Jane Messer, January 2009

My first visit to Africa was as part of Robert Stafford’s team to South Africa and Zimbabwe in 1993. Robert’s stated aims for the team were to be good ambassadors for GB shooting and to consolidate links for the future, to shoot well and win matches and last but not least, to introduce his young team to Africa and its wildlife. The former was important as we were the first official GB team to visit South Africa since 1963 (a goodwill English ‘Lions’ team under John Killian had visited the previous year to celebrate the end of Apartheid and the lifting of sanctions including restrictions on sporting teams). The latter was covered by the ten days following shooting in Bloemfontein that we spent on safari north of Durban and around the Victoria Falls and Lake Kariba. We were defeated by South Africa in the Short and Long range matches on the new General de Wet ranges near Bloemfontein but managed to salvage the record by winning the three way match against South Africa and Zimbabwe on the Cleveland range at Harare at the end of our tour. And it is testament to the warmth and friendliness of the welcome that we received in 1993 that many of us have made several repeat visits since then, and three of the 1993 team are also on the 2009 England team, including Tom Rylands, the 2009 Captain.

The first British team visited South Africa in 1920-21, a comparatively late date, given that South African ‘shottists’ had been coming to Britain to compete at Bisley since 1905 or even earlier. Originally, it had been intended to send a team in 1914, but the First World War caused it to be delayed until 1920. The team, captained by the renowned Bisley shot Lt Col P.W. Richardson, had already spent several weeks on tour in Australia. The team arrived in Durban on 21st December 1920, but due to changes in ship schedules sailed early from Cape Town for England on 5 January 1921. In between, the team travelled 2,500 miles and fired five matches, at Pietermaritzburg (against Natal), Booysens range, Johannesburg, (against Transvaal and Transvaal Dutch teams), Hamilton Range, Bloemfontein, (against Orange Free State) Currey Ranges, Kimberley (against Griqualand West) and Woltemade Range, Cape Town (against Cape Colony). Christmas Day was spent in Johannesburg, strolling around the town, visiting the Zoological Gardens and at the Christmas dance at the Country Club.

The team accounts, published in the NRA Journal, are interesting: the entire tour, including the steamship fares and the tour in Australia, cost £3,131, 13s & 7d. The team was funded through contributions to the Australian Team Fund, the list of subscribers being headed by HM the King and including such other notables as Lt Col P.W. Richardson O.B.E., Col Howard Wilkinson, Lord Cottesloe, Col Henry Mellish C.B., Henry Whitehead, M.V.O, A.P Humphrey, M.V.O., Major T. Ranken, Admiral G. Northland, Col J. Hopton, J.P. Renshaw, all of whose names are known to us through the trophies commemorating them.

In 1937 Commander Swanston’s celebrated GB team to Australia and New Zealand, which spent five months on tour and was the last GB team to travel entirely by ship, stopped in South Africa for a month en route to Australia. Landing in Cape Town in November, the team travelled up to Johannesburg, practised at Booysens Range and then travelled on to Quaggapoort Range, Pretoria for a match against Witwatersrand, Pretoria United Services, Eastern Transvaal and Western Transvaal; then back to Booysens for a match against Transvaal; and on to Durban for matches on the Athlone and Natal Carbineers’ (Chase valley) ranges against Natal. The team then travelled to Bloemfontein and shot against Orange Free State on Hamilton Range. Following a Sunday off (spent by the team at Mazelpoort and the Modder River), the first International Match to be held in South Africa was held on Hamilton Range. South Africa, captained by Col R. Bodley, won the match by a 30 point margin, with a Southern Rhodesia team coming second and Great Britain a rather disappointing last. The British account of the match is entertaining because it demonstrates that some things, such as reasons for losing matches, haven’t changed very much over the years: “At 500yards Hoddle discovered loose screws after his first counting shot (a magpie)…Our troubles continued at 600yards. Hoddle’s P14 did not respond to treatment and was not used on tour again. Fulton discovered himself to be shooting through a half closed aperture…There was a welcome improvement in our shooting at long range, though McCaw lost points by setting his sight the wrong way at 1,000 yards”.

The 1937 GB tour of South Africa concluded with a small prize meeting at Grahamstown and matches against Eastern Province in East London and Western Province at Woltemade range near Cape Town (the latter in a triangular match also against the country team using Long Lee Enfield rifles). The team then embarked on the SS Ascania at Cape Town, arriving in Durban three days later for coaling, before finally sailing for Fremantle. Reflecting upon the South African tour, the team commented that “The shooting was remarkable for the number of close matches… We might well have felt satisfied with these results if we had made a better showing in the Test [International] Match because the standard of marksmanship in South Africa is acknowledged to have no superior in the Empire…It is difficult to find words adequate to convey an impression of the wonderful welcome and hospitality accorded to us throughout the country.”

The next GB team to tour Africa, in 1953, was captained by Major T Ansty. Team members included Marjorie Foster (vice captain), Rear Admiral Hutton, Lieut A.G.Fulton (father of Robin Fulton, who had been the baby of the 1937 team, celebrating his 19th birthday while on tour), Capt. H J Orpen-Smellie and Lord Swansea. The team flew into Khartoum, shooting there, followed by Kitwe, Mufulira, N’Changa, Luanshya, and Salisbury (now Harare). The latter included the Rhodes Centenary Trophy, an International match under Kolapore conditions against South Africa (who won), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Nyasaland (now Malawi). GB turned the tables in South Africa, winning the subsequent International match against South Africa held on Hamilton Range, Bloemfontein, before most of the team sailed home.

The 1963 GB team to Africa, captained by Stan. Wheeler, also featured a Fulton. This time it was Robin Fulton, along with other well known shots including David Horton –Smith, George Arnold, Keith Pilcher and David Scott Langley (father of Jeremy Langley, who first toured to South Africa with the 1993 GB team). The team shot first in Kenya, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, before travelling to Bloemfontein, via Johannesburg and some sightseeing, (including a 24hour flying visit to Durban!). The team competed on Hamilton Range in the South African national competitions, followed by the Rhodes Centenary Match and International Test Match, fired concurrently to save time, with South Africa winning by 1 and 4 points respectively. This team was also notable for being the first to return to Britain by air, on a BAOC Comet that stopped three times en route, at Nairobi, Khartoum and Cairo.

Following the 1993 GB tour, team – and individual – visits to South Africa have proliferated. In 1994, the first British Service Rifle team was taken to South Africa by WgCdr Mike Gregory. This was followed by the first RAF team in 1996, captained by Sdn Ldr Chris Fitzpatrick. In 1997 a Black Powder Rifle Team visited and in 1998 a CCRS Youth Team travelled. Also in 1998, Andy Chown captained a full GB team, which won the short range of the Protea match, while South Africa won the long range. In 1999 the Palma Match was held at Bloemfontein, attracting teams from Great Britain, the US, Canada, Zimbabwe, Australia. Great Britain also sent its first Veterans team captained by Richard Britton, and an Under 19 team. Under 19 teams have been visiting South Africa regularly since then and the U19 team to South Africa has become an established and important part of the development of our young shooting talent, from cadet and schools shooting, through the Athelings and U19 to SA teams, to University and Under 25 team shooting. An Under 25 team, captained by Erica McMullan, toured Africa in 2004 and the first GB Army TRC team, captained by Lt. Col. Chris Claridge, travelled out in 2005.

In 1995 the English XX Club sent the first England team abroad, to Canada. The first England team to South Africa was in 2004, captained by Dick Horrocks. The 2009 England team will hope to capitalise on the success of Steve Thomas’s 2008 GB team, which was the first GB team to South Africa to win all the international matches against South Africa on South African soil. Several members of the 09 England team were also on Steve’s GB team – and other members of the 08 GB team will be part of the Irish, Scottish and Welsh teams who are also travelling out to celebrate the SABU 80th Anniversary with South Africa. We look forward to a challenging and friendly competition and hope that this, the largest ever contingent of GB shooters to visit South Africa, will continue to build our strong shooting links.

My thanks to Eric McGibbon and Ted Molyneux at the NRA Museum for their assistance with the research for this article.