Thieves often return to the scene of the crime – but usually not more than 60 years later.
Balclutha paramedic Selwyn Cardno, and Stuart Smith, a retiree from Australia, reunited last week in Milton, the town where they grew up.
Here they told the Clutha Leader the tale of a great escape: the story of two 8-year-old boys making off with a 1918 Vickers machine-gun from the basement of the Milton Town Hall.
“They used to play movies at the town hall every Saturday afternoon,” Mr Smith said.
“And everyone used to mill around outside after the show. Along the bottom of the wall there were cast iron vents .. one of them was open.”
“We could see what we thought was a gun,” Mr Cardno said.
“Once we saw it, we thought, ‘We’d better have that’.”
The boys attempted to pull out the gun, before remembering they might get caught. They came back the following day more prepared.
“We knew enough to put some sheets over it. It was very heavy .. and we knew we probably weren’t entitled to it.”
The gun was housed in a shed at the back of Mr Smith’s parents’ property, where the boys painted it camouflage colours and wondered what they might use it for.
“We wanted to eliminate the English immigrants,” Mr Smith said.
These were fellow pupils at the school who had recently arrived from England. The boys thought they were getting special treatment from teachers.
“Those English people who came out, they were quite depressed,” Mr Cardno said.
“I think they were quite homesick .. but they could do no wrong. They were looked after. We weren’t.”
However, their plans were soon foiled by Mr Stuart’s father, who, upon discovering the gun, made the boys give it back.
“Jordy Melville, the town clerk, he opened up the picture theatre basement and we put it back in,” Mr Smith said.
“And now we want to know if it’s still there,” Mr Cardno said.
So the two ex-thieves, now aged nearly 70, went back to the site where the story began.
After a reconnaissance trip around the outside of the building to identify the location of the vent they had crawled through as 8-year-olds, the pair made their way inside.
A school performance was in progress on the stage as they began their search for the Vickers gun. The men crawled under the stage as the children looked on.
“It’s a good thing I put my overalls on,” Mr Smith, who was covered in dust, said.
Eventually the search effort lost steam as it became clear the gun was no longer there.
Reconvening above ground, the duo went over what might have happened to it.
A call to the local Returned Servicemen’s Association revealed a similar gun had once lived in their building, but had since disappeared.
The mystery continues.
“Some bugger’s got that gun,” Mr Cardno said.