Dick Horrocks, Team Captain, March/April 2004

The English XX Club was invited to send an England Rifle Team to tour South Africa and compete against the South African Team at Bloemfontein in the Protea Match in 2004. I had the honour of being elected to captain this first England team and preparations started at the end of 2002. By October of that year, the team selection had yielded a truly English team in regard of representation across the country and hence county, age and gender. The team included five under 25s to more than offset the three “over 60s” members. With a Lancashire Captain and Vice-captain (Dave Taylor), a Yorkshire Adjutant (Dave Dyson), main coaches from Surrey (Dom Harvey) and Hertfordshire (Dick Winney) and a Treasurer (Steve Thomas) also for Hertfordshire, at least “the management” represented a fair “North-South” balance. With the advent of email and the internet, the challenge of putting together and organising a team is considerably helped and with various e-boffins, notably John Stevens and Toby Coleridge, the website was set up to publicise our activities and give our sponsors exposure.

During 2003 the team had a number of intensive training weekends culminating in a three-way Australia-course match between England South Africa 2004, GB Canada 2004 and GB Kenya and 2004 on Sunday 14th September at Bisley. England finished 23 points behind GB Canada’s 2357.280 and GB Kenya were 30 points behind England. Top scorer was Robin Baker on 197.23 followed by Dani Foulston on 197.16 using the Captain’s rifle after hers broke down at 600 yards (she scored 100.6 at 900/1000 yards!). The team was starting to come together well and it was hoped that the approaching winter break would not cause undue loss of form. With a final training session over the weekend 6/7th March 2004 to blow away cobwebs and sort out last minute problems we congregated at Bisley on Friday 19th March.

Robin wins the “Southport Shield” (made in Lancashire and cheap at twice the price!) at the 14th September training event

Cape Town

Departure from Heathrow via Bisley was by no means as trouble-free as hoped for. Some anxious moments arose when two most northerly members were stuck in a series of motorway jams and didn’t know if they could extricate themselves in time for the flight. Note that during this time, our normally calm adjutant was in danger of spontaneously igniting – the exact converse of his normal activities in a prominent Yorkshire Fire Brigade! It was a good job that the two came from slightly north of Yorkshire, otherwise they might have become “toast”! However, it was arranged that they would go directly to Heathrow, and in fact they arrived before the rest of us as our coach driver took the scenic route, appeared to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, got lost, and showed us most of Surrey (twice). The usual slow check through customs ensued when the check-in, security and customs personnel each had their own interpretation of the procedures before we took off for the overnight flight to Cape Town where we planned to rest and prepare for about five days prior to travelling to Bloemfontein.

The next day we landed in Cape Town and thanks to the hard work by Anita at SABU, our South African FACs were waiting for us and so we quickly cleared through customs and were greeted by Syd Goslin. We picked up our six vans, and had our first experience of driving in convoy with our beloved adjutant in his red van in the lead – he led from the front, as usual, although always seemed to think he was attending to a fire call! We settled in at the Cape Western Suites just below Table Mountain. Lunch beckoned and then a large party (organised by our unofficial entertainments manager, Dom) went to watch the Australian Brumbies beat the local Stormers team in a Super 12s rugby match, much to the disappointment of the very partisan home crowd.

Our first view of the Cape of Western Suites with Table Mountain

Following an invitation of Syd Goslin of the Western Cape Rifle Club and his friends, on Sunday 21st March, a very early morning party went fishing (6.00 am!) and caught 2 (small) sharks, 2 octopuses (?) and a large number of rather bony fish (some of which we later ate for supper in the hotel). At this stage, the professional tourists soon identified themselves with George Cann, Lucy Mace and the adj. apparently game for anything. Most of the others had a more leisurely day taking the cable car up Table Mountain and then relaxing on the beach.

The next day saw our first shoot of the tour. This was an informal team match ( 2&7 at 300, 600 and 800 m) against Western Cape Rifle Club using issued PMP ammunition – a rude introduction to local conditions with difficult, rapidly changing, winds and the need to shoot fast. The range is close to the coast and on sandy soil, which in the sun offers an almost pure white, blinding surrounding. We divided into two teams, both of which were beaten by the local teams. Our top scorer was Dick Horrocks with 99.08, followed by Chris and Lucy with 99.06 and 99.02 respectively. Western Cape 1076.70, W. Cape Invitation 1062,54, England Red 1055.60, England White 1045.48, GB U/25 1031.58. The match was followed by a welcome meal in the clubhouse with good food and company set against a magnificent backdrop of a South African sky.

Dick Winney and Dave Taylor coach at 800m, Western Cape

After an evening of wound-licking following our defeat by the Western Cape, those of more eclectic leanings (which turned out to be the majority!) opted to spend Tuesday 23rd March on a wine tasting tour in the Stellenbosch region. A great deal of wine was sampled, and not much found its way into the spittoon – not quite the correct way to go about it!

Wednesday 24th March was the last day in Cape Town and the team split up for various activities. The professional tourist group opted again to be “on the road” at 6.00 am to experience swimming with great white sharks (where Dave Dyson gave them more than they bargained for – we are currently awaiting a writ from the World Wild-life Fund for having a negative impact on South African aquatic life!).  Others split up a visit to a bespoke jewellers for a tutorial in diamond quality and to generally embarrass Alistair who was seeking to have an engagement ring designed. This was followed by touring down to the Cape of Good Hope taking in the jackass penguins on the south coast. Those not wishing to understand the secrets of diamonds or have a desire to be attacked by baboons at the Cape played golf. Our final evening in Cape Town was a team dinner at the Waterfront with seven guests from the Western Cape Rifle Club. To break with previous nightly habits and to set the pace for the hard work ahead, the team were ordered to bed early for the first time…..that the team doctor was running short of Imodium which he related to an excess of good living rather than the water was a major determining factor here!

Across the Karoo

We planned to drive the 1000 km or so to Bloemfontein across the Karoo Desert stopping at a bushcamp on the way and so at 8.30 am the next morning we drove approximately 500 km to Ko Ka Tsara Bushcamp near Beaufort West. As usual we were led in “Yorkshire fire engine style” from the front by the adj. who was rarely seen on the same side of the horizon as the rest of the convoy. It was during this drive that certain vans assumed names reflecting their contents and mode of driving….the lead van became known as “The Chuckle Bus” (a consequence of its tendency towards spontaneous random actions). Behind was the Bristol City Bus and the Love Bus (no prizes for associating the names with their occupants), followed by the Saga Bus and the Doom-and-Gloom Buses which were kept up to speed by the trailing Sunshine Bus containing the Captain and Vice-captain in sheepdog mode. After a swim at the camp, there was a game drive in the evening – more drive than game but great fun. The camp turned out to be under new management and the team “tested the system” that evening and in doing so two dining tables were upset during the evening meal (even the Captain had to admit that this was more because of faulty table design than loss the team discipline!).

On Safari? Or is it “African Keystone Cops!”!

The next day, the convoy hit the road again with a promise from the adj that he would attempt to remain on the same horizon side as everyone else and across the Karoo we sped for another 500+ km to our base for the next 12 days or so, the Palm Lodge in Blomfontein. The evening witnessed frenetic activity as ammunition had to be drawn from our handloading supplier (luckily only a few hundred yards down the road) as well as water and victuals for the next day.

The Chuckle Bus leads from the front as always!

Bloemfontein

For anyone wishing to enter the SABU Championships, there is the opportunity to shoot in the Free State Championships at the De Wet range for the two days immediately before. Firing in these matches not only gets one into an early morning start frame of mind but schools one quickly into South African shooting; for instance, typically four ranges are fired one after the other falling back to longer ranges under the full exposure of the African sun. High factor sun cream and at least 2-3 litres of water each are essential for survival.

And so, the next morning, Saturday 27th March, saw us drive the 20km to the de Wet range for the Individual Free State matches starting with short range (2&10 at 300 m and 2&11 at 600 m) and followed by long range (2&10 and 800 m and 2&11 at 900 m). Nigel Ball came 2nd in the short range, 1st in the long range and 1st in the aggregate – the first time the Free State Championship has been won by an outsider (does this explain why the trophy appeared not to be available for presentation?). Other notable performances were Lucy who came 3rd, 1st, and 2nd in the respective sections of the ladies competitions with Susie coming 3rd in the long range. Dick Horrocks came 3rd in the veterans aggregate. This was probably the hottest day of the tour with temperatures above 35°C and light swirling winds – a good day to prepare us for what might follow.

As is typical in South Africa, the next day being a Sunday (28th March) was a day of rest and so the team could relax (“again,”, I hear you say?). One party (containing most of the professional tourist squad) went off to see the very large hole in the ground at Kimberly passing some of de Beers’ diamond mines on the way back where other holes were probably being created. Others caught up with their sleep, chilled out round the pool or visited Naval Hill in Blomfontein.

Back into action the next day for the Free State Pairs Match under Queens II conditions, the squad was divided into pairs with suitable names for this self-coached match. Our top pair was Poets Corner (Steve and Toby), followed by the Yorkshire Puddings (John Stevens and Dave Dyson) with 144.14 and 144.13, with Pat-a-cake (George and Robin) with 143.15 and 145.11 in third place. Apart from the fact that our top pair didn’t win, we never did discover the overall results; like the absence of Nigel’s trophy, this remains a mystery still! In the afternoon, we collected our score sheets for the SABU Championships starting the next day and under coaches orders went to the 200m range to check zeroes. One aspect of the SABU meeting is the need to pass through Weapons Control, which usually means a long queue. However, as a special attraction for the team, mother nature ensured that while waiting we could witness a spectacular thunder storm. The same storm later in the evening delayed a small group attending the RAF team’s party for over an hour while half inch hailstones rained down and the Bloemfontein roads turned into rivers. The forecast indicated that more storms would follow the next day and locals said (as is often the case when tourists are in earshot) “it’s not usually like this at this time of the year!” These storms were to herald a week of almost English weather conditions except that the winds for more frequently changeable than at home.

Very early on Tuesday 30th March (6.15am) we left for the range and the SABU Opening Ceremony (The Raising of the Flags) at 7.00 am. After prayers and welcomes, national and provincial flags were raised after a special parachuting event from a low-flying plane hovering in threatening clouds during which the South African and other flags were carried by descending paratroopers. We fired the Scottish Sword match (2&10 at 300 and 900 m) in mixed rainy conditions; this first individual shoot is not in the Grand and it was won by David Dodds with 100.13, our top scorer was John Stevens with 98.08. During the afternoon, the first national and international team events of the SABU meeting were held. Of prime importance to England was The RSA International Match vs South Africa (2&15 at 800 and 900 m) for teams of 12, which we treated as a dress rehearsal for the later Protea match. The South Africans gave notice of what we could expect and scored 1752.148 to our 1715.121. Our top scorer was Nigel Ball with 148.13, our only score that was actually above the South African average of 146. Again, as seen in the Western Cape, wind changes were continuously happening and both coaches and firers had to react quickly.

The SABU meeting is unusual in having almost two full days of team club matches prior to the start of the Grand and so this enabled us to enter three English XX teams each of 1 coach, acting as captain, plus six shooters. This provided ideal training for each of our coaches and respective target squads. On Wednesday 31st March and in the Hamilton Cup (Queen’s I conditions) Dom’s team did best with 621.59 (top scorers Alistair with 105.11 and John Stevens with 105.12) and came third to Baviaanspoort with 626.64 (ex 630). In the Rhodes Cup (2&10 at 800 and 900 m) David Taylor’s team did best with 570.46 (top scorer Hamish with 99.11) but failed to make the top three.

All Fools’ Day beckoned us once again to the range for a final team shoot, the Dewar Shield (2&10 and 300 and 600 m) and the start of the Grand after lunch. In the Dewar, again Dom’s team was our best with 583.50 and came third to Witwatersrand A with 586.46. The Grand started in the afternoon with the Free State Cup (Queen’s I conditions) and was won by Nick Mace from the Channel Islands with 105.13. Doug came second with 105.10 and Chris was fourth with 105.08. After the day’s events and back in Bloemfontein, we were treated to a demonstration by our adjutant of how a fire engine should be driven and our red van ended up between two tanks on low loaders in the middle of what looked like a convoy of the entire South African defence force, complete with police outriders. However, they escaped without being locked up and did mange to find a place to eat without bars on the window!

Friday witnessed a continuation of the cooler, overcast weather experienced all week, with moderate to fresh winds. The competitions were the Dalrymple (2&10 at 300 and 2&11 at 600 m) won by D. Lubbe with 105.11 (our top scorer was Nigel Ball 4th with 104.06), the Municipal (2&20 at 800 m) won by H. Gerber with 50.04 (our top scorer was Hamish 14th with 49.02), and the Dave Smith (2&10 at 900 m) shot with a rising wind and won by A. Langley with 50.04 (our top scorer was Nigel Penn with 48.05). The daily aggregate, however, was won by Hamish with 200.11.

The next day was the start of the State President’s match with the 1st Stage (Queens I conditions) won by David Dodds with 105.15. Our top scorer was Nigel Ball who came 20th with 105.09. This was followed in the afternoon by the Kings Norton match (2&10 at 600 m) won by AP Moller with 50.05. Our top scorer was John Kent who came12th with 50.03. The final shoot was the Col R Bodley (2&10 at 900 m), which was won by Dom with 50.05 (were we to see a trophy at last?…sadly no, this was missing at the Prize-giving!). Pete came 8th in the daily aggregate, and David Taylor came 2nd in Class B. In the evening we held a braai at the Palm Lodge, jointly with the England under 21 team. The Captain made presentations to Eddie Stigant and Deon Burger who had been particularly helpful to us both at the Cape and in preparing for our visit during the previous 18 months. Eddie was to be our chief adversary since he captained the forthcoming South African Protea team.

Sunday morning (at 6.00 am again!) with the indomitable Lucy in the lead, a game drive was undertaken (doesn’t she ever sleep?) and then back home for breakfast with a late afternoon hunting party organised for a few self-styled “white hunters”. George was to the fore here bagging at least one four-legged quarry for his host’s pot.

After over 18 months planning, we were now entering the final week of the tour and matches and still Monday 5th April dawned with pleasantly and comparatively cool weather. The day started with the Jack Mitchley (2&10 at 300 m) won by JH Grobler with 50.09. Susie (also 50.09) came second after a tie shoot. This was followed by the President (2&10 at 600 and 800 m) won by JG du Toit with 99.10. Pete was 5th with 99.07. This was the last shoot in the Grand, which was won yet again by Dave Calvert by four clear points. Our top scorer was Pete in 6th place, with Alistair in 18th place. In the competitions concurrent with the Grand Pete was second in the U/25, John Kent was second in the U/19 and Tracy was third in the Ladies’ Championship. Steve was third in Class A of the 600 m aggregate and Dick Winney was third in Class B. In the Short Range Aggregate Dave Dyson was third, and in the Long Range Aggregate Pete was second in Class A and Dom was second in Class B. The team for the Protea Match was announced in the afternoon, followed by a serious team tactical discussion. After this the official team photograph in full No. 1’s was to be taken. However, at the approaching hour, the Captain and Vice-captain became aware of an unnatural silence and a photographer facing a number of empty chairs. Suddenly the team appeared (obviously taking their cue from a previous team meeting which the Captain had conducted in his bathrobe) for the unofficial version below. The photographer was fairly nonplussed but did gain the extra business! 

With apologies to the Romans but they did provide England’s first real infrastructure!

The next day, the State Presidents Stage II (Queens II conditions) – started under easy conditions that became progressively harder as the day heated up. This stage was won by J. Bruwar with 150.20, and our top scorer was Steve who was placed 12th with 149.13. Fifteen of the squad made it through to the final of 142 shooters.

The Protea Match, the culmination of the tour, took place in the afternoon. The weather was very hot and quite still to start with, but the thunderstorm that might have been to our advantage never materialized. Unfortunately, England failed to start well at 300m, trailing by 9 points as we moved to 600m. Again, the South Africans shot very steadily and increased their lead finishing with an impressive 8 points off at 900m. At least our gap of 31 points was less than that of 37 points in the RSA match a week earlier.

All three coaches tasked at 900m in the Protea match

The Protea Match Results

However, unlike the seniors, the England under 21 team won their match against the South African under 21 team. This was followed by the Protea dinner attended by all the South African and overseas teams, with speeches by the various captains.

The final Wednesday (7th April) arrived with a much welcome rest in the morning with some packing occurring prior to our departure the next day. The final of the State Presidents (2&15 at 800 and 900 m) was held in the afternoon. The conditions were very hot and apparently still, but in fact there was enough movement to keep everyone twiddling frantically.The State Presidents trophy was won by A Moller with 299.24 and Dave Calvert was second with 298.42. Our top scorer was Steve Thomas, with 293.23. The RSA Championship (Grand + State Presidents II and III) was won yet again by Dave Calvert who also won the Bramley Chain. Our top scorer in the Championship was Pete who came 10th. The day ended with a final dinner for all the UK based teams at the Beef Barron where four of our team members (Jon, Pete, Toby and “ol’ timer” Dom) successfully took on the challenge of eating 1 kg steaks, leaving their names immortalised on a wall plaque to be mounted in their honour.

Thursday 8th April saw us drive in convoy to Johannesburg International Airport. The drive was not without incident, and the transport manager and the team map reader were both sacked by common consent. However, we did reach the correct destination after a brief visit to Johannesburg’s other airport (courtesy of the adj!). The journey home was uneventful in spite of a rather tedious passage through customs at Heathrow. The team disbanded at Bisley after an excellent and most enjoyable tour, even if we didn’t manage to lift much loot.

Final thoughts

Any team that is going to beat South Africa on its home ground is going to have to shoot quickly and coach extremely straight. Ammunition is of crucial importance since each South African will have loads tuned to his own rifle and the range. In our case, the intention was that the team would be supplied with a single batch of locally handloaded ammunition for the entire shoot. However and in spite of preparations that started over a year ago, it turned out that some components were still held up in SA customs after several months. The result was two different types of case, which then had to be reloaded during the competitions. With returned convertible sighters this created something of a nightmare for the ammunition squad (George, Toby and Pete) who had to keep all the various batches separate. However, they coped extremely well and no-one suffered from a mixed batch and on the whole, the ammunition performed well.

The angular size of the bull is smaller than the equivalent Bisley target at all ranges except for 500 m. This is partially offset by the advantages of handloaded ammunition and the fact that the wind has less effect at the high altitude, but it meant that 300 m and 600 m were particularly testing.

One particular aspect of the competition was the high percentage of overseas competitors, who must have made up about 30% of the total entry. In addition to the senior England team and the under 21 team, there were under 25 and under 19 GB teams, an RAF team and a Channel Islands team as well as small teams from Australia, New Zealand and Germany and many individual overseas competitors. The organizers are very aware that this support is essential for the South African Championships and are keen to support any overseas visitors.

On a final note, may I thank all members of the team for being so manageable and for obviously enjoying the tour on the other. Thanks also to all the assistance of SABU staff and representatives as well as our many sponsors.

Dick Horrocks and Robin Baker (team diarist)