THE BRISTOL GUNNER TRADITION                             

By

Major J. Smith RA [V] MBE TD ©2003

Without claiming any direct lineage it is of interest that the Bristol Castle Ordnance Park was second, in size, to that held within the Tower of London. The castle also had its own Master Gunner and Staff, from the earliest of times.

The numerous Volunteer Trained Bands of Artillery, which had been raised in the city and adjoining counties during the War of the Roses, were amalgamated into a single body in 1486.

From 1625, up to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, the city supported the Bristol Artillery Company. In 1642 approval for the provision of suitable ordnance was granted, with five skilled gunners. 1644 brought the first permanent military establishment for the City of Bristol that included about sixty gunners. There can be little doubt that the members of the Artillery Company served in the defence of the City, which supported the Parliamentary cause, during the English Civil War.

After the Restoration in 1660, the Militia Act [1662] made almost every man bound to serve in the militia units raised within his county.

It was not until 1678 that the Bristol Artillery Company was reformed, under royal warrant issued by King Charles II. This unit was run on the same lines as those of the Honorable Artillery Company which had  been formed in London by  King Henry VIII in 1537.

In 1680 the Merchant Venturers noted that "There are three foot companies and one artillery company, the latter having their arms lodged in the new Artillery House, within the Castle". [It should be noted that Cromwell during the Civil War had destroyed the castle]

In 1684 the Company paraded to welcome its new Captain, the Marquis of Worcester, the son of the Duke of Beaufort. It should be noted that the term "artilleryman" denoted a man armed with a musket and pike.

The Napoleonic volunteer forces, formed during the period 1797-1802, would appear to have been solely infantry, but in 1803 an artillery company was created. Its title, The Royal Bristol Artillery Company, being granted by King George III. Gazetted on the 23rd July 1803, with the task of manning the guns at the mouth of the river Avon, this was not implemented.

Lord Berkeley offered the use of the North Gloucestershire field pieces for the duration of the war. It is of interest that these very guns can still be seen on the walls of Berkeley Castle.

On the declaration of peace, on the 27th June 1814, the regiment was drawn up in front of the Bristol Corn Exchange and formally disbanded.

In 1859, the 1st and 2nd Gloucestershire [City of Bristol] Rifle Volunteers were formed, both having links with many of the Volunteer Corps formed during 1797 and 1814. When the Territorials were formed in 1908 these units became part of the 4th Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment [T], and served as such during the First World War. It was reformed in 1920 and served as an infantry battalion until 1938 when it was re-badged as the 66th Searchlight Regiment RA [TA]. After service during the 2nd World War it change it's role and became the 601st [City of Bristol] Heavy Anti Aircraft [Mixed] Regiment RA [TA] in 1947.

 On the 22nd November 1859 the Gloucestershire Volunteer Artillery was formed, making its headquarters at the Artillery Ground, Whiteladies Rd. Clifton, Bristol. On the formation of the Territorials in 1908 it became the 1st [South Midland] Brigade RFA [T] with a further change of name in 1915 to the 240th Brigade RFA [T], under which it served through-out the remainder of the First World War. On being reformed in 1920 it became the 66th [SM] Brigade RFA [T], then renamed in 1924 as the 66th [SM] Field Regiment RA [TA], in 1938 as the 76th [Gloucestershire] AA Regiment RA [TA] as which it served during the Second World War. It was reformed in 1947 as the 266th [MOBILE] HAA Regiment RA [TA]

In 1947 the 312th Medium Regiment RA [TA] was formed.

All the above units served until 1954 when they were amalgamated to form the 311th [Bristol] Heavy Anti Aircraft Regiment RA [TA].

In 1937 the 223rd [Field Artillery] Signals Section, Royal Signals [TA] was formed and after many alterations of role, became the 3rd Survey Regiment RA [TA] from which the 5th Survey Regiment RA [TA] was formed. The Regimental HQ was in Charnwood House in Cotham [now part of the Bristol Grammar School]. These units served throughout the Second World War. In 1947 both units amalgamated to form the 376 Observation Regiment RA [TA]. A further change of title in 1959 saw this unit become the 883rd Locating Battery RA [TA], forming part of the Wessex Division HQRA.

In 1961 an amalgamation of 883 Bty, with 311 Regt and the 43 Div CB Staff Troop formed the 883rd [Gloucestershire Volunteer Artillery] Locating Battery RA [TA,]. This saw the Bristol tradition and history of artillery finally drawn together in to the hands of one unit.

In 1961 HQ RA [Rear] 43rd Wessex Division [TA] was formed and located in the Artillery Grounds.

In 1967 the Territorial Army was reduced, under a review produced by Generals Hacket and Carver [Hatchet & Carver]. Thus 883 Battery became A [GVA] Squadron, Royal Gloucestershire Hussars [V] and served as part of the TAVR 3 force, with a responsibility for Home Defence, until 1969 when it was disbanded.

Even so the Bristol Gunners refused to relinquish their right to parade at the Artillery Ground and formed the Bristol Royal Artillery Club, which met every Friday night for "Bar Drills." It was in 1971 that the BRA Club was responsible for providing the nucleus of the newly formed 266th [Gloucestershire Volunteer Artillery] Observation Post Battery RA [V].

 The Battery had the responsibility of providing 18 Observation Post Parties to regular gunner units in the time of war, together with a four gun troop of 25pdr field guns, the unit consisted of :-

                                                 22   Officers

                                                18   WO's / SNCO's

                                                60   Junior NCOs

                                                 69   Other Ranks

                                    Total     169   All Ranks

The Battery at first made its Headquarters in the main drill hall, but later moved in to the 1860 buildings used by the first Gloucestershire Volunteer Artillery unit, at the Artillery Ground, Whiteladies Road, Clifton, Bristol.  

266 [GVA] OP Bty moved in 1979 , from the old GVA buildings into the refurbished TA Center and in 1991 once again changed role. It became 266[GVA] Parachute Battery RHA [V], and in 2000 re-roled again to become 266[GVA] Commando Battery RA[V]. During the defence reorganisation of 2013 its latest role became as 266[GVA] MUAS Battery RA, under command of 104 Regiment RA. MUAS stands for Miniature Unmanned Aerial Systems, or, in layman's terms, reconnaisance drones. The GVA is now part of the Army Reserve Forces.

It should be noted that the Royal Artillery Association has supported the Regiment from  the 1930's to the present day

From this somewhat fragmented history it can be seen that the City of Bristol has an exceptionally long history of Volunteer Service  to be proud of, especially by its Gunners.