First GB Tour

Great Britain and Canada have always had a strong relationship in the shooting world, with GB teams visiting the country regularly in the past and now every year. The Canadian’s also send a team across to Bisley every year. Of course we cannot forget the Athelings cadet exchange, which has been travelling to Canada almost every year since 1910, and has been the catalyst to many British shooters’ sporting careers. But what about the First GB team?

The first GB team to Canada was in 1902 and was the result of an invitation for Great Britain to compete in the Palma Trophy Match, which was to be held in Canada that year. The NRA appointed Major Hon. T. F. Fremantle as Captain and a circular letter was sent out to “the principal rifle shots in the kingdom,” describing the conditions of the Match and asking for applications. A second circular letter was sent to members and supporters of rifle shooting across the country asking for contributions towards the cost of the tour that was expected to exceed £1000.

Major W. F. Bell was selected as the team’s Adjutant and the team was selected from the considerably large number of applicants. Advice was taken from the Captains of the English and Scottish XX’s about the shooting abilities and qualities of the various applicants. The final team of fourteen selected were as follows:

Captain:Maj. The Hon. TF Fremantle VD
Adjutant:Maj. WF Bell
 CSgt. WT Davies (GM)
 SSgt J Fraser
 Pte AB Kydd
 Lt. Col. T Lamb
 CSgt. A Lawrance (GM, SC)
 ArSgt. JE Martin
 Cpl. ANVH Ommundsen (GM, GC, CSM)
 Cpl. A Paterson
 Maj. PW Richardson
 ArSgt. JH Scott (SM)
 Sgt. HJ Ward
 ArSgt. GE Wilkinson

The main party sailed from Liverpool on August the 12th and fortunately, since they were only crossing the Atlantic, the voyage took a mere 10 days! Arriving in Montreal on the afternoon of August the 21st and then arriving in Ottawa by train later that evening. Wilkinson and Paterson joined the team two days later. The team stayed at the Russell House Hotel for the first couple of days then moved to the Victoria Hotel in Aylmer on Saturday the 23rd of August for the remainder of their visit.

At the time it was customary for competitors to shoot in uniform. The GB team were provided with shower-proof shooting suits of Jaeger woollen drill material and grey felt hats. The Captain presented the party members, with a badge, consisting of a Union Jack and the words “British Rifle Team, Canada, 1902,” which they wore on the turned-up brims of their hats.

The team spent a full 10 days on the ranges practising together until the start of the Dominion Rifle Meeting on the 1st of September, where they then competed as individuals. On the 8th of September the Individual matches culminated with the team competing for Coronation Medals to be presented by the Captain and Adjutant. The group then continued their team practices and training until the 11th with the Palma Match taking place on the 13th.

The Palma Match in 1902 was shot between teams of eight firers, with fifteen rounds to count at each of 800, 900 and 1000 yards. The teams used the military issued rifles of their home nation and were allowed to shoot in any position without the use of an artificial rest.

The entirety of the British team shot in the prone position, as did all but one of the Canadians who shot from the back position. A significant proportion of the American team also shot in the back position as they felt it gave them a steadier aim and enabled them to get a smaller eye relief. Unlike the back position still used today in Match Rifle, this form of the back position was done using standard issue rifles with the sights set up for prone shooting. The back position then, involved passing the butt of the rifle over the right shoulder and holding it steady with the firer’s left hand behind their head. The trigger was operated using the right thumb and the recoil of the rifle absorbed using a strap attached to the rifle and passed around one of the firer’s knees.

At the beginning of the match, the Americans had the advantage, using superior weapons and ammunition; they were able to achieve much better elevations. The Americans were using specially prepared bullets with Laflin and Rand powder whereas the British and Canadians were using cordite ammunition made in Woolwich. As a result the American team had a good lead after 800 yards but at the longer distances, the greater wind reading skill of the British team came through. At 900 yards the GB riflemen made up the deficit and then some, going into the lead. At the final range the Brits held it together to finish off as the victors by 12 points. The full results were:

TeamCaptain800yds900yds100ydsTotal
GBTF Fremantle5284834481459
USAW Spencer5504494481447
CanadaRA Helmer5084404251373

Lastly, I should mention the costs of this tour; the team were fortunate in being able to gain special reductions on the cost of their steamer tickets for the voyage to and from Canada, the Tram and Railway tickets in Canada as well as their Hotel rooms. The overall cost of the tour was £45.05 shillings per person, which in today’s money is around £4200. The team received nearly £800 (£74000 today*) in donations to cover the cost of the tour.

* Conversions made using: http://safalra.com/other/historical-uk-inflation-price-conversion/