Long Cecil - revisited
I'm short of time this morning, I must get back down to my workshop and finish cutting and welding the tubes onto the tripods, so please indulge me if I presetnt a repeat of an earlier post from two years ago which some of you may have not read before...
I know there is an element of my valued visitors who appreciate guns so this morning I thought I would bring the remarkable story of "Long Cecil" to your attention.
In 1899 during the Boer War Kimberly was besieged by the Boer but the garrison showed true fighting spirit and during the four months in many way kept the upper hand in the actual skirmishes. They had one problem though, the Boer could drop shells into the town and nothing they had could respond.
"Nobody really knows who first mooted the idea of making a gun in Kimberley which could outrange the Boer artillery, but credit is usually given to George Labram, an American engineer in the town. He had come to South Africa in 1893 to erect a new crusher plant for one of the Kimberhey mines, staying on to become Chief Engineer to De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd, the company owning all the Kimberley diamond mines and which was under the chairmanship of Cecil Rhodes. In August 1899 Labram resigned his post with De Beers to take up another in the gold-mining town of Johannesburg but, for some reason, was still in Kimberley when war broke out. A good mechanical engineer with a fertile brain, Labram not only designed and made 'Long Cecil', for which he is perhaps best remembered, but during the first three weeks of the siege he designed and constructed a plant for the bulk refrigeration of perishable foodstuffs - essential with shade temperatures averaging about 31 degrees C. He had also installed an emergency fresh-water supply system, which became the town's sole supply (apart from one or two wells) for the whole siege, and had given much practical assistance and advice to the Royal Engineers in laying out controlled minefields around the town, and with the design and actual construction of the defences. Then, as the garrison's artillery had expended nearly a third of its ammunition by the end of November, Labram turned part of De Beers' workshops over to making shells, charges, and fuzes for the 2.5-inch guns. His greatest triumph perhaps was turning the workshops into a gun factory as well, never before having had anything to do with gun-making.
Labram had noticed a billet of steel, 3 metres in length, ordered originally as shafting for one of the workshop machines, which was lying in the workshop yard. As it had a diameter of almost 28 cm it occurred to him that a fairly large calibre gun might be made from it. There were no books on gun-making in Kimberley but he remembered attending a lecture given some years previously by Sir William Anderson on the engineering aspects of the subject.
After 24 days continuous work, much of it under shellfire (one or two direct hits had been scored on the workshops and there seem to have been several near-misses), gun and carriage were completed on 18 January 1900.
On Friday, 19 January, 1900, the gun, nicknamed 'Long Cecil' in honour of Cecil Rhodes, was taken for testing and calibration to one of the three emplacements already prepared for it. Rhodes, who had taken a great interest in the gun and its manufacture, was present, along with a number of local dignitaries and senior officers of the garrison. He invited Lt-Col Chamier, as the senior Gunner, to fire the first round. The story goes that Chamier refused on the grounds that, as a member of the Royal Regiment, he was permitted to fire only such guns as had been officially approved by the War Office and that 'Long Cecil' definitely did not fall within this category! Rhodes, so the story continues, then told Chamier to remove himself to a safe distance and sent his pony and trap to fetch Mrs Pickering, wife of the Secretary to the De Beers Company. On her arrival, Rhodes handed her the end of the firing lanyard, inviting her to pull it. This she duly did, with some trepidation, and fired the first round from 'Long Cecil' - of this latter part of the story there is no doubt. The round landed and burst in the middle of a hitherto safe and quiet Boer laager at the Intermediate Pumping Station some 7200 metres away, causing considerable alarm and dismay according to Boer letters written at the time, some of which were later intercepted by the British.
During its 28 days in service (including four days when it was out of action and Sundays when no firing took place) 'Long Cecil' fired 260 rounds in action (most published accounts give a slightly lower figure) Assuming the RCA and DFA section comanders adhered to normal practice by ensuring that their guns each fired roughly the same number of rounds, it may safely be said that 'Long Cecil' did more firing whilst in service than any other gun in Kimberley throughout the whole period of the siege! Not a bad performance for a home-made gun.