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The Bombardier

This specialist rank was introduced in 1686. Having added a substantial number of mortars to the equipment scales, the King approved the appointment of one Chief Bombardier (a commissioned rank) and 12 Bombardiers to specialise in their use.

From that time whenever mortars formed part of any artillery train a proportion of Bombardiers accompanied them. Royal Navy bomb vessels equipped with a main armament of two heavy mortars intended for the bombardment of heavy coastal defences and shipping anchored in harbour carried artillerymen to man them, including a proportion of Bombardiers. These artillerymen were borne on the ship's books in the same way as Royal Marines, an arrangement which continued until 1804, when they were withdrawn after rows between the RA subalterns in charge of them and the RN Officers who tried to make them carry out ships' duties. The Royal Marine Artillery was then formed to take the place of the RA detachments.

Although the Bombardier was created to specialise in mortars it was not long before he added guns to his repertoire. In 1697 we find the guns of a long train being in general worked by ordinary troops of the line under the direction of Bombardiers, Petardiers, and Gunners.

Both the Corporal and the Sergeant in the Artillery appeared on the scene after the Bombardier. (The Corporal first appeared in 1692 on the same rate of pay, and the Sergeant in 1702 on 6d more, but did not achieve their status as layer and Number One respectively until much later.) Thus his is the oldest existing non-commissioned rank after Gunner and Master Gunner.

In 1920 the rank of Bombardier in the Royal Artillery, then denoted by a single chevron, was upgraded to replace that of Corporal, the latter being abolished. At the same time the rank of Lance Bombardier was introduced.

The Royal New Zealand Artillery followed suit in 1925.

Any similarity between the word 'Bombardier' and 'bombard', the earliest piece of ordnance, is purely coincidental. The Bombardier was so named because he was trained in the use of the mortar which fired bombs and bombarded its targets.

WL Ruffell

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