Field Gun Competitions - A Brief History
By Richard Thompson - aka Thommo-the-Phot
This article was first published in a Field Gunners Association Newsletter 2006
The Guns used in the Field Gun Competitions, are similar to the 12-Pounder guns used in the Boer War, and other Naval Brigade activities assisting the Army, in places such as Egypt, China and Ashanti.
Naval brigades were detachments from ships consisting of seamen and Royal Marines (which were soldiers on board ships) who were landed ashore to undertake naval operations or to support the army in a wide variety of campaigns. During the period from 1850-1914, the Navy did not fight any ship-to-ship actions, and most British seamen who were on active service in operations did so as part of a Naval Brigade.
The Naval Brigades were professional organisations. Both officers and men received regular training in the techniques of land warfare at the gunnery school, HMS Excellent, at Portsmouth.
The major campaigns in which the Naval Brigades were involved:
• Burma Wars 1824-85;
• Natal and Zulu War 1879;
• Crimean War 1854-6;
• Transvaal War 1881;
• China Wars 1856-63;
• Egypt 1882;
• Indian Mutiny 1857-9;
• Sudan 1884-5;
• Maori Wars 1860-4;
• Boxer Rebellion in China of 1900;
• Kagoshima and Shimonoseki 1863-64;
• Gold Coast and Ashanti War 1873-4;
• Boer War 1899-1900.
The origin of the Field Gun competitions is linked to episodes during 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.
The Boer Army Artillery was far superior to that of the British, and on 25th October 1899 the General Officer Commanding at Ladysmith Sir George White, the British Army Headquarters in Natal, signalled the Admiral Commanding the Cape Squadron in Simonstown to ask for assistance in the form of long range Naval Guns.
As a result, Captain Percy Scott of HMS TERRIBLE was tasked with producing plans for the mounting of two 4.7” guns for use ashore. Less than 24 hours later at 6 p.m. on the 26th October, the mountings were built and the guns dispatched together with four 12-pounders in HMS POWERFUL to Durban. From there the Naval Brigade under Captain Lambton transferred the guns to the last train to get through to Ladysmith before it was besieged for 119 days.
The Naval Brigade consisted of 750 ratings and Royal Marines and fought with distinction in several parts of the country. The guns went into action on arrival and soon silenced the Boer guns. A further number of guns were landed and transported overland by the Naval Brigade to relieve Ladysmith. During this march the guns were in action many times and, on one occasion when the wheel of one of the carriages collapsed, a 12 pounder was carried by the Blue Jackets over two miles to come into action at the top of a hill.
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.
When the crew from HMS POWERFUL returned to this country they ran a 4.7” gun through the arena at the Agricultural Hall at Islington in the 1900 Royal Military Tournament and were greeted with wild enthusiasm by the public attending. They ran the gun through the streets of London to Waterloo Station on their return to Portsmouth.
The Brickwoods Trophy Competition sponsored by Whitbread was instituted shortly after its ‘Big Brother’, the Inter-Command Competition was first performed at Olympia in 1907.
On 28th August 1907, the Royal Marines light Infantry, from Forton, won the first
“Brickwoods Trophy” competition, and along with it this magnificent Trophy
Both competitions commemorate the feats performed by the Naval Brigades during the Boer War.
Royal Tournament Programme Collection - Richard Thompson
The Story of the Royal Tournament - Lt. Col. P. L. Binns
GUNS AND GUTS - Richard A. Wilson
The Brickwoods Trophy - Whitbread Historian