Royal Navy Field Gun

Origins

The origins of Royal Navy Field Gun lay in 1899, in the Second Boer War, and in particular the epic 119-day Siege of Ladysmith.  As the British Army was besieged by Boer fighters in the garrison town of Ladysmith, Natal, the Royal Navy landed guns from HM Ships Terrible and Powerful to help in the relief of the siege.  Special carriages and mountings for these guns had been improvised by Percy Scott, before the Naval Brigade manhandled six field guns each weighing nearly half a metric tonne over rough terrain to assist their opposite numbers of the British Army. 

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.  After the siege of Ladysmith was finally lifted on 28 Feb 1900, Her Majesty Queen Victoria I sent a telegram: ‘Pray express to the Naval Brigade my deep appreciation of the valuable services they have rendered with their guns'’.  Displays of this magnificent feat began in London that year.

History of the Competition

Each year since 1907, this teamwork, leadership, and moral and physical courage has been commemorated in the form of annual Field Gun competitions.  In June 1907, what was to become the Inter-Command Competition began in Olympia, between Portsmouth, Devonport and Chatham.  Two months later, on 28 August 1907, the Brickwoods Competition, which was to become the Royal Navy Field Gun Tournament for the Brickwoods Trophy, began for Portsmouth crews.  The first winners were the Royal Marines Light Infantry Field Gun Crew from Forton.

The Brickwoods Trophy was the idea of Sir John Brickwood, Chairman of the Brickwood Brewery.  It is an exact reproduction in silver of a 12 pounder field gun and its sailor crew of seven.  Originally it was mounted on a black ebony stand.  Having received several quotations, the design submitted by Elkington & Co was chosen at a cost of £85.  The intention was for the trophy to be shot for annually by sailors and marines in the port of Portsmouth.  It was to remain in the borough, either at the Barracks, HMS Excellent Gunnery School or Eastney.

The original stipulation by sponsor, that the trophy was only open to teams from within Portsmouth, continued until 1975 when the competition was widened to include units from around the country.  In 1978 with HMS Fisgard’s win, the trophy left Portsmouth Command for the first time.  HMS Gannet’s win in 1997 took it north of the border for the first time.

Brickwood’s maintained a close interest in the competition over the years.  In 1969 Sir Rupert Brickwood-Bart, presented the trophy and tankards and a firkin of beer to the winning team.  In 1971 the Brickwood’s business was acquired by London based brewers Whitbread & Co Ltd.

The Competition Today

The decision to end the Royal Tournament in 1999 resulted in there being no vehicle for the Inter-Command Competition, while the assignment process for the Tournament placed an unbearable strain on personnel resources.  The equally historic Royal Navy Field Gun Tournament continues to be held annually at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, Hampshire, celebrating its centenary last year.  21 crews currently compete, although this is set to increase, representing units of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines as well as the British Army and Royal Air Force, and as such is well supported by senior ranks of all three Services.

Each crew of 18 highly disciplined, motivated, and physically fit field gunners, races to assemble an antique field gun and run with it, disassembling and reassembling as the competition requires, before dramatically dragging the gun home, maintaining the spirit of the Royal Navy’s contribution to the relief of Ladysmith.

Records for completing the course have continued to be broken.  The Royal Marines set a new record in 1924 of 1 min 24.4 secs.  This was beaten in seven subsequent years and eventually in 1938 HMS Excellent achieved 1 min 13.4 secs.  After the war with a different course and drill Victoria Barracks achieved 1 min 27.4 secs in 1954.  HMS Collingwood cut that to 1min 26.6 secs in 1962.  The present record is held by HMS Collingwood of 1 min 18.88 secs achieved in 2001.

The recently introduced Junior Leaders' competition, which takes place annually one week after the main event, provides an introductory format for Royal Navy Field Gun.  Competitors are aged 16-25 and crews compete from all three Services as well as civilian organisations including the Prince's Trust, local schools and colleges, and Cadet Corps.  The Junior Leaders' competition enables young competitors to experience this great Royal Naval tradition, as well as the teamwork, leadership and discipline it encapsulates.

Competing for the prestigious Brickwoods Trophy remains a key aspiration for all units involved, is still going strong and well supported and in fact the abolition of the annual Royal Tournament in 1999 has placed new focus on this spectacle, where courage, discipline, teamwork and leadership remain key components in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces today.  RAdm P Wilcox CB DSC is the President of Royal Navy Field Gun, with Commodore M Farrage RN chairing the organisation in his capacity as Director of Naval Physical Development.  The current competition is recognised at all levels of the Service as embodying and championing the physical and mental courage, discipline, leadership, and teamwork required as part of the moral component of operational capability.

For all enquiries please contact SO3 Field Gun at so3fgo@a.dii.mod.uk

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