News Article

'Shannon the Cannon' - Edinburgh's District Gunner

A People In Defence news article

3 Feb 09

The job of District Gunner at Edinburgh's historic castle is one of the highest profile jobs in the British Army. The 27th man to fill the post is Sergeant Jamie Shannon, known as 'Shannon the Cannon'.

Sergeant Jamie Shannon

Sergeant Jamie Shannon appears in millions of holiday photos and videos as tourists from all over the world flock to see the UK's only time gun fire six days a week
[Picture: Mark Owens]

The role of District Gunner at Edinburgh Castle is prestigious as it encompasses maintaining and operating the UK's only 'time gun fire' and thereby carrying on a tradition spanning hundreds of years.

Sergeant Jamie Shannon, the latest to fill the sought after post, is from 105 Regiment Royal Artillery, the Scottish Territorial Army (TA). He took over the District Gunner role from his famous predecessor 'Tam the Gun', who fired the famous shot for almost a quarter of a century, four years ago.

Sgt Shannon was in the TA for 23 years before becoming the full-time District Gunner, first filling in when Tam was absent due to ill-health. He was eventually offered the job full-time after Tam sadly passed away.

Contrary to popular belief, the District Gunner does actually work for more than ten minutes a day and Sgt Shannon usually starts his day when he checks in with 105 Regiment at 0830 hrs:

"I service and clean the gun, as they say, if it's shiny, keep it shiny," Sgt Shannon said. "As the gun is electronically fired I also check the circuit daily to ensure that it is in working order. In addition to the One O'clock Gun, I'm also in charge of two other ceremonial guns which I also service regularly."

Having fired the gun countless times, Sgt Shannon recalls his proudest memory as firing at the Queen Mother's 100th birthday, and again for her funeral:

"These were times that I will never have a chance to be a part of again. I see Edinburgh Castle as being 'living history' and I love helping to keep the country's traditions alive. Tam always said that he was the second most photographed man in the city, after Adam 'William Wallace' on the Royal Mile."

Sergeant Jamie Shannon and an ejected shell casing

Sergeant Jamie Shannon, also known as 'Shannon the Cannon', retrieves the ejected shell casing after firing the One O'clock Gun
[Picture: Mark Owens]

Sgt Shannon recalls his very first day in the job as being his worst memory:

"I remember the pressure of the crowd waiting for the gun to go off - that fraction of a second felt like an eternity. Luckily, on my first day the gun went off without a hitch and in my four years I have experienced only two misfires."

Any District Gunner dreads a misfire as Sgt Shannon said:

"People just coming into the castle might not hear the bang of the gun going off, but everyone hears the click of a misfire. As people travel from all over the world to see the One O'clock Gun fired, they can be disappointed in the event of a misfire. I just say that they have come on a lucky day as everyone sees the gun fire but not so many have witnessed a misfire."

Another duty of the District Gunner is to fire the infamous cannon 'Mons Meg' during the BBC's 'Hogmanay Live' on television. Although Sgt Shannon says that this is a great honour, he says that the event is 'a bit Hollywood':

"The gunpowder seen to be loaded into the cannon is not actually used; it is, in fact, only a small amount of gunpowder that is exploded. This is because the last time the cannon was fired, at King James' wedding, it fractured, making it unsafe to be fired again. The cannon is linked, by cables, to speakers which simulate a bang and start the fireworks."

As one of the most prominent figures in Scotland's tourist industry, 'Shannon the Cannon' has fans from all over the world. He receives letters and even Christmas cards from as far afield as New Zealand, South Africa and California.

An additional aspect of the District Gunner's job involves answering tourists' questions: the most frequent of which is 'What time is the One O'clock Gun fired?'.

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