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The Master Gunner

The appointment of Master Gunner is an ancient one. In the past monarchs from time to time appointed masters to specialise in their particular military arts, eg Wagonmaster, Trenchmaster, etc. All but the Master Gunner have faded away.

He has held his ground for over six centuries, for as soon as Gunners became soldiers Master Gunners were put in charge of them, whether on board ship, in the field, or in coast defence forts. The Master Gunner in the Navy eventually lost the 'Master' part of his title, and became simple 'Gunner'. In the field the Master Gunner was the executive officer in charge of an artillery train, and as such was responsible for the training of his men and the maintenance of the equipment in his charge. He disappeared with the arrival of commissioned 'artillerists' in the trains.

From the earliest days in forts he was not only answerable for the care and maintenance of ordnance, ammunition and stores, but was also in executive command of the guns and Gunners in action. It was only with the appearance of the commissioned Officer in coast artillery that he relinquished the last duty, and became responsible solely that the guns, ammunition and associated stores were properly maintained and accurately accounted for. However, when coast artillery in the British Army was abolished in 1956 (and in New Zealand shortly afterwards) the appointment of Master Gunner lapsed.

In 1963 the Royal Artillery decided to revive the appointment, Master Gunners to be appointed from Sergeant Majors Instructors in Gunnery (SMIG), and Experimental Sergeant Majors, a decision which gave great satisfaction to the Regiment. In 1980 the RA abolished the appointment of Assistant Instructor in Gunnery (AIG) and substituted Sergeant Major Instructor of Gunnery, which now carries the rank of Warrant Officer Class 2. When the WO2(SMIG) is promoted Warrant Officer Class 1 he is normally appointed Master Gunner.

Following the example of the RA the RNZA likewise re-instituted the appointment. However, one Warrant Officer only holds the appointment of Master Gunner, and then only when stationed at the NZ School of Artillery. When he relinquishes that appointment he has to take down his badge, and is no longer entitled to be called 'Master Gunner' - even though he might have qualified on a year-long course overseas.

WL Ruffell
September 1988

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