar high school performance. My desk was piled high with college catalogs as I searched for a place to continue my education. I was looking for a small liberal arts college within a day’s drive from home, but Steve had piqued my curiosity about Westminster and so I wrote away for a catalog.
When it arrived I poured over the catalog and found the school had much to recommend itself to me. It offered a wide variety of majors, was small, about 600 men, and tuition was within my family’s income. It also had a grading and comprehensive examination system that would allow me the greatest academic freedom. Each student was required to pass six comprehensive examinations in order to graduate, English, mathematics, foreign language, history, hard science, and social science. Once a ‘comp’ was passed the student was no longer required to take courses in that discipline allowing him to explore the wide world of academia at his leisure, as long as 128 credit hours were accumulated. Additionally all grades were pass/fail.
I applied, was accepted, and, with my parents’ blessing, I followed Horace Greeley exhortation, “Go West, young man!” It was the turning point in my life, I flourished. Like fellow New Englander Daniel Webster speaking of his alma mater Dartmouth College, I say of Westminster, ”It is, sir, as I have said, a small college, and yet, there are those who love it.”
After graduation I worked as a substitute teacher at my old high school, did a cruise in the Navy, joined the Connecticut Army National Guard’s Rifle Team, returned to graduate school, started my teaching career, got married, had kids, and began writing about shooting.
Although I have managed to acquire a few shooting trinkets I am best, fairly, and honestly described as a journeyman, a rifleman who is reliable but not outstanding. However, my efforts to document the history of shooting and its many colorful characters has gained me entry into the more exalted ranks of the shooting community.
As such I have been honored to be appointed an official to almost every major conventional prone United States shoulder to shoulder and postal international rifle team. Only a position on the all women’s Randle Team has been denied me and that is, I suspect, because I am not the correct gender.
By this time you are asking, “What has all of this babbling about Churchill and Westminster College got to do with shooting?” It seems that all of the major conventional prone international matches: Pershing, Roberts, Dewar, Randle, Wakefield, and Drew, have two things in common. Each of the competing nations, with the exception of the United States, a former colony, are members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Secondly, the Commonwealth nations of Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and South Africa have no official language. Even though each nation has developed their own national variations the de facto language is English
What Churchill alluded to in a more serious vein, the unity of the English speaking people, has been realized on the greenswards of rifle ranges since the first shot was fired in the inaugural 1909 Lord Dewar International Rifle Team Match. It may well be that nations participating in these matches are divided by a common language, but they are united by a love of a common sport.