This article provides an overview of the British Army’s World Pace Sticking Competition.
2.0 What is the World Pace Sticking Competition?
The World Pace Sticking Competition is an event where teams get to demonstrate their competence at pace stick drill.
The World Pace Sticking Competition is, or has been, known by a number of other names, including:
- All Arms and International Pace Sticking Competition.
- All Arm International Pace Sticking Competition.
- World All Arms Pacestick Competition.
- World Championship Pace Sticking Competition.
3.0 What is the Purpose of the Competition?
The purpose of the competition includes:
- Practical training aid of the pace stick;
- Maintaining regimental customs and traditions; and
- Creating an opportunity for military personnel from across the Services (both domestically and internationally) to participate in a friendly competition that builds camaraderie and esprit de corps.
4.0 What is the Object of Pace Stick Drill?
“The object of Pace-Stick drill is to provide uniformity in the use of the stick and by it, the attainment of a high standard of steadiness and cohesion amongst instructors.” (MOD, 2017, p.279).
In short, having the self-discipline to learn and perfect the art of its use embodies the aim of drill, which is to produce a soldier who is proud, alert and obedient and to provide the basis for teamwork.
5.0 What is a Pace Stick?
The modern pace stick is actually two pieces of timber, hinged at the top and able to be set to a particular distance, something like the compass set you used at school.
6.0 What is the Purpose of a Pace Stick?
“The pace-stick is used to gauge the correct length of pace, to measure the distances between ranks, to check drill movements and when stepping out and stepping short.” (MOD, 2017, p.279).
A pace stick can be opened so that the tips separate at fixed distances, corresponding to various lengths of marching pace, such as ‘double march’ or ‘quick march’. When opened to the correct pace length, the pace stick can be held alongside the holder’s body by the hinge, with one leg of the stick vertical to the ground, and the other leg pointing forward. By twirling the stick while marching, the stick can be made to ‘walk’ alongside its holder at the proper pace.
Pace sticks can be opened to specific distances, which each measure specific things:
- 12″ (30 cm) = distance between heels when at ease, and regulation side pace.
- 21″ (53 cm) = distance between ranks when stood in closed order.
- 24″ (61 cm) = distance between files, also width of one ‘man’ when leaving a blank file.
- 27″ (69 cm) = stepping short, inside rank when wheeling.
- 30″ (76 cm) = regulation pace for quick and slow march.
- 33″ (84 cm) = stepping out, outside rank when wheeling.
- 40″ (100 cm) = regulation pace for double time.
While on parade or when marching, a pace stick is normally carried tucked tightly under the left arm and parallel to the ground, with the left hand grasping the stick near the top.
Generally, pace sticks are carried by warrant officers in sergeant-major appointments, e.g. RSM/BSM and CSM/SSM. However, Sergeants and above who have completed a drill course may carry a pace stick and Corporals who have completed a drill course may carry a drill cane (although I have witnessed Corporals carrying a pace stick).
The 3-week All Arms Basic Drill Instructor qualifies junior non-commissioned officers (JNCO’s, i.e. Corporals and Lance Corporals) to teach drill to recruits in a training establishment and trained soldiers in their unit. The course teaches all aspects of foot and arms drill, method of instruction, and teaching practices. There is a 2-week version for Reserve and overseas personnel. Sergeants and above who complete the basic course can then attend the 6-week All Arms Advanced Drill Instructor course which teaches all aspects foot and arms drill, as well as ceremonial drill (including swords, colours and pace stick).
7.0 Brief History
Within the British Army, the pace stick is relatively new, but its origins as a device for measuring distance go back much further.
“The pace stick itself basically looks like a giant compass and dates back to Roman times when it was used to mark out the distance of straight Roman roads.” (Urban, 2015; Perreira, 2019).
500 turns of the pace stick equated to one Roman mile, at which point they would put down a keystone.
Centuries later and the British Army’s Royal Regiment of Artillery (RA) used a similar pace stick, known as a ‘Gunners Stick’, to mark out the correct distances between their artillery pieces during battle. This version of the pace-stick was more like a walking stick, with a silver or ivory knob, as it could not be manipulated in the way that a modern pace stick can; it opened like a pair of callipers (MOD, 2017).
From the Gunner’s stick, the Infantry developed the modern pace stick to use as an aid to drill (MOD, 2017).
In 1928, Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1) Arthur Brand MVO MBE, the then RMAS Academy Sergeant Major, developed a drill for pace sticks; which he used to mark out the correct distances between troops on parade and to ensure a full 30 inch (76 centimetre) marching pace was being taken. WO1 Brand subsequently promoted its use throughout the Army.
In 1952, another Academy Sergeant Major, WO1 John Lord MVO MBE, established a pace stick competition which was to be held annually between the RMAS and the Guards Depot (MOD, 2017). The Guards Depot closed in 1993 and the competition has since be held solely at RMAS.
Reneaux (2018) reports the 90th competition in 2018, suggesting it was started in 1928. Another source, suggests that “…in 1982, began to be used by the infantry as a drill aid to determine length of pace, distance between ranks and drill movement.” (Larter & Larter, 2018).
8.0 Where Does the Competition take Place?
The World Pace Sticking Competition takes place “on the parade square in front of the steps of Old College” (Forces Network, 2018) at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS), located in Camberley, Surrey, in the United Kingdom (UK).
9.0 When Does the Competition take Place?
The World Pace Sticking Competition usually takes place in June of each year.
10.0 Who Can Participate in the Competition?
Teams are drawn from across the British and foreign armed forces. Examples include (Oman MOD, 2014; The Craftsman, 2017; Forces Network, 2018; Reneaux, 2018):
- British Armed Forces:
- RMAS ‘Lords’ Team.
- 8 Training Battalion REME.
- Army Training Centre (ATC) Pirbright.
- Honourable Artillery Company.
- 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards.
- 1st Battalion Welsh Guards.
- 1st Battalion Scots Guards.
- 1st Battalion Irish Guards.
- International Armed Forces:
- Bahrain Military Police.
- Canada (3 Royal Canadian Regiment, 3RCR).
- Jordanian Army.
- Sultan’s Armed Forces Training Regiment (SAFTR), Royal Army of Oman.
- Pakistan Military Academy.
In order to qualify for the World Pace Sticking Championship some teams must enter and win qualifying events, for example:
- The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME’s) “Inter-Company Pace Sticking Competition” of 8 Training Battalion REME who compete for the “Stubley Trophy”. (The Craftsman, 2017, p.60).
- The “…Royal Canadian Regimental Boyle Cup Pacestick Competition…” (Milnet.ca, 2007).
- “Internal Pace-sticking Championships” in Bahrain (Ministry of Interior Court, 2015).
- “The Sgt Neil Robertson Trophy” (Mullen, 2018).
The number of teams competing each year varies:
- 2017: 22 teams (15 British and 7 international) (GBA, 2017).
- 2018: 19 teams (15 British and 4 international) (Forces Network, 2018).
10.1 Blind Veterans UK
In 2016, for the first time, a civilian team participated in the competition (Wathall, 2016). Blind Veterans UK, a charity, entered a team of three blind veterans – Kevin Alderton, Billy Baxter and Steve Birkin – led by a sighted Drum Major, WO2 Tony Taylor.
It was the first time that the competition had a non-serving team, and the first who were registered blind.
11.0 Outline of the Competition
The World Pace Sticking Championships is composed of:
- British teams competing for the title of All Arms Pace Sticking Champions;
- International teams competing for the title of International Pace Sticking Champions;
- There is also competition for the prestigious title of Individual Pace Sticking Champion, “Best Individual Sticker” (Larter, 2018); and
- “Best Driver” (Larter, 2018).
All teams perform the same routine.
“Each team member will be judged on their overall turnout and bearing while on parade and are expected conduct the same set routine, which each team has to perform in perfect sequence – any wrong words of command or kit that is less than immaculate will result in points being deducted from their team score card.” (Perreira, 2019).
Team members can include a variety of ranks:
- Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) or Service equivalent;
- Colour/Staff Sergeant (CSgt/SSgt) or Service equivalent;
- Sergeant (Sgt) or Service equivalent;
- Corporal (Cpl) or Service equivalent.
Team roles that team members may perform include:
- Team Captain/Driver.
- Right Marker.
- Team Member 1.
- Team Member 2.
The Team Captain, who is usually the most senior in rank, provides the words of command over the course of the competition. All teams are marked on a variety of drill movements including (MOD, 2017; The Craftsman, 2017):
- Personal drill.
- The March On.
- Getting on Parade, to include inspection and ‘proving sticks’.
- Marching in slow time while pacing with the stick (at 65 paces per minute).
- Marching in quick time while pacing with the stick (at 116 to 120 paces per minute).
- Transferring/alternating the stick from hand to hand by conducting drill movements, thereby forcing team members to be proficient at pacing with the left and right hand.
- Movement at the halt is to be at 40 movements per minute.
“The challenge for the team was the fact the drill is done at standard pace of 120 beats per minute with a 30-inch step, Gurkhas march at 140 beats per minute.” (GBA, 2017).
All team members are judged on their overall performance and turnout during the event, which each team has to perform in the correct sequence. Any wrong commands or movement results in an immediate deduction of points from the team score card.
There is no wet weather programme and teams must carry on regardless of the prevailing weather conditions. Teams must also consider the wind and temperature (participants do not wear gloves).
12.0 Useful Publications
- The Drill Manual (AC 70166). Chapter 8 – The Pace Stick. December 2017. Infantry sponsored Drill Manual replacing the 1990 edition.
Forces Network. (2018) Fierce Competition At Sandhurst’s Pace Sticking Competition. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.forces.net/news/fierce-competition-sandhursts-pace-sticking-competition. [Accessed: 14 June, 2019].
GBA (Gurkha Brigade Association). (2017) Gurkhas Tackle the Pace Stick. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.gurkhabde.com/gurkhas-tackle-the-pace-stick/. [Accessed: 14 June, 2019].
Larter, G. (2018) See International Pace Sticking Teams Compete at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/see-international-pace-sticking-teams-14805837. [Accessed: 14 June, 2019].
Milnet.ca. (2007) Topic: 3 RCR Pace Stick Team Wins Worlds. Available from World Wide Web: https://milnet.ca/forums/index.php?topic=63974.0. [Accessed: 14 June, 2019].
Ministry of Interior Court. (2015) RAP Honours Pace-Sticking Championship Winners. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.policemc.gov.bh/en/news/ministry/41649. [Accessed: 14 June, 2019].
MOD (Ministry of Defence). (2017) The Drill Manual. London: MOD.
Mullen, L. (2018) Want To Pace Stick? There’s A YouTube Video For That… Available from World Wide Web: https://www.forces.net/radio/want-pace-stick-theres-youtube-video. [Accessed: 14 June, 2019].
Oman MOD (Ministry of Defence). (2014) Pace Sticking Championship in UK. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.mod.gov.om/en-US/RAO/Pages/2014/Pace_Sticking_Championship_in _UK.aspx. [Accessed: 14 June, 2019].
Perreira, J. (2019) Pace Sticking: What is it Really all About? Available from World Wide Web: https://www.forces.net/services/army/pace-sticking-what-it-really-all-about. [Accessed: 14 June, 2019].
Reneaux, N. (2018) Pace Sticking with a Pakistani Twist. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.forces.net/stories/pace-sticking-pakistani-twist. [Accessed: 14 June, 2019].
The Craftsman. (2017) Inter-Company Pace Sticking Competition. The Craftsman: The Magazine of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. February 2107, pp.60.
Urban, D. (2015) On the March: We Look at the Lost Art of Pace Sticking. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.forces.net/news/feature/march-we-look-lost-art-pace-sticking. [Accessed: 14 June, 2019].
Wathall, K. (2016) Pace Sticking: Blind Veterans March into Competition. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.forces.net/news/tri-service/pace-sticking-blind-veterans-march-competition. [Accessed: 14 June, 2019].