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The Field Gun Display became so much a part of the Royal Tournament that it was difficult to imagine a Royal Tournament without it. It was an impressive spectacle of teamwork, skill and fitness which  became, perhaps to its own detriment, so well developed and executed that spectators could not gain any real idea of the weight of the equipment and the ingenuity of the drill.

The display was not an evolution dreamt up by some imaginative fiend or demented Chief Gunnery Instructor. It was started in 1907 and was inspired by the exploits of a Naval Brigade during the Boer War in 1899.

In 1899 the British Empire was at it's zenith, with many overseas colonies which gave Britain an influence on world affairs out of proportion to her size. In this era of "Pax Britannica" peace was only relative as the continual consolidation of the colonies meant ceaseless effort by overseas forces to ensure their safety. The true key to the security of the Empire was the command of the seas. Most of the colonies had been secured by sea power and it was sea power which held them all together.

Throughout the reign of Queen Victoria sailors, or "Blue Jackets" as they were nicknamed, were often landed, in the form of Naval Brigades, to deal with any trouble and often saw more action ashore than they did on the ship.

During this period the Naval brigades had already seen action in the Persian Gulf, Panama, Mesopotamia (now modern Iraq) and East Africa so the request from the British Army in South Africa for assistance in the form of "A few Naval Guns" to repel the rebelling Boers came as no surprise.

Fortunately HMS POWERFUL was on her way to the China Station to relieve her sister ship HMS TERRIBLE. Both ships were ordered to rendezvous in Simons Bay, the Naval HQ in South Africa, and help as best they could. Meanwhile the Boers continued their offensive and besieged Kimberly and Mafeking (held by Baden-Powel of Boy Scout fame) and were marching on LADYSMITH with a considerable advantage in their superiority in artillery, both in regard to power and range. Ladysmith had been chosen by the Army as a defensible position from which to defend British interests in the NATAL province and desperately needed gun fire support.

Captain Scott RN of the TERRIBLE had been asked to find a way to mount the 4.7 inch Naval Guns on makeshift mountings for use on land which, in Captain Scott's words, consisted "of a log of wood to form a trial, mounted on an axletree with a pair of ordinary Cape wagon wheels." Once completed the guns and crews, under the direction of Captain Lambton RN, were transported by sea to DURBAN on a journey to LADYSMITH that began by special train then with oxen pulling the guns but when the oxen died the sailors took over pulling the guns themselves. In this endeavour they manhandled the guns "through the wild and broken country" of the South African veldt and "arrived in the nick of time" to play "a most important role in the defence of the town" Here the superb skill in the use of the 4.7 inch Naval Guns kept the Boer attackers at bay but, unfortunately, the Naval brigade became besieged themselves.

 
 

As LADYSMITH, with over 21,000 inhabitants, settled into the "routine of siege" against the enemy another Naval brigade from HMS TERRIBLE left DURBAN to travel 189 miles to LADYSMITH, with the relief column led by General Buller, where they formed a vital part in the RELIEF OF LADYSMITH and rejoined their shipmates.

After the siege of Ladysmith was finally  lifted on February 28th 1900 Queen Victoria sent a telegram: 

Pray express to the Naval Brigade my deep appreciation of the valuable services they have rendered with their guns."  

In the Royal Tournament of 1900 the sailors, fresh from their Boer War exploits, led their 4.7 inch guns into the arena and began a display that in 1907 became the Royal Navy Field Gun Competition which commemorated the courage and determination of the Royal Navy Brigades at LADYSMITH. The public was so taken by these exploits that the course was so constructed as to depict the obstacles and hazards which confronted the "Blue Jackets."

The qualities shown by those sailors were courage, discipline, alertness and tremendous spirit and these are qualities that tend to be developed during training for this display. Perhaps the reason that this display survived , despite the cut-backs in the Senior Service, is that these qualities are still valued in today's Royal Navy and still appreciated by the public at large.

The Fleet Air Arm were relative newcomers to this unique competition, taking part for the first time in 1947, when the competition resumed after the Second World War. The Crew (pictured above), one might say, had beginners luck winning the Aggregate Time Cup and the Fastest Time Cup. Or, it might just have been the professional approach that set a standard to be followed by many other Crews; proving that it really is:

"QUICKER BY AIR"

 
 

1999 was the final year of The Royal Tournament and therefore the very last opportunity to see the Field Gun Competition. This news was  received with great sadness throughout the world. 

RIP