History and Traditions of the Royal Artillery

Image - Historic image of a Royal Artilleryman

The first recorded use of cannon on the battlefield was by Edward III at the Battle of Crecy in 1346 during the Hundred Years' War. Up to the eighteenth century, artillery ‘traynes’ were raised by Royal Warrant for specific campaigns and disbanded again on their conclusion. This changed on 26 May 1716, when by the Royal Warrant of George I two regular companies of field artillery, each 100 men strong, were raised at Woolwich, leading to the title "Royal Artillery" (RA) which was first used in 1720.

On 1 April 1722 these companies were expanded to four, and grouped with independent artillery companies in Gibraltar and Minorca to form the Royal Regiment of Artillery, commanded by Colonel Albert Bogard. In 1741 the Royal Military Academy formed in the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich (RWA). The regiment expanded rapidly and by 1757 there were 24 companies divided into two battalions, as well as a Cadet Company formed in 1741.

During 1748 the Presidential Artilleries of Bengal, Madras and Bombay, India were formed and then in 1756 saw the creation of the Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery. The Regiment grew to 32 companies by 1771 organised into four battalions, as well as two Invalid Companies comprising older and unfit men employed in garrison duties. 1782 brought the move of the Royal Artillery to RA Barracks (front parade) on Woolwich Common.

The Napoleonic Wars saw the need to provide fire-support for the cavalry so a formation of Horse Artillery was created in 1793 with two troops of Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) being raised, joined by two more in November 1793. The Royal Irish Artillery was absorbed into the Royal Artillery in 1801 to produce twelve RHA troops and a hundred RA companies in 10 battalions. Before 1825 batteries had been called after their commander's name this was to cease and RA batteries known by a number and RHA batteries a letter. During 1805 RWA moved to Woolwich Common for all RA and RE officers.

Image - Battle of Waterloo uniforms

The Crimean War saw the increase of the Royal Artillery to 199 batteries and in 1855 the abolition of the Board Ordnance, which had until then controlled the Royal Artillery. Thereafter the regiment came under the War Office along with the rest of the army. A School of Gunnery was established in Shoeburyness, Essex in 1859. In 1862 the regiment absorbed the artillery of the British East India Company – 21 horse batteries and 48 field batteries – which brought its strength up to 29 horse batteries, 73 field batteries and 88 heavy batteries.

Image - WW1 Uniform

On 1 July 1899, the Royal Artillery was divided into three groups: the Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery comprised one group, while the Coastal Defence, Mountain, Siege and Heavy artillery were split off into another group named the Royal Garrison Artillery. The third group continued to be titled simply Royal Artillery, and was responsible for ammunition storage and supply. The RFA and RHA both dressed as mounted soldiers, whereas the RGA dressed like foot soldiers. The First World War brought with it a massive expanse of the Royal Artillery By 1917, there were 1,769 batteries in over 400 brigades totalling 548,000 men.

In 1920 the rank of Bombardier was instituted in the Royal Artillery. The three sections effectively functioned as separate corps. This arrangement lasted until 1924, when the three amalgamated once more to became one regiment. The Royal Horse Artillery, which has always had separate traditions, uniforms and insignia, still retains a separate identity within the regiment, however, and is considered (by its members at least) to be an élite.

Before the Second World War, Royal Artillery recruits were required to be at least 5 feet 4 inches tall and men in mechanised units had to be at least 5 feet 8 inches tall. In 1938, the Royal Artillery Brigades were renamed Regiments. In the Second World War over a million men were serving in over 960 Gunner regiments. With the coming of peace the Gunners reduced to 250,000 men and 365 batteries in 106 regiments.

At the end of the Second World War, the RA was larger than the Royal Navy. In 1947 the Riding Troop RHA was renamed The King's Troop RHA, and in 1951 the appointment of regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief became Captain General. Following the end of National Service and the Cold War, the Royal Artillery fell further to its lowest strength since the 1820s; 14 Regular and 7 Territorial Artillery Regiments.

Traditions of the Royal Artillery

Image - Badge of the Royal Artillery

The Royal Horse Artillery on parade with its guns, takes precedence over all other Regiments and Corps of the British Army. Otherwise the precedence is LG and RHG/D, RHA, RAC, RA followed by other Arms and Services.

The Colours of the Royal Regiment of Artillery are its Guns or Guided Weapons. When on parade on Ceremonial occasions the Guns and Guided Weapons are to be accorded the same compliments as the Standards, Guidons and Colours of the Cavalry and Infantry.

Mottoes and Arms
The Regimental Mottoes and Arms were granted by King William IV in 1832.
Ubique - Everywhere,
Quo Fas et Gloria Ducunt - Where Right and Glory lead.
A general Regimental Order was published in 1833 which stated that the word ‘Ubique’ was to be substituted in lieu of all other terms of distinction hitherto borne on any part of the Dress of Appointments, throughout the whole Regiment. The motto 'Ubique' thus took the place of all battle honours conferred on the Regiment prior to that date and all which have been earned by the regiment since then. The Regiment proudly refers to ‘Ubique’ as its Battle Honour.

The Coat of Arms of the Regiment is the Royal Arms and Supporters over a gun with the mottoes Ubique and Quo Fas et Gloria Ducunt on scrolls above and below the gun.

The Regimental Tie is a zigzag red line on a blue background. The line represents the lightning which, according to legend, killed Dioscorus in retribution for beheading his daughter Barbara for refusing to marry a heathen suitor. Before her death she turned to Christianity and was later canonized. In the early ages St. Barbara was frequently invoked to grant safety during thunderstorms and on the advent of artillery became the Patron Saint of Gunners.

The White Lanyard
There has long been a tale about the Gunners wearing a white lanyard for cowardice, allegedly for deserting their guns. Of course, the story is nothing more than a myth. However this tale still seems to be told and it is time it was put to rest.

Lanyards associated with dress came into use in the late 19th Century, when field guns, such as the 12 and 15 pounders, used ammunition which had fuzes set with a fuze key. The key was a simple device, and every man had one, attached to a lanyard worn around the neck. The key itself was kept in the breast pocket until needed. The lanyard would hanging loose and soon become dirty and for the day-to-day barrack routine it looked out of place on an otherwise smart uniform, so for peace time purposes, the lanyard was plaited, and blancoed white, to match the white bandolier and the white waist belt worn by the Gunners of the day.

Prior to the South African War, Gunners were issued with a steel folding hoof pick, carried on the saddle or in the knife. In about 1903 these were withdrawn and replaced with jack knives, which were carried in the left breast pocket of the Service Dress attached to a lanyard over the left shoulder. In the war years that followed, the lanyard could be used as an emergency firing lanyard for those guns which had a trigger firing mechanism, allowing the gunner to stand clear of the gun’s recoil.

About the time of the Great War, the lanyard was moved to the right shoulder, simply because of the difficult problem of trying to remove the knife from the pocket underneath the bandolier. By now the bandolier and belt, worn with the battle dress, had long ceased to be white, whilst the lanyard remained so.

The knife was removed in 1933 and then became a straight cord, worn purely as an ornamental item of dress. In 1955 it was, for a short time, re–introduced in the plaited style currently worn today.

Regimental Marches
The Royal Artillery Quick March (1983 to date) is an arrangement of the British Grenadiers and the Voice of the Guns.
The Regimental Trot Past – The Keel Row.
The Regimental Gallop Past – Bonnie Dundee.
The Royal Artillery Slow March (from c.1836 to date).

The Royal Artillery Standard (approved in 1947) is for ceremonial use only, and is flown by RA Headquarters and formations, units and sub units during visits by Royalty and the Master Gunner, the representative Colonel Commandant and the DRA. When flown at a Regimental Headquarters the Regimental Number is inserted in white Arabic numerals in the lower portion.

Regimental Flag
The Regimental Flag is flown for day-to-day use at Headquarters but is not carried on parade.

Honour Titles
Honour Titles may be granted to individual batteries to commemorate exceptional acts of service by the unit or a major part thereof. they are not to be confused with Battle Honours such as are conferred on cavalry and infantry regiments.

The Royal Artillery Collect
The Royal Artillery Collect may be used on occasions when appropriate.

Lord Jesus Christ, who dost everywhere lead Thy people in the way of righteousness, vouchsafe so to lead the Royal Regiment of Artillery that wherever we serve, on land or sea or in the air, we may win the glory of doing Thy will.

The Royal Artillery Prayer
O Lord Jesus Christ,
Who dost everywhere lead thy people in the way of righteousness,
Vouchsafe so as to lead the Royal Regiment of Artillery,
That wherever we serve, on land or sea or in the air,
We may win the glory of doing thy will