(Report and photos supplied by Edward Mackaness)
OC Sirmoor Shikar Andrew Johnston organised a party of guns for a fabulous day’s shooting at Maraconi Farm on Saturday 17th October. Guns assembled at 0800 for delicious smoked salmon and scrambled egg at Andrew’s home. Some guns were looking the worse for wear from the night before (names and photos withheld). The six vehicle convoy departed on time and surprisingly didn’t get lost. So far so good. The Beaters and Keepers turned out a guard of honour to welcome us:
Cries of “Captain Mannering – don’t panic” were definitely heard amongst the home crowd and despite Brigadier Bruce’s attempts to disassociate ourselves from the label, as a moniker it wasn’t totally out of place! The hukum to bring our Kukris had only reached half the team so those who had paid attention were pushed to the front row and “Ayo Gurkha” was the cry whilst brandishing Kukris to the somewhat bemused assemblage of beaters. John Swanston (The Doc) brandished a desktop kukri paperknife …perhaps he was hedging his bets on dealing with a battlefield casualty.
Once we debussed we had effectively crossed the start line. What did they say at Staff College…something about a plan and contact with the enemy?? And so it was…Andrew’s patrol commands weren’t being understood by all as hearing aids, despite being at full volume were not doing the trick. Guns heading off to the wrong drive was only half the problem. There was a significant water obstacle to contend with and so with only one gun on (the wrong) peg the first wave of partridges sailed over. I guessed about 400 in total and they definitely dipped their wings as they flew over us. The Beaters rolled their eyes skywards ..the OC was heard to say “well that certainly wasn’t meant to happen”! Suddenly the seriousness of the endeavour sank in and the guns deployed in jolly quick time.
A pause in the shoot
Over the years the Sirmoor Shikar has been assailed by the most ferocious weather and high winds but this year’s weather was mild and fair by comparison. In these conditions with a slight north easterly blowing, the guns were spoilt with a really first class presentation of birds, all down the line and generally in steady numbers. This was an absolute treat for all of us and the beaming grins at elevens indicated how much we are enjoying this superb display of partridges by our hosts. The quality of shooting was absolutely first rate (a ratio of 3.13 cartridges to one kill – never been achieved before!). In particularly good form were The Brigadier and Major Thomas who both shot extraordinarily well. David’s clumber spaniel, off his lead during the drive, couldn’t stop himself and set about retrieve mid drive.
David Thomas with dog
This normally would have resulted in words from the OC but I think either rank got in the way or the fact that Joanna had him back on the lead in double time spared David the fine for poorly behaved hound. The rest of the badly behaved dog owners were just delighted it wasn’t their badly behaved hound.
The day was a truly wonderful and happy gathering of old friends. It was the perfect antidote to the current goings-on. Considering many of the guns had never served or worked with each other during our service it was a wonderful reminder of the strength of the 2GR family that we could nevertheless roar and laugh and joke. Andrew was a wonderful host and he remained composed and calm at all times.
David and Andrew (with another dog)
We finished the day with a delicious picnic lunch in a crumbing set of cattle barns which were once owned by Maharajah Duleep Singh who was the last ruler of the Sikh empire. Exiled to the UK in 1854 the Maharajah owned the Hatherop Estate, of which Macaroni Farm is a part. It is a local legend that that an over-sized barn complete with a large arched entrance and sloping floor was built to house elephants that were going to be imported to carry out farm work.
The Elephant Barn
Although the elephantine farm work did not materialise, I can confirm that it had indeed been home to a family of elephants from the 1850s for about forty years who were used to play Elephant Polo on the grounds of nearby Bibury Court Hotel. All true!
The Sirmoor Guns were:
Brigadier Bruce Jackman OBE MC
Mrs Val Urquhart (wife of Major John Urquhart)
Major David Thomas MBE
Major Michael Willis
Colonel John Swanston – The Doc
Mr Peter Taylor
Captain Rupert Corfield
Captain Edward Mackaness
The Guns. L to R: Michael Willis; Rupert Corfield; Val Urquhart; David Thomas; Peter Taylor; Bruce Jackman; John Swanston. Edward Mackaness is at the front holding the camera.
Afterword from a subsequent WhatsApp chat:
So the Sirmoor tradition continues…..this photo is a 1st Battalion ‘shikar’ in Iraq in 1941. L to R: Subedar Sire Rana, Capt Ramsay-Brown, Maj Edwards, Capt Shore. The Regimental History says that during the winter months [of 1941] “The scattergun experts were in paradise: black partridge, woodcock, sandgrouse, bustard, pigeon, sisi, chiker, teal, pochard, mallard, quail, and hare were plentiful”. The History also reports of another occasion that year: “On one memorable day outside Abadan, the bag amounted to nearly 100 brace of black partridge. Iced beer reached the drive every half-hour”. Apart from the type of birds being shot it doesn’t sound as if much has changed in the intervening 79 years!
In fact, this photo from the Regimental albums goes even further back and shows a ‘record bag of chickor – 101 birds – 6 guns’ on one outing while the 1st Battalion was on garrison duty in Chitral 1907-1909.
It doesn’t specify who ‘the guns’ were, but it probably included some of the officers in this picture taken about the same time: