Firing of cannons is a traditional military honour. This can be witnessed at Independence Day parades and other state occasions. It is used to welcome visiting Heads of state and at times at Military funerals. It is a sequence of precision firing, maintaining rigid pomp and decorum.
The history of firing guns dates back to a naval tradition of the 14th Century. Ships at sea were fitted with cannons that were able to fire one shot of gun powder at a time. The loaded cannon were lit with a linstock – a staff with a fork on one end that held a slow burning match. Early ship armaments were Carronades – smooth bore cast iron cannon.
When Naval ships were within visible distance to entering the port of a friendly nation, the Captain would order this ‘discharge of munitions’, a symbolic gesture of good intensions. Seven shots were fired. The Naval gun battery on shore would return a round of friendly fire, at the ratio of three shots each for one shot fired from sea (3×7=21) which was a way of saying welcome. Years later the number 21 was endorsed by Samuel Pepys, Secretary of the Navy. This odd number was chosen as even numbers were associated with death.
There is also a tradition of naval vessels discharging their guns at sea, prior to surrender to a foreign ship. The harmless emptying of their ammunition represented their inability to counter attack and retaliate.
By the 16th Century various nations began to use field artillery guns to herald and celebrate events of significance. It was General Napoleon who envisaged mounting the large guns on larger wheels for easy mobility during times of combat, as opposed to fixed coastal and garrison guns.
By 1730 British Officials began a system of using gun salutes at military events and as a salute to the Royal family (at Queen’s Birthday and Coronation Day). It was made a standard order in 1880 and 21 shots were to be fired at a ceremonial salute. The British Royal Artillery was established in 1716 by royal warrant of King George I.
In Sri Lanka the 21 gun salute is primarily carried out by the Regiment of Artillery (Army) and also the Navy. The Artillery regiment has a distinguished and elegant history dating back to April 20,1888. It was formed under the command of Captain EH Seimans. Then known as the Ceylon Garrison Artillery, its main operational task was the coastal defense of the island.
During World War II the gallant Ceylonese soldiers were stationed in Seychelles and Coco’s Islands to assist in coastal defense duties. In 1949 the first Anti-Aircraft Regiment was formed under Lt. Colonel FC de Saram. At present the SL Artillery consists of 12 regiments and provides fire support to all military operations in addition to target acquisition of concealed enemy guns. The Regiment had the distinction of according the 21 gun salute to Pope Francis during his visit last year.
The 25 Pounder high velocity gun, is the main Artillery gun used by many Commonwealth Nations at their gun salute ceremonies. The ceremonial crew per gun consists of six men. The gun was designed to replace the 18 Pounder used in World War I. The 25 pounder gun fires two part ammunition – the projectile and the propelling charge. Gunners across the world, add glamour and instill a commanding awe as they fire their field guns.
It was made a standard order in 1880 and 21 shots were to be fired at a ceremonial salute. The British Royal Artillery was established in 1716 by royal warrant of King George I