One hundred and ten years ago during the Second Boer War the British Garrison in Ladysmith was under siege and the outcome for the defenders was – to say the least – very, very bleak.
That was until the Royal Navy landed two 4.7 -inch (in Colonial Great Britain we were over 70 years away from acknowledging and accepting the metric system) and four 12 -pounder naval guns which were taken from HMS Powerful and HMS Terrible and transported initially by rail and then manhandled by Naval ratings over the terrain to lift the siege of Ladysmith in February 1900.
The whole episode caught the imagination of the British public and the matelots on their return paraded and carried out field gun drills at what was initially the Royal Naval and Military Tournament.
This was then developed into the Royal Navy Command Field Gun Competition in 1907 as an integral part of the Royal Tournament that was held at Earls Court until its Final Run on Monday 2nd August 1999.
The Royal Navy Field Gun competition was contested by teams from the Royal Naval commands of Portsmouth, Devonport and the Fleet Air Arm (although teams from Chatham and the Royal Marines have also competed).
At each performance of the Royal Tournament, two crews competed to transport a 12 pounder field gun and limber over a series of obstacles.
From the start line in front of the Royal Box, the crews pulled the guns and limbers to the end of the arena where they turned and carried themselves and the equipment over a 5-foot (1.5 m) wall.
The guns and limbers were then dismantled and carried to the top of a ramp on the “home side” of a 28-foot (8.5 m) “chasm”.
The crew set up a wire and traveller so all 18 members of the crew and their equipment could cross the chasm.
The team and equipment then passed through a hole in the “enemy wall” at the end of the arena. Each crew then fired three rounds to end the “Run Out”.
The average time for the “Run Out” was 85 seconds.
The second part of the competition (the “Run Back”) involved the crews taking all their equipment back over the 5-foot (1.5 m) enemy wall and then back across the chasm.
Once all the crew and equipment were back on the home side of the chasm, the wire and traveller were dismantled and three more rounds were fired in a rear guard action.
The average time for the “Run Back” was 60 seconds.
In the final stage, the “Run Home”, men, guns and limbers passed back through the hole in the home wall and then the teams “hook up and pull for home”.
The clock was stopped as the teams crossed back over the start line.
The average time for the “Run Home” was 21 seconds.
Three Commands, Devonport, Fleet Air Arm and Portsmouth currently have associations made up of past members of their Command Field Gun Crews, since its demise in 1999 and a heritage centre and museum at Crownhill Fort, Plymouth is maintained and run by Devonport Field Gun Association.
I’ve written before about how the scrapping of the Royal Tournament by the Tony Blair Government was a mistake and how it impacted on the Royal Navy and other services not the least of which was on recruitment.
On a lighter note the Last Run was notable for something else which no-one had seen before or since which was a mass display and disregard of orders from above.
The orders came down from on high that under no circumstances were the field gunners to demonstrate their dissent of the decision to scrap the Royal Tournament at the end of the Final Run.
Sporting black armbands it was an order they ignored and quite rightly so.
Enjoy the Final Run.
Of course I’m biased and that is me carrying a wheel on my left shoulder.