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Hauling an 18-pounder field gun through the summer mud of Flanders

Hauling an 18-pounder field gun through the summer mud of Flanders, 1917. (IWM)

Individual battery anniversaries have adapted to recent amalgamations within the RA, but the better-known should be mentioned. At first light on 1 September, L (Nery) Battery would parade to fire a single round from a First World War gun in homage to Capt Bradbury, BSM Dorrell and Sgt Nelson, who bravely kept their gun firing when all others had been silenced at Nery, in the German offensive of 1914. Drivers' Day (5 May), celebrated by I Battery RHA, remembers the desperate gallop to save the guns at Fuentes d'Onor in 1811. Battle Axe Day was the province of 74 Battery, who held a parade on which the tallest gunner carried a French pioneer's axe taken in battle on the island of Martinique in 1809. Officers of O Batter)' (The Rocket Troop') RHA made a special toast to the King of Sweden, Commander-in-Chief of the Allies at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, where O Battery represented the British Army.

Joan Wanklyn's painting of RA trains in the Low Countries

Joan Wanklyn's painting of RA trains in the Low Countries, 1740. (HA Institute)

Around the time of the formation of the regiment the head of the Artillery held the rank of captain general, a title later replaced by colonel-in-chief. In 1951 King George VI wished to revert to the old rank and it was duly reinstated for this appointment, which is traditionally held by the reigning monarch. In the officers' mess the loyal toast is made to 'The Queen, our Captain General".

The Master Gunner, St James's Park, head of the RA in all regimental matters, is the channel of communication between the regiment and the captain general. This appointment was instituted in 1678 as Master Gunner of Whitehall and St James's Park, responsible for the artillery defence of the palaces of Whitehall and Westminster. The Director Royal Artillery is the professional head of the regiment. At the other end of the scale the rank of bombardier (for corporal) was sanctioned in 1920 and gunner (in place of private) in 1933.

Colours are not carried in the RA, but its guns and guided weapons are accorded the same compliments as standards and guidons in the cavalry, and colours in the infantry.

Since 1880 the Royal Horse Artillery has been synonymous with royal gun salutes in Hyde Park. After the Second World War the King wished for the old ceremonials to continue and the RHA Riding Troop was formed. It moved to the old cavalry barracks at St John's Wood, was supplied with RHA full dress uniform and trained in the traditional duties of the saluting battery. In 1947 the King visited the barracks and altered its title to read King's Troop, a troop that went on to thrill the public with daring displays of horsemanship. Over the years the troop has been gradually integrated with high-profile duties normally associated with the Guards, and on the Queen's Birthday Parade it proudly takes its rightful place of honour (when on parade with its guns) before the Household Cavalry.

A gun team of the King's Troop RHA behind the scenes at a show in the 1990s

A gun team of the King's Troop RHA behind the scenes at a show in the 1990s. Gunners are seen in three orders of dress


In 1716 a corps of engineer officers was detached from the Board of Ordnance to oversee civilian tradesmen in the building of military works. The first permanent body of military tradesmen was formed on Gibraltar in 1772, though the Governor thought their reliability questionable and made a request for skilled men from the line regiments to replace them. These soldier-tradesmen proved themselves in the great siege of 1779-83 and led to the formation of the blue-coated Royal Military Artificers in 1787, the same year in which their officers were honoured as the Corps of Royal Engineers (CRE).

After years of siege operations in the Peninsular War the artificers were renamed the Royal Sappers and Miners to reflect their work in digging saps (trenches) and tunnels. The Rock of Gibraltar is a labyrinth of caves and tunnels dug out for defensive measures through the centuries.

Musicians of the RE Band waiting to go onto a bandstand

Musicians of the RE Band waiting to go onto a bandstand, c. 1990

In 1856 the Royal Sappers and Miners were joined with their Royal Engineers officers in the CRE as one corps and a depot was established at Chatham. It now numbers around 9000 'sappers' in ten regular regiments (including an Explosive Ordnance Regiment and a parachute squadron), nine TA regiments, two training regiments and a Topographic Survey Squadron.


The blue peaked cap is distinguished by scarlet piping around the crown and the top of the band. The cap badge is the sovereign's cypher within a crowned Garter and laurel wreath. Like the gunners of the Royal Artillery, sappers wear on the collar a grenade badge with Ubique scroll, conferred in 1832 to show that they serve all over the world. Sergeants wear the grenade alone as a sleeve badge in addition to the various trade badges.

The corps stable belt is dark red with two blue stripes.

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