Brothers in arms
Three brothers from Helston in Cornwall, all Air Engineers with the Royal Navy on Culdrose Merlin squadrons, will proudly run together as part of the Field Gun crew for HMS Seahawk at the annual Brickwoods Field Gun competition in Portsmouth in June.
The Retallack brothers, Shane (29), Luke (27) and Dean (25) have been training intently as part of Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose’s crew. Sibling rivalry has been put aside for the time being as they compete for places with other volunteers in the final crew line up. “It’s a big family effort”, said Shane the eldest of the three, “we are certainly looking out for each other, coaxing and cajoling as we compete for places.”
Shane and Luke are wheel carriers who have to lift and sprint with 60 Kg loads on their shoulders over distances along the track. Dean, the faster brother has the tricky job as “Speedy Shell”, the sprinter between the Limber and the Gun with the blank shells. “Everyone is watching me when I sprint, everything could be lost if it goes wrong, there’s a lot of pressure. I just put my head down go as fast as I can.” Points are lost for dropped equipment and faulty drills with the Gun or Limber during competition runs.
The origins of the competition lie in the Boar War in South Africa. The legendary story tells of the Siege of Ladysmith in 1899, where in support of the Army, the Royal Navy landed guns from HMS Terrible and Powerful to help in the relief of the siege. A Naval Brigade manned by sailors from the Ships transported guns over difficult terrain and brought them into action against the Boers.
Each Field Gun crew is made up of 18 highly disciplined, motivated, and physically fit field gunners. Competing against other establishments and Ships of the Royal Navy, they race to assemble an antique field gun and run with it, disassembling and reassembling as the competition requires, before dramatically dragging the gun across the line in the “chomp home”.
Last year HMS Seahawk crew got to the final and ended fifth overall. They’re confident this year they can go further hoping to improve and maybe gain a top three place. Lieutenant Dave Quaite is HMS Seahawk’s Field Gun Officer is looking to the men who’ve run before to bring on the newbie’s. “We generally have a young crew, drawing on Air Engineers from the base. The Field Gun competition upholds all the core elements of the Navy’s ethos; Courage, Commitment, Discipline, Respect, Integrity, Loyalty and Teamwork. Sailors who run Field Gun are transformed and can stand proud of their achievement.”
Training at RNAS Culdrose continues for the next two weeks as the Seahawk crew start to shave tenths of seconds off their time over the distance and perfect their techniques and run a faultless Field Gun!