Historical Record of the Green Jacket Shooting Teams Dedicated to the Memory of WO2 Vic Brooks RGJ who died 05.08.06

Introduction by ex WO2 Phil Young (RB) RGJ

I phoned Ron Cassidy the other day and it all started from there. "Ron," "Yes Phil?" "Do you have anything to do with the Regimental Christmas Card," "Yes Phil, why?" "Fancy putting that picture of the poor old Rifleman on this year's card, if I had known that's how they treated their men I wouldn't have joined!" "Rubbish Phil, but what do you think should be there then?" "A picture of one of the Battalions or Depots achievements during the year, as we did back in 1956 and 1962 when I was at the Depot. We had two great shooting years then so photographs of the trophies were used." "Phil, talking about shooting, I want you to write an article for the journal on your shooting history." "Ron." "Yes Phil." "I wish I hadn't phoned!"

Now you have got to remember I am an 'OAP' and my Competition Shooting started back in 1946 and a lot of the grey matter has turned to water since then, so there are only a few snippets that have stuck over the years, but here goes.

It all started when as a young Rifleman I joined "C" Company 2RB at Munster in Germany and under the watchful eye of Major Dick Worsley we practised for the Brigade Rifle Meeting and the point that sticks in my mind was that we only had to walk into the field next to the houses that we were billeted in, stick up some targets in front of the railway bank and we had a range. Try doing that now!

On moving to Spey Barracks, Buxtehude in 1947 we started training for the first "Bisley" to be held after the War and it was at this stage I got to know the importance of good coaching. Here we had two of the best, Joe Swan and Len Duncombe who had both fired in competitions before the war and could give us some tips like seeing the swirl of the bullet through Binoculars, reading the wind correctly and knowing the rules of the shoot backwards. To lose a competition through not knowing the rules, to me, was sacrilege and the times I have seen this happen over the years by other teams. I also got to know Charlie Elsdon the REME Armourer who stayed with the Regiment for so many years he became one of us. Charlie was always there when he wanted this changing or that checked, but he went through it when Colonel Vie Turner used to regularly have stoppages on the rapid practice and always blamed the magazine on his rifle. So Charlie had to somehow convince the Colonel that he had found the fault, as no way could he say that the magazine was perfect and it must have been his bolt action that was to blame! Bisley Camp is the Mecca of competition shooting and the Army Meeting is held there every year. For those who were lucky enough to get there, I am sure like me, found it to be a world of its own. In all I fired at Bisley in the ARA Meetings 27 times and even now when I enter that camp a great feeling comes over me, even when they now try and charge me £3.00 for parking! Having the use of "Bun Hill" lodge in Bisley Camp each year was a great asset to the shooting team. Not only were we reasonably comfortable, although in the early days we had to use the twenty seater "Long Drop" some hundred yards from the lodge, but we could dry out when wet from the thunder storms that seemed to pass through about that time nearly every year (the same time as Wimbledon). As the majority of the teams were under canvas, it was said that "Bun Hill" gave us 10 points start over them and I think that's about right. I remember the first couple of years, the army food was so bad that our Team Captain had us eating in the NRA Pavilion which really went down well even though we had to go over the ranges in the evenings to pick up the empty cases that had been left and which were then later sold as brass (Quarter Masters take note) to help pay for our meals. Even Colonel Vic was out there with us picking up the empties!! That reminds me of two incidents concerning the great Colonel Vic that happened whilst we were practising for Bisley. I could not believe my luck whilst packing up on the range one day ready to return to Buxtehude, the Colonel said to Mick Harvey and I that we could travel back with him in his Humber staff car. Well, with two Cpls in the back and the Colonel in the front, that really made our day, especially when we pulled into the 3rd RTR Barracks in Luneburg and the Colonel had to go off leaving us to be driven round the Barracks by Ron Bull and getting salutes by the score, even a Present Arms from one lad! The other incident in fact followed on from the first. We are now travelling down the Autobahn and not hanging around either, when an American White scout car bearing the Royal Signals SDS sign went sailing past us. Mick and I looked at each other and thought "Oh Dear". On arrival at our Barracks I could see parked in front of the Guard Room the scout car and while we started to unload our kit we saw the Colonel go over to the driver and heard him ask if his was the vehicle that had overtaken him on the Autobahn? The answer came "Yes sir" and the next thing we heard was the Colonel saying how he must have a go in it one day!!

After a few years in the Battalion Shooting Team I realised what a name the RBs had got in the world of shooting. No matter who you spoke to at any Rifle Meeting once they knew you were an RB it would be the same old remark "Damn the RBs are here" or words to that effect! This continued for many years after the war but sorry to say gradually was heard less and less as the battalions emphasis on competition shooting waned until in 1971 I arrived at the Bisley Meeting as an individual competitor from HQl(BR) Corps and found that I was the only person there from the whole of the Light Division and to make matters worse, the three Generals at the prize giving were all Green Jackets and they were not impressed, nor was I as I was shooting so well I was heading for the Queens Medal and I thought "but there's nobody to chair me off", so I came second again!

To win the Queens Medal was of course the hope of all those who took part at Bisley each year and although I did not quite make it myself, I feel I helped others to bring on; Vic Brooks, Alan Notley and Mick Dorey in their great achievement. To see them  up there in the "Chair" with the band playing "See the conquering hero come" were great moments in my shooting years.

As a team the aim at Bisley was the KRRC Cup which was awarded to the team with the most points gained over the whole meeting and when you consider that this Cup did not in the first ten years after the war go out of the grasp of the Green Jackets with the Rifle Brigade taking it six times and the Depot twice, all those months of training were worthwhile.

To get to Bisley the team had to practice and take part in other meetings, such as the Brigade, Divisional, District, or Rhine Army Meetings and of all these, the one that stands out in my memory was the Rhine Army Meeting of 1948. A large party of 2RB were helping run the meeting including butt marking. We had got through to the final of the Falling Plates and as this was the last shoot of the meeting, the Rifleman came out of the butts and lined either side of the range. As we started to run the air as full of "Up the Ikes" and the cheer that went up when, with three volleys we had the tiles down and in a record time of 27.8 seconds, what a great moment that was. Over the years of course even with all the practice, things still went wrong on the day, like the time I shot off from the 600 yard firing point for the run-down in a Bren shoot with just the barrel in my hand! Or the time when John McGrady and I were paired up in a Bren shoot and had just left the 400 yard firing point on the run-down when he went head over heels with the gun. Picking himself up we continued on to the 300 yard point where John fired his magazine, then we had to change over and I had to fire my magazine at two snap targets followed by John with his in 50 seconds. Well it was as I got ready to fire, poor John realised that he had dropped his magazine when he fell, so he had to sprint all the way back, find the magazine and get back in time to fire his rounds. He did it, but not as accurately as we would have liked!

1951 saw the start of the NATO shooting match known as the "Prix-Leclerc" and from this later came the CENTO match known as the "Nishan" Competition. In all I fired seven times in these matches and I must say I enjoyed meeting members of the teams from other countries, but what spoiled these competitions were the opening and closing ceremonies. As each nation took on being the host, so the ceremonies became more and more elaborate and took longer and longer, with the shooting match itself becoming secondary. The first year the UK were the hosts for the NATO Match and with just a speech from Sir Eugen Millington-Drake (the founder of the competition) at the start, a 6 foot GS table with the Union Jack draped over it and a bust of General Leclerc as the prize at the end, all was very simple and straight forward. By the time my last "Leclerc" came around in 1968, how it had changed. The Canadians were the hosts and they had erected big stands for hundreds of spectators, there were speeches by the score (in English and French) there was the ceremony of raising the NATO flag and then the raising of the flags of the Nations taking part. The firing of the first round by one of the many dignitaries which caused a large explosion in the butts and at the same time releasing a vast number of doves (well I think that's what they were). We of course stood there on parade while all of this was going on, up to attention, then at ease every five minutes, it was worse than being on "Jankers". This was just the beginning, there was of course the prize giving and then the closing ceremony that went on and on, up to attention, stand at ease, up to attention, stand at ease and when you haven't won, it now really grates. Then there was the dinner later which was better but went on with more speeches and the exchanging of gifts between Nations, it was a long day. I am sure after the first match we were back in our barracks by five o'clock. I know we took the trophy into the Sergeants' Mess and poured a beer over the bronze head to make it look as though he had just done the run-down as well.

I had by 1955 taken up pistol shooting, mainly due to Don Gurr, who with some good coaching and the loan of his Smith and Western "Pearl" handled revolver at a Bisley one year, I was hooked. So when the Battalion returned to Germany in 1959 and we were involved in three more "Leclerc's" they made me Pistol Coach. It was thought that with the scoring and composition of the team, it would be best to have two 'Young' Soldiers in the Pistol Squad. Now you don't find many expert Riflemen pistol shots let alone with under three years service. So for starters I tried going around the barrack rooms getting the young Riflemen to hold their arm straight and if there was no movement at their fingertips, I gave them a try in the squad. This seemed to work well as we finished up with some very good shots over the years.

In the composition of the team, there had to be two Officers and here we were lucky in having Major John Baker and Major Graham Wemyss who were a great gun pair and as the LMG squad could score far more than the rifle and pistol put together, it was decided to put most of the "Old" Soldiers including the two Majors into this squad. This did not seem to go down well with the Rules Committee, as a rule was brought in the following year stating that only NCOS and below could fire the LMG. I wonder why?

Of those three years, the one that sticks in my memory the most was the one hosted by the Germans for the first time. As you can imagine, it was well organised, so much so that even when, in the LMG shoot, I used to call "Paperlate" and it didn't seem to put a spanner in the works at all! What did upset a couple of the other Nations though was the German idea of meals. Firstly every meal was cold, potatoes, vegetables and even coffee, and to crown it all there wasn't any tea. At the weekend the cookhouse closed down and we were issued with "Dry Rations"!! Well the Americans couldn't stand this, so they choppered in a complete field kitchen near the range and very kindly invited us out for meals. The Colonel had heard of our plight and on his next visit brought along some tea, sugar and milk!!

On the day of the competition the Army Commander was there but unfortunately was unable to stay to the end and left when we were trailing in last position. The gun team then did as we had hoped and pulled us back into second place. A signal was sent to the Commander of the result and a reply came back "Well I'm buggered".

The two "Nishan" competitions I took part in did not hold great memories, mainly I think because we were the Host Nation each time so we did not get the chance of seeing either Turkey, Iran, Pakistan or even the American Zone in Germany. Secondly, the atmosphere was not that cordial and when the Rules Committee in the 1974 competition allowed a ricochet of the Turkish team to count as a hit, subsequently giving them victory and putting us into second place, I think you can understand why.

My competition shooting came to an end in 1978 once i left the regular army. I had now become an Admin Assistant to the CCF and was therefore known as a "Non-Regular Permanent Staff Territorial". Asking the powers to be at which meeting I could compete in at Bisley, either the Regular Army or the Territorial Army, I was told "neither", as I was no longer a Regular Soldier nor a part time Territorial!!

Although I am now retired I still go to Farnborough 6th Form College once a week to coach the cadets there, and to see the boys and girls of sixteen who have mostly never fired a shot in their lives before, to come through nearly all as marksmen on the .22 rifle in only four Wendesday afternoons still gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

At the age of seventeen and a half I volunteered for the Rifle Brigade so that I could get into the war before it was all over. Like most young men at the time, shooting at others in war did not hold any horrors, but it was not to be as the war came to an end whilst I was still in training at Winchester and for the rest of my service I did not get the opportunity. I have done a quick calculation of the number of rounds I must have fired in my lifetime and it has got to be between quarter and half a million (one for the Guiness Book of Records I would think) and I am now glad to say I did not have to fire one in anger.