Skirmishers Rattled Windows at Winchester Court House in 1984

From the 2013 Rifleman Magazine:

It was ‘Sneaky Pete” that attracted his attention. Lieutenant Colonel Peter Chamberlain, commander of the depot of the British Army’s Light Division at Winchester, Hampshire, was in such admiration of the drills performed by The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada’s skirmishers that he invited them to England to perform during Royal Green Jackets Week in 1984. LCol Chamberlain, a guest at the centenary celebrations for the Royal Winnipeg Rifles in Manitoba in 1983, saw The Queen’s Own’s skirmishers present their unique display to a greatly appreciative audience there. He buttonholed skirmisher then Captain Erik Simundson to raise the possibility that the group might be present at their Peninsula Barracks the following year, “to demonstrate their ‘Sneaky Pete’ skills.” Simundson immediately and enthusiastically agreed, “in full knowledge,” he said later, “that, while we had the kit, training and knowledge, unfortunately, we lacked the means to get there.”

It soon became apparent that no help in providing financing or transportation would be forthcoming from the Department of National Defence. However, through the efforts of Honorary Colonel H.E. (Ellie) Dalton, DSO, and other members of the Regimental Trust, funds were provided for the trip, as well as for new uniforms for the group. And so the planning began. All those involved felt that this promised to be an outstanding opportunity for representatives of Canada’s oldest continuously-serving infantry regiment to prove themselves by performing in the city where Sir John Moore’s troops had paraded in rifle green before leaving to fight and win glory in the Peninsular War.

Capt. Simundson, who was to command the mission, preceded the main body to Winchester by a week, and with the assistance of the depot’s quartermaster, LCol John Lane, acquired the necessary black powder and caps, which, “for safety’s sake” were not permitted to be shipped from Canada by air. Once the troops were on the ground with their muskets, drill training was commenced – in the barracks prisoners’ exercise yard, as it happened – under Skirmisher Colour Sergeant John O’Connor. Practice volleys rattled the windows of the nearby courthouse where judges were sitting during the Winchester Assizes, apparently without creating serious panic amongst the jurists or accused. Mike McGarrigle, the former Sergeant Major of The Queen’s Own, now The Light Infantry’s Regimental Sergeant Major, took particular interest in the drills and musketry practice of his old regiment and warned Capt Simundson that he fully expected to see an outstanding performance. “This had better be good,” the RSM said drily, “because I still have to live here when you go home.” Happily, the three shows proved to be resounding successes.

By then Major Simundson’s 2012 account follows.

Major Erik R.C. Simundson, OMM, CD at Winchester, England.

“The company headquarters entered the square through the arches of Long Block to a bugle fanfare. Bugler Phil ten Kortenaar sounded ‘Advance’ and the skirmisher company marched on in fours, rifles at the trail, and performed a series of maneuvres in accordance with Militia General Orders as well as the Field Exercise and Evolution of Infantry, dated 1862 -all at a rifles pace. Following a demonstration of sword bayonet drill, the company reformed and halted at the left edge of the parade square in preparation for a display on modes of firing. After the company advanced, extended, and commenced firing, all on bugle calls, it was halted and ordered to form a square where a volley was delivered and then the skirmish line was reformed.

“The bugle calls ‘Retire’ and ‘Fire’ were sounded, and the company withdrew to its original position and then delivered a fire by files rapidly down its front. Three rounds were fired by each rifleman, in such rapid order that the first files were firing before the last files had fired, producing a machinegun-like effect.

The last manoeuvre was the fire of a final volley. Interestingly, an anomaly in the weather caused the normally thick pall of smoke, which normally drifts away in the wind, to rapidly descend to the ground – something I had never seen before and I was truly amazed by this,” Maj Simundson said. “Perhaps the audience thought it was part of our show. In any event, they immediately broke into wild applause. With mission accomplished, the company then marched off to the music of ‘The Buff ‘ and ‘The Maple Leaf Forever,’ our Regimental Marches, played with spirit by the 1st Battalion Royal Green Jackets band.

Everything, including the selection of music, had worked extraordinarily well.” ln addition to BBC television and radio and local media coverage, “Soldier” – “The Magazine of the British Army” -published a well-illustrated article, including photographs taken during one of the performances which were featured prominently in the magazine.

Maj Simundson added, “ln celebration of their success, the owner of the India Arms, the pub the riflemen had adopted during their stay in Winchester, threw an impromptu and belated Canada Day celebration on 4 July to which our bugler responded with a rousing performance, one which was doubtless enhanced by the libations provided that night.

A final show was given the next day at Winchester’s Saint Cross cricket ground, on grass rather than pavement, although the cricket field was as flat and as smooth as the parade square.

“It had been a most interesting and rewarding trip for everyone,” Maj Simundson said, “most particularly for young soldiers from Canada who, for the most part, were quite unaware of the history of rifle regiments other than their own, and of the fact that they were being hosted by regiments which could trace their beginnings to the 1700s and which had fought under General Wolfe at Quebec.”

Finally, it was time to leave, and 30 barrack boxes, 30 secure containers of rifles and 90 pieces of luggage, along with 30 riflemen were headed for the airport. “As our transport moved out, as a final gesture of respect, Light Division and Royal Green Jackets soldiers across the street at the Westgate pub spilled out onto the road, raising their glasses in a toast to the skirmishers of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. It was an emotional moment for all” Maj Simundson said.

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