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The somewhat abridged history of shooting in the Channel Islands and the relationship with the National Rifle Association

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The history of the Channel Islands themselves and their native traditions of marksmanship are inextricably linked. William ‘The Conqueror’ of Normandy first brought them under English rule as part of the Duchy of Normandy, with claims to the territories subsequently lost some two centuries later by Henry III. In order to avoid repatriation attempts by France, the islands’ landowners were required to arm themselves and maintain marksmanship skill with bow and arrow, predating a similar movement in England by several hundred years of various Society of Archers being formed following the monarch’s directive to ready for combat. To this day, the crest of the UK National Rifle Association bears an archer. Each parish on the islands thus maintained a set area for placement of targets for such practice, aptly named ‘Les Buttes’. A royal decree from 1248 then created a condition for Guernsey to maintain a militia in order to keep their right to self-government, a right that can be traced to the present day’s Bailiwicks. 

The mainstream development and adoption of gunpowder lead to the bow being replaced by the rifle and the objective to ‘promote … marksmanship … in the interest of defense’ was a catalyst to the formation of the National Rifle Association in 1859. The Jersey Rifle Association followed in 1861 in order to ‘promote emulation in the use of the rifle’ and the Guernsey Rifle Club in 1871. Notably, Guernsey went on to win the Kolapore, an annual international short range match at Bisley and the basis for the team matches for this tour, in 1898, with their northerly neighbouring island nation coming a mere third. The consistency of marksmanship is apparent throughout the years, with Pte William Priaulx of the Guernsey militia taking home HM The Queen’s Prize in 1899 and most recently the GRC Captain finishing 7th in the final of the same competition in 2022. Notably, the first woman to shoot at Bisley was Guernsey’s Winifred Leale in 1891, predating Marjorie Foster’s birth by 2 years.

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Queen's Final board 2022, credit NRA

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The first NRA tour to the Channel Islands was not held until 1935, following a North London visit to Jersey in 1933, all in the relatively uncertain years between the two world wars. The first NRA representative team to compete against the Guernsey Rifle Club visited the island in 1938.  The match was attended by the then Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey, Maj Gen Sir Edward Broadbent, the Bailiff, Sir Victor Carey, and Lord Cottesloe’s representative from the NRA, Maj Gen Sir Alan Hunter; Guernsey won the match by nine points.Since 1957, the winner of the NRA v GRC match has been awarded the R.W. Randall Memorial Trophy, a silver Guernsey can. As of 2022, the NRA has won the match 46 times to the GRC’s 17 times.

In wartime, however,  recreational shooting on both islands was put on hiatus, with many rifles being handed in and regular shooters joining or instructing various volunteer and regular forces. The second world war was especially damaging to the sport, as the Nazi German occupation of both islands required all rifles to be handed in and resulted in some being lost or damaged, with further damage caused to the range infrastructure. Jersey rebounded with force in 1946, where a number of rifles that had been ‘evacuated’ to the mainland prior to occupation were returned to the island with the gift of a re-barrelled SMLE from Mr JL Milne, who gave this as a competition prize with various conditions, including “that the winner must use it to shoot for the King’s Prize at Bisley in 1946”. The recipients were happy to oblige, with a 16 strong Jersey team competing in the Imperial Meeting the following year.

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Firing point in action at Crabbe, Jersey, 2018

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Firing point in action at Fort Le Marchant, Guernsey, 2022

The NRA team returned shortly after in 1947, as did the inter-insular matches between the two islands. The same year also saw the introduction of an alternating match between the JRA and the Devon County Rifle Association, further strengthening the relationship between the island shooters and the UK. 1955 then saw the completion of Fort Le Marchant range on the northern coast of Guernsey, a most fortunate by-product of an initiative by the former Lieutenant Governor to revive the Guernsey Royal Militia. As impressive as the building of the only remaining range on the island was, Lieutenant General Sir Philip Neame VC, KBE, CB, DSO's own accomplishments were much more significant. As a recipient of the Victoria Cross for his actions in France in 1914, he was a member of the winning Great Britain team at the Running Deer event at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, making him the only person in history to hold both a VC and an Olympic gold medal. While his gallantry and actions across both world wars deserve their own tomes, we find it remarkable that an Englishman was to thank for the range we are to be shooting on in June.

Modern advancements in the sport brought with them several changes to ensure only the best marksmen and women claim the silverware on offer at various Meetings. The Jersey team did not disappoint, repeating Guernsey’s feat of a Kolapore win not once, but twice, in 1984 and 1995. As mentioned above, the consistency of island shooting has been exceptional, with regular appearances on the Grand Aggregate board, Sovereign’s Prize Finals and various trophies both at Bisley and overseas. On a more practical note, the advent of technology and its adoption by both islands has decreased the risk of the already safe nature of shooting. Reports of injuries suffered by markers from 1895 and 1902 are much less likely today with the novelty of electronic targets, used for both practice and competitions in a stark contrast to the current practices at Bisley. 

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Derby Lodge, Bisley, 2022

Furthermore, the future of Channel Islands shooting looks extremely bright, with both Guernsey’s Elizabeth College and their Jersey counterparts at Victoria College actively promoting the sport amongst their students. This has clearly had success with 6 cadets shooting for their respective island teams in last year’s Mackinnon, with one shooting a perfect 100 across the two ranges in 2021. This strong spirit of competition is fostered further through regular trips not only to Bisley, but with various junior teams being sent back by CCRS. Jersey has hosted the UK Cadet Rifle Team annually since 2010, and recently also the ‘Athelings’ British Cadet Rifle Team in 2021, while Guernsey received the GBU19 team in 2022, including many of those on the BCRT tour to Jersey in the previous year. 

With thanks to Nick Atkins on the History of the JRA,

and Fullbore Rifle Shooting in Guernsey (2022) by Charlie Brewin, as well as the NRA and CCRS archives.

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