During the Boer War in 1900, the Royal Navy transferred heavy naval guns to land in the relief of the British garrison at Ladysmith. The field gun run is a competition that imitates this involvement.

The field gun run competition first took place at the Royal Tournament of 1907. It has been practised in Australia for almost as long, and often formed part of ceremonial events. Field gun training was a major part of the training of pre-federation, colonial naval militias. The naval component of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, the first Australian unit to see action in the First World War, was well versed in field gun operations. The last competition in this form took place in 1999.

The field gun run is still re-enacted to some degree by enthusiasts. Public demonstrations and competitions are also held. The Royal Australian Navy occasionally performs displays, modelled on the Royal Navy’s field gun run.

The competition is divided into three sections. All three stages are carefully timed, and the times added together to give the final official time for each crew. By the end of last century, runs under three minutes were commonplace.

The first section is called the ‘Run Out’. A team of 18 sailors race the guns, weighing nearly 570 kilograms, from the start position down the sides of an arena. They perform a ‘U-turn’ and lift the guns over a five-foot wall. The sailors erect wooden spars weighing 77 kilograms and rig a flying fox across an area of 8.5m representing a chasm. The guns are partially disassembled and hauled across the chasm. They are then partially reassembled and run to a second wall. Once again, the guns are partially disassembled and pulled through a hole in the wall. The guns are fully reassembled and each gun crew engages the ‘enemy’, firing three rounds.

The second section of the event is the ‘run back’. All the sailors and the field gun have to go back over the second wall, and the gun is partially disassembled to go back across the chasm. The gun is re-assembled. When the last man of each gun’s crew - known as ‘the flying angel’ - is across the chasm, the flying fox rig is collapsed, and three rounds are fired in a rear-guard action.

The third and final section is called the ‘run home’. When the musical note ‘G’ is sounded on a bugle, the guns are once again partially disassembled and passed through holes in the first wall, reassembled and raced to the finishing line.