The carnage among the British troops by the Boers (apart from new infantry tactics) led to the necessity to level indirect fire. It was a highly significant change employing new technology and its application. These embraced by the Royal Artillery included methods of signalling, remote adjustment of fire, methods of predicting the effects of weather conditions on shells in flight (meteor), and the requirements for good mapping and survey. All were to harness the power of the gun as to maximize its utility. The science of gunnery was advanced considerably.
It further followed that with the greater use of maps, the expertise of the surveyor became an essential prerequisite. For with accurate and effective gun fire the opposing forces could be destroyed at a distance and infantry deploy successfully across a broad and open field (such as was much of the terrain the Boer War was fought over.) It became even more necessary in other subsequent wars when accurate counter fire against enemy guns or mortars was quickly required in mobile battles. There the whole situation was fluid and mortars and mobile guns could be brought rapidly into action, fire, and move elsewhere.
Thus the job of a Royal Artillery Survey regiment was twofold, first to provide survey data to points behind the guns that gun regiment Technical Assistants could carry further forward to the gun positions for general fire; and second to enable an individual troop, battery, regiment or larger formation of guns to provide precise counter fire on selected targets. For all this Royal Artillery Surveyors needed special skills. They were thus trained in pure survey techniques to bring information to the guns, and additional specialist skills for counter fire by flash spotting or sound ranging. A surveyor required a quick, agile, and logical mind, a good knowledge of mathematics, especially trigonometry, a facility with numbers, the ability to solve problems, an eye for the lie of the land and the capacity to work in adverse conditions.
The Survey Regiment was formed as all artillery regiments are into batteries and troops. As I understand it a regiment would form part of a Corps – the largest tactical unit of an army, the batteries assigned to Divisions – a section of an army under one commander and the troops within each battery followed their specialties of, in my day, survey, flash spotting (FS) and sound ranging (SRG). In 1949, when I joined the Royal Artillery, this was structure that I became a part of with the lessons of WW1 and WWII absorbed.
Today’s Royal Artillery Surveyor undoubtedly uses different tools with the changes from technology. But it remains a constant that to hit a target, the gun needs its own position to be accurately established as must that of its target. This is where the skills and techniques of the surveyor are essential. It could not be done otherwise.
Next Stop Larkhill
Training as a Surveyor RA occurred at 192 Survey Training Battery, at the School of Artillery, Larkhill on Salisbury Plain. So after my initial two weeks at Oswestry, and a Passing Out parade on the Square before the OC where we gave a show of looking like soldiers, I found myself with several others whom I came to know very well, and a Bombardier as escort, on a train to Andover where we were picked up by truck and taken to Larkhill.