To make any judgement about the British Military Tournament, held in aid of the Army Benevolent Fund last weekend, we must suspend misty eyed memories of the Royal Tournament, for the two are on a different scale and financed differently.
The Royal Tournament enjoyed sponsorship from the resource rich MOD, a hundred years of tradition and service chiefs keen to outplay one another each year. Successive shows were bigger and better than the last, right up until Blair and his acolytes decided it had no place in his Cool Britannia vision......... which makes him, a weapons grade prat.
So, after an eleven year gap the ABF took the courageous gamble to stage a scaled down Tournament which they financed themselves with any profits benefiting the charity............... and it worked.
Whilst somewhat smaller, it absolutely didn't matter for the BMT is tight enough and entertaining enough to stand on it's own without regard to the past. The public turned out with great enthusiasm in their thousands, with parents and grandparents bringing their offspring of all ages to enjoy the pageantry, just as they had been brought by their own parents in years past.
Most of the military programme was provided by ceremonial troops based in London, the Household Cavalry, The Kings Troop and the HAC. That's a lot of horses, which went down well with all the little girls in the audience. I long ago lost any affinity that I might have had with horses when a nasty brute called Paddy gave me a shoeing when I was doing mandatory equitation training as a young Gunner officer at Larkhill. I would never have made the cut for the Kings Troop, (who anyway seem to be full of big girls who like horses these days), but I never cease to swell with pride when the bugler calls the Troop into the arena. If there are seven wonders of the millenium, the Troop is on my list.................... and the idea of big girls who like horses manning the guns is a concept that I find is strangely growing on me.
The wander through three hundred years of military history also brought us the "RAPTC Edwardian Demonstration Team." This comprised of a bunch of PTI's doing a mildly amusing routine vaulting over a box. Don't misunderstand me, most of the audience loved it. I however, was catapulted back to yet another humiliating experience in the gym when such was my inability to execute a spring jump, tumble, somersault thing on those wretched boxes that the PTI shoved me inside it for the duration of the lesson. I never quite understood what part in modern warfare the ability to vault over a wooden horse was going to play, unless I suppose one were to accidentally fall through the time space continuum and end up imprisoned in a German POW camp.
The biggest cheer of the day though, came when the boys of Wellington College marched on to "Heart of Oak," to do the Field Gun run. I felt the same wave of emotion run through the audience when the boys marched on that I felt at the “Last Run,” eleven years ago. Indeed, the two big hairy old field gunners sitting next to me had tears in their eyes when the boys numbered off. So carried away with the moment were they that they spent the next 15 minutes shouting for Pompey!
Moreover, having been to something in the order of twelve Tournaments’ over the years I can’t remember a run more closely contested, or as exciting, as was the blistering one I watched on Sunday afternoon. While the average age of the boys is sixteen, and their guns are half size, weighing in at 700lb rather than twice that for the Navy when they did the Run, the obstacles are full size and the courage, commitment and pride demonstrated by the crews is the match of any of their illustrious forbears. Indeed, the highest praise seemed to come from former Field Gunners themselves.
The sad thing here, is the people who won't acknowledge and support their heritage are the Royal Navy themselves. Whilst former Field Gunners turned out to train and support the Field Gun teams, and others provided the arena teams for the Tournament, the Navy didn't want anything officially to do with it. Nothing commercial involved here but the Navy wouldn't even allow the teams to compete under their CCF title. Perhaps some pen pushing box ticker was worried about Health & Safety? The point is though, if the Admiralty can't be bothered to demonstrate support for those who are in effect the caretakers of their own traditions, what future do they have? The Navy has gone to great lengths to shake off the reputational hit from the "ipod," incident in the Gulf when some ratings showed a lack of backbone, but they've let themselves down again.
Obviously, as has become the norm at any "event," these days, be prepared to have your eyes ripped out when you buy a bottle of water and a snack. Actually, you'll find that for only the cost of a monthly mortgage on a small country house you can easily buy the whole family a quick bite to eat.
Notwithstanding that, I had a thunderingly good day out. I suspect that given the success of the weekend the BMT will be back with us next year.................. and so shall I.