History of the Field Gun and the battle of Ladysmith

The origin of the Field Gun competition is linked to episodes in the Boer War, in particular with the epic 119 day siege of Ladysmith, where the gallant defenders were helped enormously by the arrival at the last minute of Captain the Hon Hedworth Lambton of the Naval Brigade with his 280 Blue-jackets, four 12 Pounders and two 4.7 inch guns.

Special carriages and mountings for these guns had been improvised by Captain Percy Scott of the cruiser HMS Terrible and dispatched in HMS Powerful in Durban.

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."

It was Scott, then a Lieutenant, who had helped Captain Fisher (later Admiral of the Fleet and First Sea Lord) establish a Gunnery School on Whale Island at Portsmouth in the 1880s. Later as Commander Scott he was instrumental in conceiving the idea of Field Gun competitions, the first as early as 1900. The drill simulated that undertaken to bring a naval gun into action during the march to Ladysmith in 1899.

The 1907 challenge involved a team of 17 scaling a five foot high obstacle on a 75 yard long course and returning. In 1947 the course consisted of seven "very stiff obstacles" over a distance of 440 yards each way. Today 18 strong teams compete over an 85 yard long flat track, a total run of 170 yards.

The original stipulation was that the competition was only open to teams from within Portsmouth and this continued until 1975 when it was widened to include bases from around the country. Crew from Army and RAF units are now also invited to enter, together with those from ships and foreign units.

Before the First World War the competition was moved from the RN Barracks to Whale Whale Island where it continued until 1973, the following year it transferred to HMS Collingwood. HMS Collingwood's famously large parade ground - reputed to have once held as many as 8,000 ratings is the perfect setting for the event.

HMS Collingwood itself has had a good record in the competition, having won the competition many times. Records for completing the course have continued to be broken.

After a century this spectacle of toughness, courage, discipline and teamwork is still going strong. 

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