Phil Portway has vivid memories of the famous Gun Run at The Royal Tournament, and his team has collaborated to come up with a game to recreate its challenge and excitement.

Running the guns

Those of you who remember watching on TV, or going to see The Royal Tournament held at Earls Court until 1999, will recall the highlight of the programme, the running of the field guns. A race between three commands of the Royal Navy, Fleet Air Arm, Portsmouth and Davenport (my father, an ex-Chief Petty Officer, cheered on Portsmouth, having been based there during the war and later when he became a Royal Naval Reservist). So it came to be that my four brothers and I would cheer on Portsmouth. It was a very noisy time in our house, as for once in our life, the brothers and our Dad would all be enthralled and rooting for the same team. In 1999, I went to the last Royal Tournament with my father and son and together we lost our voices cheering Portsmouth for one last time. Sadly, they lost to Fleet Air Arm by about a second or so. It was the first time I saw my father cry! The origins of the Gun Run competition dates back to 1899 and the Second Boer War in South Africa. The British garrison in Ladysmith had been under siege by the Boers from 2nd November 1899 until it was relieved on 28th February 1900, a total of 120 days. The British sent a relief force made up of British soldiers and Royal Navy personnel and guns from HMS Terrible and Powerful to help in the relief of the siege. The Naval Brigade transported guns over difficult terrain to bring them into action against the Boers. The Royal Navy guns were two 4.7-inch (120mm) guns and four 12-pounder naval cannon barrels, creating improvised field guns using makeshift gun carriages. The guns were transported inland by rail and then drawn on makeshift carriages by oxen. For the final part of the journey, sailors from the Naval Brigade manhandled the guns over very challenging country. One story tells of sailors carrying one of the 12-pounder guns for approximately two miles (3.2km) after one of the wheels collapsed. When they returned home, the 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 in the years following. The Field Gun Tournament as we came to know it, was established in 1907, until it had its last run at the Royal Tournament in 1999. It has still continued as an event within naval circles and is now part of the Birmingham Tattoo. Our game is based on this event and you become the team leader, in which you race against another team for the honour of the arm of service you are representing. It is a card-driven game where you have to make decisions about which cards to play to move your team down the ‘run’ and fire off the gun and race back to the finish line as quickly as possible. At the point of writing, the rules are being finalised as, with all our party games, the rules are homespun and the ‘team’ puts its collective heads together, running through the mechanics until we are happy they are as close to perfect as we can get them.


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