FAREHAM, England - It was 14:30 on Saturday 1st June 2019 as the JFC Naples Field Gun Crew huddled up for the final time on the track at the HMS Collingwood Open Day. For the first time in seven years the crew were running the Plate 2 final instead of the Plate 3 final. All of the plate finals had been decided by each and every crew running seven timed heats (one of which could be dropped) giving them a final aggregate time. The crew had been training intensively for eight weeks prior to the Open Day with the majority of the training taking place in the two weeks prior – sometimes up to seven hours a day. Organisation by the Field Gun Committee and fundraising to get the Crew to the UK has started in the previous September. Hours upon hours of planning, fundraising, training and personal determination and commitment by each Crew member has come down to this final run, this final 90 seconds of effort, pain, grit and teamwork.
So what is Field Gun? The origins of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) Field Gun Competition lie in the Second Boer War in South Africa, 1899-1902. The British garrison in Ladysmith had been besieged by the Boers since Nov 1899 when, in early 1900 the Royal Navy landed 4 x 12” Royal Ordnance Quick Firing Field Guns and 2 x 18” ‘Long Tom’ guns from HM Ships TERRIBLE and POWERFUL alongside in Durban, in order to support the British Army in the relief effort. The 120 mile route from Durban to Ladysmith was treacherous terrain and the oxen teams pulling the guns soon perished. The Royal Naval Brigade hauled the weapons the rest of the way, during which the wheels on one of the 12” guns failed and it had to be carried by hand. The guns were brought into action and the town was relieved after 120 days, in Feb 1900. On their return to the UK, the sailors of the Royal Naval Brigade paraded the guns through London and appeared at the Royal Naval and Military Tournament at the Agricultural Hall, Islington. Displays of field gun drill continued over the next few years and with the presentation of the ‘Brickwood’ Trophy in 1905, developed over the years into today’s annual Field Gun Competition which is held at the HMS Collingwood Families Day.
Field Gun is a very unique spectacle. Often named the "toughest team sport in the world", it is a display of teamwork which only the dedicated few can ever aspire to take part in. To excel at this sport, team members need the explosive speed of a cheetah, the strength of a weightlifter, and the precision of a ballerina. There are no individuals, only a crew, a band of brothers and sisters who want to achieve the cleanest, safest run in the best time possible.
The JFC Naples Field Gun Crew has always been a British endeavor led by members of the British Navy based at JFC Naples. This year the Field Gun Officer role was filled by POMA Jim ‘Rabbit’ Burrows and the Crews No1 Trainer was Master Sergeant Zdenko Karasek (a Naples Veteran) and they were supported by a hard working committee in the background. JFC Naples Field Gun Crew is unique in being the competitions only Tri-Service, multi-rank and multi-national Crew. This year alone the Crew had Representatives from Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, UK & USA. The challenges of getting a crew (some of whom don’t speak any English) trained has always been a significant job for the No1 Trainer and there were times during training that it seemed pretty much impossible. However, No1 Zee (as the Crew calling him) did an outstanding job of recruiting, training and motivating his runners and he will be sorely missed as he departs Naples for pastures new later on this year.
JFC Naples has been entering a Crew into the Brickwoods Competition since 2006 and plans to do so for the foreseeable future as being part of the Field Gun family is an opportunity that few Europeans or Internationals get to experience. On return to Naples, the FGO had the following to say:
The dedication shown by the individuals that took part and personnel helping with the logistics of getting a multi-national team and a tonne of field gun back to the UK has been exemplary.
My 2 i/c, no1 trainer No2 trainer, team captain, physical trainer and I were very proud of the crew’s conduct, military bearing and devotion to this unique sport whilst on TDY in the UK.
The individuals that took part in this competition are a credit to their military service and nation, and I would invite all to show their gratitude to these individuals where possible, who now adopt the coveted title of “Field Gunner”.
The JFC Naples Field Gun Crew achieved finalists in plate 2 of the competition, which they have not been a contender in for 7 years! This is an outstanding achievement and a direct reflection of the Commitment, Courage, Dedication, Respect, Integrity and Loyalty displayed by everyone involved.
This year’s Crew received a clean run time of 1.34 which they will be looking to improve on next year. As well as welcoming back our existing members, the crew are already recruiting for the 2020 Field Gun Season.