A recent discovery in the Library and Archives of CanadaE. Gary Carrol collection, image: C-055511) has revealed a view of Fort Gilkicker showing the Royal Garrison Artillery and Volunteers on parade.
The photograph was incorrectly attributed to 'Personnel of the Royal Garrison Artillery at Fort Henry'. However there can be no doubt that this is Fort Gilkicker.
This amazing photograph shows the upper battery with a heavy 12-inch RML in emplacement no.4 on a C pivot dwarf platform. Gilkicker's upper battery was armed with three 11-inch and two 12 inch RMLs. An armament return of 1888 shows that it was proposed to remove the two 12-inch RMLs leaving the three 11-inch RMLs. The two empty positions 2 & 4 were filled with observation platforms for depression range finders.
In 1891 the General Officer Commanding had pointed out that two of the three 11-inch R.M.L.s on the roof were in an unsatisfactory position. (It had been reported by the Director of Artillery as early as 1872 that eight of the guns at Gilkicker could not clear the Isle of Wight and were therefore unable to be fired) It was proposed to remove the two 11-inch RMLs and mount them in a new battery near Fort Monckton. The R.A. and R.E. Works Committee however decided to remove them entirely as they were superfluous now that the armament of Puckpool Battery was strengthened and Browndown Battery had been constructed at the west end of Stokes Bay. In 1892 it was decided that they should be placed in Southsea Castle and this was approved. The plan showing the alterations is dated 1888 and 1890. This dates the photograph to pre-1893. All of the upper RML positions and observation platforms were later removed completely to make way for the 1898 6-inch BL gun emplacements. An armament return of 1893 shows no guns mounted in the upper battery.
Another interesting photograph, taken of HMS Gossamer in the Solent, reveals Fort Gilkicker behind the ship. In it the two observation platforms, converted to Depression Range Finding Cells, can be seen.
The soldiers on parade in the Canadian photograph appear to be a mixture of Volunteer Artillery and regular Royal Garrison Artillery. This would be usual for a Volunteer practice camp at the fort with the volunteers being supervised at their gun drill by the regulars. Gilkicker was often used for Militia and Volunteer training and was occupied by three batteries from the Hampshire Artillery Militia during their 28 days embodiment in 1871. Again on June 19th 1885 No.5 Battery moved into Fort Gilkicker and was inspected by the Officer Commanding Royal Artillery Gosport District on July 6th. In 1885 the 2nd Middlesex drilled on the 9, 10, 11 and 12-inch RMLs at Fort Gilkicker. In 1888 it was the turn of the 5th Lancashire Volunteers to drill at Gilkicker. The Hants Volunteers were back at Gilkicker in January and May 1891 and June 1897 for training. They drilled on the guns at Gilkicker on a regular basis, using the 9 and 10-inch RMLs after the upper battery have been disarmed. In 1890 it was reported by Colonel Bance of the 1st Hants Artillery Volunteers that they were were
...in future to be mobilised at Gilkicker, the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour, and also for the adjacent lines of fortifications, and he should be sending them down in detachments on Saturday afternoons, by train running at convenient time, to spend a brief period there, which would be enjoyable well as instructive to them, and then bring them back refreshed and invigorated, and better in every respect for the training they had undergone.
The shells on the parade appear to be there for the annual 'Station Practice' firing. These may have just been delivered and are ready to be moved to the shell stores before the firing can commence. Garrison guns were to be fired at Station Practice three times consecutively every other year to train the gun crews and to ensure that the guns were in perfect working order. The three rounds were to be fired on the same day from the whole of the guns in the fort, or from as many complete gun groups as was possible. The ammuniition to be fired was Palliser shells. These were prefectly safe, wherever stored, until they were fused at the time of firing. Station practice was to be carried out annually from half the forts in the district. This practice was to ensure not only instruction but also to test thoroughly the working condition of the mountings and gears as well as the fitments and accessories of the fort, the supply of ammunition and the means for fighting the guns generally.
Interesting detail shown in the photograph includes three four wheeled shell barrows, one of which is in use as a child's pram! Major Cunningham , who lived in Bury House Gosport, and who was an officer in the local volunteers, trialled much of his inventions for traversing and firing heavy guns at Fort Gilkicker. Some of these were adopted for use in forts and on board ships. One piece of equipment tested at Gilkicker was a new shell bearer used to move the shells from the Basement stores to the shell lifts for raising up to the guns. A report at the time noted that the shell passage at Gilkicker was too narrow to allow two barrows to pass. The shell barrow in the photo is one designated for a 10-inch RML. It is made of wrought iron and fitted with four metal trucks. It would not be very comfortable as a pram!
The sheer legs and nearby winch (crab) seem to be in use to lift stores, or possibly the shells to the gun casemates, which were armed with 9-inch RMLs and 10-inch RMLs. This may have been part of the usual Gyn drill undertaken by the Volunteers during training.
The gun in the photograph appears to be a 12-inch RML of 25 tons Mark I but it has always been assumed that the two gun positions 2 and 4, later converted to observation platforms, were for 11-inch RMLs. The 11-inch Mark 2 did not have the same number of hoops as the gun shown in the photograph. To the left of the gun emplacement members of the gun crew are standing outside the passage to Shell Store No.4 and Expense Magazine No.4. A nearby daviit is used to liift shells to the gun platform.
There are many reports of practice firings being carried out at Gilkicker. An annual 'Station Practice' was often given to the Volunteers. The one in 1886 was given to the 2nd Middlesex Artillery as reported in the Volunteer Service Gazette May 1st 1886:
On Good Friday, guard was mounted at 8 a.m., and at 10.30 the brigade paraded with the Royal Artillery of the Garrison, and marched, under command of Colonel Hume, R.A., the commandant of the Fort, to the Garrison Church, near Fort Rowner, for divine service. After dinner, the brigade assembled in fatigue order at 1.30 p.m., and, headed by the band, marched to Fort Gilkicker, on the Solent, for drill with the 9, 10, 11, and 12-inch R.M.L. guns, returning to quarters at 5 p.m. At 6.15 p.m. the brigade turned out in drill order for battalion drill under the Adjutant, - Major Lowrie, which finished the work of the day.
On Saturday, after an early breakfast, parade was formed in fatigue order at 8.30 a.m., every man carrying his havresack and water-bottle, with a day’s rations, and the brigade again marched to Fort Gilkicker for practice. The military authorities had arranged that the annual practice of that station should be entrusted on this occasion to the 2nd Middlesex Brigade, a mark of confidence which was much appreciated by the Volunteers. The casemates had been cleared of the soldiers’ barrack furniture, and all glass and bulkheads removed. Practice was carried on with Palliser shot and shell from the 9, 10, 11, and 12-inch guns, under the direction of Major Arbuckle, R.A.., until 4 p.m. Amongst the Royal Artillery officers present were Colonel Hume, Colonel Stirling, Colonel Finch, commanding the Auxiliary Artillery of the Home District, who had come down especially to inspect the Brigade, which forms part of his command;
Another occasion is one similar to this which was described as talking place at Fort Gilkicker in July 1888.
SHEFFIELD ARTILLERISTS AT PORTSMOUTH,
PRACTISING ON THE FLEET.
Fort Gilkicker, which faces the Queen’s charming marine residence of Osborne, from which it is only separated by the silvery waters of the Solent, was to-day the scene of the principal work which fell to the lot of the 4th West Riding York Artillery, who, under the supervision of military instructors, underwent a course of drill in heavy ordnance which must have considerably opened their eyes as to the serious character of the duties they have undertaken. It must, however, be said, to the infinite credit of all ranks that without exception the Sheffield men have entered upon duties, trying even to the professional soldier, With a degree of zest and ardour which nothing could damp, while their conduct both in and out of camp has been of the most highly exemplary character, not a solitary report having been made against any of the men of the 4th Yorkshire, who are distinguished when abroad in the evenings by the neatness of their attire and their quiet and soldierlike bearing.
This morning the camp was, as usually, early astir, the men from both forts parading at 6.15 for battalion drill at Fort Brockhurst, which lasted for three-quarters, of an hour, and was carried out under the command of Colonel Creswick The Sheffield Brigade, under Colonel Hutton’s command, set out after breakfast for Fort Gilkicker, which is a good stiff walk from Brockhurst, and were soon busily engaged with the twelve, eleven, ten, and nine inch muzzle-loading guns, which are mounted in the fort. These monsters are worked by machinery and fitted with them latest sighting apparatus. Owing to the Queen’s residence at Osborne there is a general order in the southern military district that no guns must be fired from Fort Gilkicker and to-day’s instruction therefore was of a theoretical character. The ingenious method by which the artilleryman in charge of the twelve-inch weapons can judge the distance of an approaching ship, and correctly estimate the elevation and direction, was carefully explained to the volunteers, who were enabled to practise to their hearts’ contents on the ships forming part of the powerful mobilisation fleet now lying in the roadstead. The officers report in the most favourable terms of the intelligence and activity displayed by the men in the course of the heavy gun drill, which was continued well into the afternoon, the batteries returning dusty and tired, after their hard day’s work, at four in the afternoon.
Col. Robertson, of the Royal Artillery Staff, who has superintended the arrangements in connection with the encampments and has given Col. Creswick every possible facility for drill, etc, provided the Sheffield men today with a sling waggon, and in the course of the day a big gun was brought to on the former by some 40 or 50 Sheffield men from Fort Gilkicker. General Sir George Wallis, commanding the Southern Military District, has also displayed the greatest anxiety to further the interests of the volunteers and to make their week’s stay in the camp as profitable as possible. In the course of a friendly conversation with Col. Creswick he promised to get permission for the officers of the Sheffield and other corps, with a limited number of non-commissioned officers, to visit the forts at Spithead in H.M.S. Falcon, probably on Friday. It was also through his influence that the volunteers were permitted to handle the heavy armaments of Gilkicker, and thus to gain an experience which cannot be acquired anywhere in the North of England. In fact, a most excellent feeling of comradeship has sprung up between the regulars and volunteers, and on Thursday evening Colonel Robertson and other staff officers will entertain the officers of the Southern Battalion at a dinner at Fort Brockhurst.