Tournament for the Brickwoods Trophy
Sponsored by the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity
The "Brickwoods" Field Gun competition started in 1907 after the Brickwoods Brewery donated a magnificent Trophy to the Royal Navy. This competition involving no obstacles and run on a flat track continues to be competed for on an annual basis at HMS Collingwood as part of the HMS Collingwood Open day.
The historic Royal Navy Brickwoods Field Gun Tournament is sponsored by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity. It is held annually at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, Hampshire.
The Royal Navy's Field Gun run is a very unique affair. Often named the "toughest 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 cheeta, the strength of a weightlifter, and the precision of a ballerina.
Each year since 1907, the teamwork, leadership, and moral and physical courage of the Boer War 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 simulates the drill which would have been undertaken to bring a naval field gun into action during the march to Ladysmith.
1st Advance, 1st Wheel Change
The limber is lifted, its wheels and drag ropes are shipped and it is run forward. The gun wheels are exchanged with the limber wheels. The gun is brought to the back of the limber and connected, then both are run forward.
2nd Advance, 1st Action
The gun is unhooked and the limber is run to the 70-yard line, where it is turned or spun to face the start; its wheels are removed, and it is dropped to the ground. The gun is run to the end of the track, turned and stopped. The gun is fired three times, each shell being run to the gun from the limber by the fastest man in the crew.
1st Retire, 2nd Wheel Change
The limber wheels are shipped, and it is run back and hooked to the gun. Both are then run towards the start, stopped and lifted together to exchange wheels. This is the heaviest lift of all, and life gets very difficult if the gear is dropped.
2nd Retire, 2nd Action
Gun and limber are run towards the start line, separated and stopped. The gun is fired three times as quickly as possible.
3rd Retire and Finish
The limber is run back and hooked to the gun, then every member of the crew strains to accelerate the gear over the finish line. This is not the best time to fall in front of the gear, because it is very heavy and cannot be stopped.
Time penalties are added to the running time for each contravention of the rules, which are published each year under the title "Royal Navy Field Gun Instructions (RNFGI)". There are 38 possible contraventions defined that carry a time penalty ranging from 1 to 6 seconds. These are applied as appropriate to each team upon completion of the drill by the event's Chief Judge.
The track is 85 yards (78 m) long, which means a total run of 170 yards (160 m).
The historic Royal Navy Brickwoods Field Gun Tournament continues to be held annually at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, Hampshire. 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.