A FORMER Earlston High School pupil is set to take part in one of the most gruelling physical challenges imaginable, writes Mark Entwistle.
Private Kieren Miles, 24, has completed eight arduous weeks of physical preparation at the Defence Medical Services Training Group (DMSTG), and has been selected for one of the armed forces’ 20 elite field gun crews.
A furious battle between naval teams to manhandle a field gun and ammunition limber around an obstacle course was a highlight of the annual Royal Tournament.
Serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps training group, Kieren’s team will compete against the other highly-trained gun crews at the prestigious Royal Navy Field Gun Competition at Fareham in Hampshire on Saturday.
Field gunning has its roots in the heroic actions of sailors in South Africa during the Boer War in 1899.
When the Boers besieged the British garrison at Ladysmith, the one hope of relief was the guns and sailors of the navy ships HMS Terrible and HMS Powerful hundreds of miles away in Durban.
Many of the artillery barrels were removed from the warships and converted into mobile field guns and the great trek across the rugged country began. Railways, wagons, oxen and manpower were used.
One story tells of a 12-pounder field gun – like those to be used in Saturday’s competition – being carried two miles on the shoulders of sailors after its wheels collapsed.
Kieren will not quite be required to do that, but the 18 members of his crew will need to be in peak condition to haul the one-ton gun and limber up and down the 150m concrete course.
The crews have to dismantle and reassemble all the heavy equipment several times during the run, and engage an imaginary enemy in two actions with blank ammunition – all in about 85 seconds.
Although this is traditionally a naval activity, crews from the Army and the Royal Air Force will be competing, and the DMSTG is a unique tri-service unit.
Even in today’s specialised and technically equipped armed forces, these ancient metal monsters and obsolete gun drills are seen as excellent training to promote, develop and improve fitness, courage, teamwork and leadership.
Kieren, who is training to become a combat medical technician, is based in the south of England, away from his parents and two sisters.
He told us: “Field gun is total teamwork. You have to think on your feet and everyone has to work with each other or someone could get squashed.
“The action may only last about one-and-a-half minutes but fingers get battered, knuckles get cracked and all of your body gets a proper beating!”
The competition has been in existence since 1907. Crews still compete for the original Brickwoods Trophy.
All the field gunners are members of the armed forces or reserves and crews are made up of men and women of all ranks.