The Vickers machine gunner was a specialist in his occupation. The gun he would have to use was one of the most complicated pieces of weaponry on the battlefield, he would have to know, off by heart, how to work, fire and maintain the gun in the some of the most adverse conditions in the world. The Vickers was a weapon that would take lives but save lives and to save lives it had to work at all times and in all conditions.

Machine gunner training took place within the infantry battalion or cavalry regiment he was a part of. He would often be training with the other men in his section, platoon or company. Wider exercises, latterly called machine gun ‘concentrations’ would include machine guns from across brigades or divisions and they would fire large scale exercises together, in preparation for war. During wartime, machine gunners received their training at Machine Gun Training Centres that were converted from the regimental depots of the Machine Gun Corps (for the Great War) or the Divisional (Machine Gun) Battalions (in the Second World War).

Within the cavalry, there were Cavalry Training Regiments that conducted the preliminary recruit training. It was as part of these that troopers would receive their machine gun training. A full War Establishment for a Cavalry Training Regiment in 1940 is available to download. The Royal Armoured Corps also had their own Training Regiments where machine gunnery for use in armoured vehicles and tanks was taught. The full transcript of the War Establishment for the United Kingdom Training Regiment is available as a PDF download here. The Base Depot and School in Egypt also incorporated machine gunner training and their War Establishment is available as a PDF download here.

The table below shows the preliminary training that a Machine Gunner would have undertaken in 1951. This four week course was what every gunner undertook before he would serve in action with the Vickers MG. A further course, the Fire Controllers’ Course was an extension to this for those selected as possible Fire Controllers to co-ordinate the Vickers MGs lethal fire.

To decode the lesson numbers please go to the lesson list:

Subject 1st Stage 2nd Stage 3rd stage 4th Stage
Lessons Periods Lessons Periods Lessons Periods Lessons Periods
The Gun and Tripod 1 & 2 3
Stripping 3, 4, 5 & 6 5 7 & 8 3
General Maintenance 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 & 15 9
Spare parts and repairs 17 2 18 1
Immediate Action 19, 20, 21 & 22 11 23 2 Revision 5
Mechanism 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 & 29 10
Causes of Stoppages 30, 31, 32, 33 & 34 6
Instruments and Aiming 35 2 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41 & 42 11 Revision 3
Gun Drill 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55. 15 56, 57, 58, 59. 11 60 (TOET) 6
Advanced Machine Gun Handling 61, 62, 63, 64, 65 10
Visual Training 66, 67 3
Section Drill 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74 12
Indirect Fire Drill 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82 16
Part I MMG Course Practices 1 to 3 3 Practice 4 3 Practice 5 2
Part II MMG Course Practices 1 to 3 2

Qualification badges

Having successfully passed his Elementary Training, the Machine Gunner would take an Annual Machine Gun Course. If successful, he would classed as a “trained” machine gunner and be awarded the Skill at Arms insignia and trade-related pay, if applicable.

The qualification was initially awarded in different categories:

  • Qualified gunner;
  • First-class gunner; and,
  • Marksman gunner.

The classification would depend on the number of points scored during the MG Course.

Qualified gunner




This is the most common qualification and all “trained” machine gunners would be entitled to wear it. It was worn on the left wrist by other ranks Corporal or below; however, prior to 1942, it could be worn by ranks above Corporal on the right sleeve above the rank insignia. After 1942, ranks above Corporal were not permitted skill-at-arms or trade insignia.

First class gunner

Those who achieved the first class standard of machine gunnery were entitled to wear the ‘MG’ surmounted by a star.


Marksman gunner

Those who achieved the marksman standard were permitted to wear the ‘MG’ surmounted by a crown.