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“Of all our national pastimes, this is one which should be pursued for the sake only of the honourable distinction to be obtained, in excelling in an art, where both mental and physical gifts are developed.”

Anonymous author on match rifle shooting (1866)

Research Press

But the change from the hap-hazard, load-and-fire-as-fast-as-you-can system of shooting with Brown Bess, to the skilful handling of the rifled musket, can hardly fail to have a very desirable influence on the morale of the soldier. The elaborate training the men now undergo, and the emulation excited among them, must have a considerable effect on their character and habits; and therefore, even in an educational point of view, we gain largely by the improvement in our weapons of war. No one can doubt that this will be the case who passes a few hours watching a class at target-practice, and has observed how lively an interest the men take in the work, particularly when compared with the bored look of the same men engaged in field-drill. For the first time since the days when powder and ball superseded the national bow and arrow, the English soldier has some employment connected with his profession in which he can take an interest, irrespective of mere drill; in which all but hopeless noodles - every day less commonly found among army recruits as elsewhere - are soon perfect; and which, if persisted in too unremittingly, more than, any one thing disgusts the soldier with his calling. If no other advantage resulted from the relegation of Brown Bess to the United Service Museum, and other dépôts of military curiosities, we should be amply compensated for the increased cost of the superior description of musket, and the extra expense of the ammunition required for practice. Any stinginess, indeed, in this latter item - ammunition - will necessarily interfere with the progress made by the men as marksmen, and will very materially diminish the other advantages to be derived from the reformation in musketry. Enthusiasm must not be cramped by the denial of a cartridge.

It is well known that in those regiments in which such sports as cricket and foot-ball are encouraged, the men are both more healthy and better conducted than in those in which the men are accustomed to seek recreation in the public-house alone. Target-practice, therefore, may be easily made a pastime as well as a duty; and the men will take to it as willingly as Swiss peasants to practice at the village butt, or as idle fellow's to sparrow and pigeon shooting. We must expect to find black sheep in every flock, and therefore it is not surprising that some men grumble at the extra trouble and time demanded by so much ball-practice; but, generally speaking, they appear to take an interest in what they are about, which is quite refreshing to behold; and do their best, not only to win the prizes offered to the best shots, but to surpass their comrades - the 'chaffing' which constantly goes on at the expense of the bad shots, being in itself sufficient proof of the interest excited. The rewards for good shooting are considerable, reference being had to the moderate scale of a soldier's pay. A penny, twopence, threepence, or fourpence per day extra pay, may be obtained by the most expert marksmen in the company or regiment; and a more chivalrous feeling is appealed to by the giving of a decoration to the best shot, in the shape of a pair of crossed muskets worked in gold embroidery on the sleeve and cap of the prizemen. This extra pay, and this honourable mark - as we understand - the marksman retains for a certain period, and then must win them anew, or, like the holder of Dockett's badge amongst the water-men, yield them up to the better shot.

The writer, a short time since, was witness of a trial of skill between two little buglers, which will serve to shew the excellent moral effect which the new system of teaching men to use their arms skilfully will have on them. Two parties had finished the regulation allowance of ammunition for the day, and there being four spare cartridges left, the buglers - evidently what the French call enfants de troupe, children of the regiment - asked if they might ''av a shot.' Neither of the little fellows had ever fired a musket loaded with ball-cartridge before, and much delighted they were at the opportunity of doing so; but the interest excited was not confined to them; the soldiers and the civilian on-lookers being equally anxious to see which would prove himself the better man, or, rather, boy. The distance happened to be two hundred yards; and number one, the biggest boy, fired his first shot, and got an 'outer,' counting one point. This was good work; and the party to which number two belonged thought themselves beaten; but their champion, with his first shot, got a 'centre,' counting two points. Then number one fired again, getting another 'outer,' or one point; and unless number two made at least a hit, it was a dead, heat. But number two, taking a very deliberate aim with the musket he had barely strength enough to hold out, again got a 'centre,' or two points, thus beating his opponent by two to one, whereupon his party cheered; and he, taking what is known amongst the genus gamin as 'a sight' at his adversary, danced round him like a little cannibal. Here, then, we have proof of the existence of a much healthier state of feeling than that which we find usually prevalent among soldiers who are undergoing the training incident to their calling. In truth, facing right, left, and about; marching and counter-marching, in slow time or quick like an automaton, at the will of another, must inevitably be dreary work. But the soldier has now an occupation in which he ceases to be a mere machine, and which brings his faculties into play as well as his muscles.

When guard-duty is light, as in many places it must be, a great deal of time hangs heavily on the soldier's hands - always supposing, that he is not over-drilled - and his mind is but too often a mere blank. He therefore naturally seeks at the public-house or beer-shop for the amusement and excitement which is a necessity, under one form or another, for every human being; and which, if not to be obtained innocently, will assuredly be obtained at the expense of both health and morals. Health suffers too, as it has of late been conclusively shewn, by the listlessness and weariness inseparable from the monotonous existence of the soldier; and it is of the highest importance, therefore, to find occupation for his mind, even in a purely sanitary point of view. Of course, it would be utterly absurd to expect that the serious evils - serious, if only on the low ground that the efficiency of the army is thereby diminished, and its cost increased - will be eradicated by anything which the best intentioned rulers can adopt; but giving the men an interesting occupation will certainly aid in allaying them. It will help greatly the good effects produced by the improved barrack accommodation, the better regulation of canteens, and the establishment of regimental schools and libraries.

We have already remarked, that the pecuniary rewards offered by the government as an inducement to the men to make themselves skilful marksmen, are considerable, having regard to the scale of the soldier's pay; but if we may form an opinion from our limited experience, the spirit of rivalry will be no less efficacious than the hope of winning the pecuniary rewards, in keeping alive amongst the men that spirit of good-will without which the most elaborate and patient training must remain comparatively valueless. After all, the age we live in is by no means so prosaic as its detractors would

have us believe; numbers then are still
Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon's mouth; and admittance into the purely chivalric order the Victoria Cross is as eagerly sought for by all ranks of fighting-men as it could have been in th days of Coeur-de-Lion himself. To become one of the best shots in the British army is no mean object of ambition for the young soldier to propose to himself and, to borrow a metaphor from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the badge which proclaims him to be so, may be justly termed 'the Blue Ribbon' of the ranks.