Big gun out to impress

The White Force hauls a gun out of the mud and on to Whale Island during the Great War in 1904  and, inset, the White Force brings the 4.7in gun ashore on Whale Island in 1907 in front of an audience of  the Colonial Premiers and, also inset, the Ladysmith Gun at HMS Excellent
The White Force hauls a gun out of the mud and on to Whale Island during the Great War in 1904 and, inset, the White Force brings the 4.7in gun ashore on Whale Island in 1907 in front of an audience of the Colonial Premiers and, also inset, the Ladysmith Gun at HMS Excellent

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These atmospheric pictures show sailors hauling a massive gun out of the water in 1904 and performing in a Great War – 10 years before a real, so-called Great War, would erupt in Europe.

They were taken at HMS Excellent, on Whale Island in Portsmouth Harbour, to show off Royal Navy brawn and brains in hauling large guns across land.

The Ladysmith Gun at HMS Excellent rep co  The Ladysmith Gun at HMS Excellent and, inset, the White Force brings the 4.7in gun ashore on Whale Island in 1907 in front of an audience of  the Colonial Premiers and, also inset, the White Force hauls a gun out of the mud and on to Whale Island during the Great War in 1904

The Ladysmith Gun at HMS Excellent rep co The Ladysmith Gun at HMS Excellent and, inset, the White Force brings the 4.7in gun ashore on Whale Island in 1907 in front of an audience of the Colonial Premiers and, also inset, the White Force hauls a gun out of the mud and on to Whale Island during the Great War in 1904

They were attempting a partial re-enactment of the relief of Ladysmith four years earlier during the Boer War in South Africa.

The 119-day siege of the town ended when the Naval Brigade turned up with converted warship guns, having hauled them more than 100 miles overland.

What they achieved became the inspiration for the annual naval field gun competition at the Royal Tournament – until the show was axed in 1999.

But the exercise pictured here was performed in front of Edward VII. It was called a Great War and it happened on February 24, 1904 – not June 12 as scratched on the picture.

JPNS-01-10-12-031 RW The White Force brings the 4.7in gun ashore 1907 rep co  The White Force brings the 4.7in gun ashore on Whale Island in 1907 in front of an audience of  the Colonial Premiers PICTURE: costen.co.uk

JPNS-01-10-12-031 RW The White Force brings the 4.7in gun ashore 1907 rep co The White Force brings the 4.7in gun ashore on Whale Island in 1907 in front of an audience of the Colonial Premiers PICTURE: costen.co.uk

The captain of HMS Excellent was Capt Percy Scott, of HMS Terrible and Boer War fame. He took every opportunity to show how skilled the British sailor was in land fighting and the hauling of their armour into action – such as the 4.7in gun seen in the photo – and mounted machine guns.’

For the event, all the gunnery classes under training were split into two battalions of between 800 and 900 men.

The White Battalion, wearing white duck drill dress, as they appear in the picture, were the attacking force. The Blue force wore blue serge No3 uniforms and were the defenders of Whale Island. The gunnery officers under training were the battalion and company officers.

The White force would embark to the dockyard early in the morning where pinnaces, cutters and barges were available for the seaborne attack. The 12-pounder guns were slung between two pinnaces on baulks of timber. The 4.7in gun was put on a barge and towed by sailors rowing cutters.

Captain Scott designed the gun during the Boer War. It was placed on a carriage made in HMS Terrible and HMS Powerful and was used successfully during the South African conflict.

It was shown to the British public for the first time in 1902 at the Military Tournament at the Agricultural Hall, Islington.

It was hauled into the arena by 50 sailors, but during the Boer War it was pulled by 10 spans of oxen.

The next Great War was held in 1907 in front of the ‘Colonial Premiers’ paying a state visit to Britain.