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Royal Navy Field Gun Competition

Updated on June 29, 2013

Statue in Portsmouth

Field gun history

The Field Gun competition was set up to commemorate the harsh conditions that Naval Crews in the Boer War had to face when they took guns from their ships and man handled them across miles of very difficult terrain under terrible conditions to assist a British Garrison that was being besieged The naval ratings landed two 4.7inch guns and four 12 pounders, built carriages for them and dragged them to the assistance of the township of Ladysmith. The seige lasted 120 days. On their triumphant return to London the crews paraded their guns through the city and appeared at the Royal Naval and Military tattoo. This was the beginning of many years of the competition between Royal Naval Commands at the Royal Tournament until it was last run in 1999.

The Royal Navy Field Gun competition was run by teams from the Portsmouth, Devonport and the Fleet Air Arm. On each run, two crews competed to transport a 12 pounder field gun and limber, ( a carriage full of ammunition) over a series of obstacles.

From the start line, the crews pulled the guns and limbers to the end of the arena where they turned and raced with the gun and equipment to a 5-foot wall. The guns and limbers were then broken down to their several parts and rushed to the top of a ramp on the near side of a 28-foot chasm. The crew set up tripods and a wire and traveller so that all the members of the crew and their equipment could cross the chasm. Once on the far side of the chasm the team and equipment were then passed through a hole in the enemy wall at the end of the arena, and re- assembled. Each crew then fired three rounds to end the run.

The second part of the competition was the reverse run where the crews took all their equipment back over the 5-foot 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, the gun and limber re- assembled and three more rounds were fired.

In the final stage, men, guns and limbers pass back through the hole in the home wall and then the teams hook themselves up to the traces and race for home. The clock is stopped as the teams cross back over the start line.

Since the last Royal Navy run in the Royal Tournament of 1999, the field gun crew runs have been kept alive by civilians in Portsmouth.

A band of enthusiasts comprising ex-field gunners and other addicts wanted to perform the field gun runs using the same drill and equipment over the same course as the former Royal Naval Teams. They were anxious to train and eventually to perform in front of audiences in Portsmouth. They achieved their ambition and went on to perform over the next six years.

In 2010 the enthusiasts achieved another of their goals by having 2 crews running in the re-introduced British Military Tournament (BMT) at Earls Court. The Portsmouth Action Field Gun enthusiasts have attended this tournament as volunteers every year since 2010, to assist the Army Benevolent Fund.

From January 2011, Portsmouth College has been their new headquarters where they practice to keep the history of the Field Gun Crew alive.

Field gun crews in action


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