"Field Gun Run" Steve Thompson Praises Military Athletes Ahead of Legendary Event - Ruck

“Field Gun Run” Steve Thompson Praises Military Athletes Ahead of Legendary Event

Former England Hooker and 2003 Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson, is excited to see the return of the decorated Brickwood’s Field Gun Run competition, on July 1st at HMS Collingwood. he converted Brickwood’s trophy will once again be on the line, at the upcoming Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity event.

Thompson holds the upmost admiration for all servicemen and women, and is delighted to see his Navy inspired ‘Powder Monkey’ brewery, sponsoring the day’s sporting action.

The Field Gun Run competition pays homage to the inter-service collaboration, during the Siege of Ladysmith in present-day South Africa. Taking place during the Second Boer War, from November 2nd 1899 to February 28th 1900, The Navy and Army worked tirelessly in support of one-another. This saw 400kg Field Gun reinforcements with vital ammunition, were ran into battle upon the fabled Waggon Hill.

In honour of the siege, the first Command Field Gun competition took place in 1907. This year coincided with the first ever Army v Navy rugby match, with both sporting contests celebrating the outstanding endeavours of the British Armed Forces. Until 1999, the incredible event saw crews of 18 dismantle the cannon, and carry it at top speeds over a series of scaling walls.

The teams would also fly with the cannon over ‘chasms’ on zip-lines, and squeeze it through the tightest of gaps. There are three sections, with the ‘run-out’ ‘run-back’ and ‘run-home’ all signalled by the crew firing the antique weapon. Steve Thompson fondly remembers when he first watched the Command Field Gun competition, and the lasting impression it had on him.

“When it was on TV, I would have been eight or nine, something like that. And I remember seeing it as a kid, and it was just this amazing thing. Because in those days as a kid, you look at the military people, and I had massive respect for them straightaway.

Image Credit: Alligin UK

“Then suddenly, you see them running around with the big cannon, and they become like superheroes in your eyes. You just think ‘wow look at that’, and straightaway, it just added on to my admiration for them really, and just my respect, and things like that.”

“I just like the history of it. And it’s one of these things, I think personally with stuff going on with me now as well, I’ve started to get a massive nostalgia of stuff when I was a kid, because I’ve got good memories of that. Also, I went to Whale Island (Portsmouth) when I was younger, and we saw some of the lads that were doing it, and there was a bloke that had lost his finger!

“He was supposed to come down on the ropes with the gun, and he’s dropped the clip. So rather than wasting time to go and get the clip, he just put his finger in it! I know it’s extreme, but it was just their mentality!”

Image Credit: Alligin UK

Thompson considers former Royal Navy Leading Writer Mike McGeever as a big brother to him. Along with Thompson, McGeever is a Director of the Powder Monkey brewery, and experienced the arduous task of a Field Gun Run during the early 1980s.

“Those of us that aspired to run in a command level would often start off through Brickwoods, which was my limitations. So I ran Brickwoods in 1983, which is on a flat ground basis, rather than up and over the walls and chasms and so on. It was an excellent opportunity, very, very hard graft. I mean, running on shingle with sandbags on your neck. I thought was only for elite athletes.”

A dedicated rugby fan, McGeever has followed the sport to every corner of the world. He recognises the similarities between Field Gun runners, and the rugby players who he has supported.

“So there’s absolutely a correlation between the two. And the correlation is the fact that it’s the team work, you are only as good literally as the weakest team member. And if those chinks (in the armour) exists there to the detriment of the team. So there’s absolutely a correlation.”

Despite no longer operating with the daredevil obstacles of the Command level, today’s RNRMC Field Gun Run competition is equally as dangerous and physically exerting. LtRN Dan Hill is a veteran of the competition, and first participated in 2013.

Hill has only come runner-up for the pinnacle prize, yet has won the Plate One and Plate Two trophies during his career. He has previously represented HMS Sultan, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, and this year, Hill has his shot at winning the Brickwood’s trophy for the first time in his career, as the Field Gun Officer for hosting base HMS Collingwood.

“It’s totally different (to any other sport). It requires every ounce of your muscle capacity, but all of your mental capacity as well. And to win it, you’re looking at a ‘sub 01:20s’, to win the competition. we start training in February, and then the competition doesn’t start until July. So it’s a weird sport as well, that you’ve got the longest period of your season is training for just one day of competition.”

HMNB Field Gun Competition
Image Credit: Paul Slater and Cornwall Live

“You’re just so well gelled as a team and a unit, you don’t want to let anyone down. So you’ve got to give those extra ounces. You could label it as pride, maybe determination to win, and to be the best that you can. Which again, all falls back into the military mantra of not letting your team down, but then also being the best.”

“Everyone who runs field gun wants to obviously win the Brickwood’s trophy. So it’s not just Army, it’s the Navy and the RAF. We also have teams now from Cyprus, NATO, Stavanger (Norway), Naples (Italy), and ships enter as well.”

Helensburgh turns out to witness Field Gun public run
Image Credit: Royal Navy and HMNB Clyde

No stranger to the event’s physical danger, Hill was once painfully run over by the stampeding gun crew, yet was fuelled by adrenaline to spring back to his feet and finish the race. Hill discussed previous injuries he’s witnessed in the one of a kind sporting spectacle, and how he has been preparing for the showdown at HMS Collingwood.

“So people break throughout the whole season, people can lose bits of their finger, or they’ll break a leg, or arm. Hopefully not this year for our crew, but there’s pretty serious injuries. Sometimes the wheels get damaged, and you’ll get a splinter through the leg or the arm. People will put fingers in places where they shouldn’t, where it rotates, and potentially break them or lose them.”

field gun team lifting wheels into position
Image Credit – Royal Navy Field Gun

Rugby has taken Steve Thompson to the farthest-reaching parts of the globe, with England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup triumph in Australia being a definitive career highlight. However, the former hooker has also ventured to unexpected lands with the England teammates. Thompson discussed how a trip to visit the British Army in the Middle East, intensified his undeniable respect for the Armed Forces.

“I went out to Afghanistan in 2011 to meet some troops and things like that. We went to Camp Bastion, and then we (England Rugby team) went out to ISAF. And you see the characters, and they’re very similar to rugby.”

Steve Thompson and Neil Back at Camp Bastion in 2011. Image Credit: Rugby World

“But if we get it wrong, we don’t win (the rugby match), when you (Armed Forces) get it wrong, people die. Their mentality is so teamwork driven, and what I loved is when they go into a room for their briefing, before they were going out (with us) to the embassy from Camp Bastion. You’ve got all the jokers, and stuff like that, and then ‘boom’, they just switch. You know, and they’re just ‘bang’, ready.

“And, it is like that on a match-day, and in training. But obviously, the results are totally different if they go badly. And, so I never want to talk them down, but there are similarities (to rugby), in the way that they train, and their mentality, and the team working together and honesty. You know, we love that.”

The official sponsors of the 2023 Field Gun Competition, Powder Monkey’s brewery is based in the historic Naval town of Gosport.

Powder Monkey Brewery - Gosport Heritage Open Days
The Powder Monkey Brewery – Image Credit: Gosport Heritage Open Days

The Naval connotations run throughout the Powder Monkey brewery, which Mike McGeever explained.

“When the ships were wooden, and the men were made of iron, there was a situation whereby the young lads that would be taken would do the running from the armoury. They would take the gunpowder up to the cannon decks, where the shots would be loaded and of course fired, and those nippers were nicknamed powder monkeys.”

Some of the Powder Monkey beverages include ‘Drunken Sailor’, ‘Monkey’s Charge’, ‘Drop Anchor’ and ‘Explosion IPA’, and will be available to try at the 2023 Field Gun event in Portsmouth, on the 1st of July.

seahawk team dragging the gun home
Image Credit: Royal Navy Field Gun

Looking to the future, Thompson and McGeever agreed that the legendary Command level ‘Royal Tournament’ Field Gun Event should return to TV screens, and there certainly is a place for today’s competition in the sporting mainstream.

The event needs to once again be given a platform to grow, and a touring attraction similar to the ‘Ironman’ style endurance challenges, would open more eyes to the amazing feats of the competing servicemen and women. This contest is the pinnacle of physical endeavour, with the stage once again set at HMS Collingwood, to present these ‘superhero’ athletes of the services.