RHS Field Gun Crew win Endeavour Trophy at Junior Leaders Field Gun Competition
The Royal Hospital School Field Gun Crew have been awarded the Endeavour Trophy for the fastest non-military field gun run after being placed third in a tight final. The youngest crew to be selected for the competition, the 20-strong team consisted of a mixture of pupils and alumni representing RHS for their third time at the event held at HMS Collingwood in Portsmouth.
The Royal Navy-organised Junior Leaders Field Gun competition is designed for 16 to 24 year olds who have either only recently joined the armed forces, just begun apprenticeships with the University Technical Colleges, are attending local community colleges or are part of the Combined Cadet Forces.
With no previous field gun competition experience, the teams of 18 compete to build and transport the field gun which consists of two separate parts; a cannon (the gun) and a limber (the piece of equipment that pulls the gun). The combined weight of the gun and limber is 1250lb (567kg) which is pulled along a specialised marked track measuring 85 metres. Competitors race for the fastest time but must stop to complete specific actions and overcome obstacles without incurring time penalties.
The Junior Leaders Challenge is the only competition open specifically for new recruits and youths, offering them the chance to work as a team and challenge themselves. The event has continued to grow in popularity from five crews in 2007 to nineteen crews involving more than 340 young people. This year 48 crews applied for the nineteen places and the Royal Hospital School were delighted to secure a position to take part in the prestigious, yet arduous, competition.
Lieutenant Commander (Retd) Nigel M Griffiths QGM who is Head of Ceremonial at RHS formed the Royal Hospital School Field Gun Crew just over three years ago. Mr Griffiths enthusiastically took part in field gun competitions throughout his time in the Royal Navy and was keen to introduce the team challenge to the School. The team was honoured to include among their ranks two alumni, Anna-Maria Khan and Josh Mellors, who both competed last year and enjoyed their experience so much came back to support the crew and share their experience.
The team travelled down to Portsmouth the day after Speech Day to prepare for three gruelling days of hard training and two days of competition under the hot July sun. Accommodation was provided by the Royal Navy on board HMS Bristol, a decommissioned Type 82 destroyer warship.
Keen to get up close and personal with the one ton field gun, the teams met with their trainer Warrant Officer Charlie Lambert, a former parent of RHS. Responsible for the safety and training of the crew, the number one trainer on the track is often referred to as 'One' or 'Number One'.
Safety drills, repetition, practise and an understanding of each crew member's vital role was paramount to ensure the gun shifted across the ground swiftly and safely. By Tuesday afternoon the crew were beginning to work together as a team and had carried out full runs improving on each go on the track. Number One was patient and adjusted roles to suit skill sets and strengths tactically enabling the crew to work more efficiently and improve the accuracy and speed of their drill.
By Wednesday the RHS Field Gun Crew had earned a reputation of a team with discipline, speed and the ability to achieve the coveted 'clean drill'. Clean drill is essential in competition runs and errors such as your wheel going over a line or moving a foot when firings are being carried make you liable to additional seconds being added to your final time.
Soon enough Thursday afternoon, the first heat and competitive drill was upon them. Number One presented the crew with their RHS track tops to be worn for the competition. The crew flew out of the gate with RHS pride and achieved an admirable time of 1:29.15; not only a clean run but the second fastest of the evening.
Friday was a full day of competition and RHS were ready to prove that they were a crew to be taken seriously. The Headmaster was in attendance and met with the team prior to the first run to wish them luck. Each crew marched on to the parade ground to start the day's proceedings with cheers and applause from the watching crowds. RHS lined up against five other teams, hearts racing, for their second competitive run. All the teams started on the same bang and the guns thundered down the tracks amidst shouts and calls. Discipline, accuracy and team cohesion not only achieved another superb clean run but RHS also secured the fastest time in the competition thus far earning them a worthy place in the final.
The thirteen other crews who had not reached the final joined the thousands of supporters to watch the six finalists battle for top honours. Number One had a final talk to focus the RHS team who seemed unintimidated by the older and more experienced crews. The team took up their positions, ready to spring from the line on the bang. Exploding from the line the crews heaved and hoisted their guns and limber across the tarmac in their dramatic and powerful rehearsed movements. With a tight finish across the line RHS crossed third in 1:24.88; breathless, exhausted and elated. Just ahead of them was HMS Sultan in second in 1:23.22 and the worthy winners HMS Neptune in 1:21.35. Pleased with their accomplishment and beating RAF Cosford and two UTCs, RHS was awarded the Endeavour Trophy for the fastest non-military field gun run.
Mr Griffiths commented, "Every single person gave 110% and I could not have asked for anything more. RHS Field Gun Crew have beaten two other full time serving military crews, colleges and universities and we were the youngest crew to enter the competition. The crew should be very proud of this fantastic achievement, they have proven that the school's values of loyalty, commitment, courage, respect, service and integrity have underpinned this competition"
History of the Field Gun
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 Hedworth Lambton of the Naval Brigade with his 280 Blue-Jackets, four 12 pounders and two 4.7 inch guns. Special carriages and mounting for these guns had been improvised by Captain Percy Scott of the cruise HMS Terrible and dispatch in HMS Powerful in Durban.
After the siege of Ladysmith was finally lifted on 28 February 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 establish a gunnery school on Whale Island at Portsmouth in the 1880s. Later as commander, Scott 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.