Field Gun runner still going strong at 61

Chief Petty Officer Ralph Swindell is a stalwart of the Maritime Reserves Field Gun team, and at 61 has made the news as one of the most senior team members to compete in this demanding sport.

CPO Swindell, joined the Royal Navy in 1975 (HMS Ganges), and served 24 years as a regular before joining the Maritime Reserves, where he teaches Initial Naval Training (INT) to new recruits at HMS King Alfred in Portsmouth. Now age 61, he recently took part in the RNRMC Field Gun competition at HMS Collingwood as part of the Maritime Reserves field gun crew.

At 61, he is one of the oldest field gunners to take part in the historic competition, which is held annually at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, Hampshire.

20-24 crews currently compete in the RNRMC Field Gun Competition each year 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.

CPO Swindell is hoping to run the Field Gun again next year at the age of 62. Physically fit and with a wealth of experience under his belt, he still has plenty to offer the Reserves, both on and off the track. As the INT instructor at HMS King Alfred he is invaluable in passing on his professional knowledge to the younger generations joining the Reserves.

When you are standing on the line in front of the public on competition day, and running up and down the track as part of a crew, you know that you have succeeded and made the grade. It’s a fantastic team sport which embodies all the core values of the Royal Navy.

CPO Swindell

CPO Swindell has served on a variety of ships, including HMS Anglesey, HMS Fearless, HMS Sheffield, which he joined before going to the Falklands war, HMS Manchester, which he served on during the first Gulf War, and HMS Liverpool.

He recalls one of the highlights of his career was when he participated in disaster relief operations following the Montserrat volcano eruption, while serving on HMS Liverpool. As a member of the ship’s boarding team, he was one of the first people to land on the island to help the local communities rebuild their homes. Talking of his visit to Plymouth, (the capital of Montserrat) which was totally covered in ash following the eruption, he says:

“It was a strange experience going into Plymouth, it was full of clouds, and the ash was all laid down on the ground like thick snow. Nothing was habitable in that area of Montserrat, and it was quite disturbing to find that all the houses, hospitals and infrastructure around there had been rendered totally useless.” He added: “the local population were all confined to one part of the island, where we helped the local army build shelters. As a Petty Officer cook onboard, I helped cook meals on the ship, and these were then distributed to the hungry population ashore.”