National Army Museum 2011

The National Army Museum, London - 3 December 2011

We arrived at the museum at about 10.30 Saturday morning to find the 3.7'' gun, searchlight and generator all in place and various Garrison members milling about. Got into battledress just in time to help put the get the gun into action. This required the wheels to be removed, and the entire gun wound down on to its four legs.

For a number of reasons, this was no simple task: firstly, most of us had never done this before, secondly the gun itself hadn’t been put into action for at least two years, so was pretty seized up in places. Mostly, however, because we only had one 'sampson' bar extension out of the eight that should be part of the gun’s kit. This made lowering the four screw-jacks somewhat tricky. Nevertheless, with a bit of to-and froing, we got the job done without any major difficulties.

Once into action, we went through a dry-run for the afternoons’s firings. What was immediately apparent was that the entire gun was in a desperate need for oil and grease. Cue a rapid maintenance programme! Once this had been done, the gun could be traversed and elevated much more easily.

The first firing of the afternoon was another rapid learning-curve, but went reasonably well. With the gun confined within such a relatively small and built-up space the bangs were suitable loud. With everyone getting to grips with the drill, the next firing was better and the display more fluid. We also integrated the searchlight into the firings, which worked really well (despite the fact that it was located around a corner, so there was no line-of-sight between the searchlight and gun crews.

The final display of the day was at 7.30 pip emma and consisted of the searchlight illuminating and three rounds fired from the gun. This presented several challenges, trying to integrate a searchlight and gun display in a heavily residential areas and one that was directly beneath the Heathrow flight path. The safe zones for gun and searchlight were thus extremely limited if we didn’t want to incur the wrath of the CAA and/or Chelsea and Kensington Borough Council! However, all went very well - the worst effects being the setting off of a burglar alarm in one of the houses across the road (much to the satisfaction of the gun crew).

With the displays over for the day, most of the Garrison tarted themselves up for the Blitz Ball that was being held that night at the museum.

In all this was a great event on a number of levels. Working with the National Army Museum was privilege, as was meeting a number of Chelsea Pensioners who stopped by to see what we were up to. Getting the searchlight and gun to work as a single display was particularly satisfying, and showed that there is probably much more we could in this area. What was most poignant about this event, however, was seeing the searchlight in action over the skies of London. Both searchlight and generator seemed to be on best behaviour, and to see that carbon-arc beam light-up the London skies (perhaps for the first time since the war?) was pretty special.

For some footage of this event, see ('Favourite Videos' section of) the Garrison YouTube site: