If Only She Could Speak: A Lee-Enfield No. 1 Mark I*** Rifle
By David Tong
I recently happened upon this quite early Lee-Enfield rifle at a local gun shop and snapped her up. As the title of the article suggests, this is a Mark I, which differs from the vast majority of No. 1 rifles.
The earliest Enfield rifles were the Lee-Metfords, loaded with black powder cartridges, which went into British service in the late 1880s. These lacked stripper clip or “charger” guides and soldiers of the Empire found in their combat with the Dutch Boers in South Africa that rapid reloading was nearly impossible.
The change to Cordite smokeless powder necessitated a change in the style of rifling and new barrels and sights were fitted, along with the elimination of the sheet metal action cover. The original Mark I barrel had an appropriate twist for the older Mark VII 215 grain, round nose bullet.
More importantly, the engineers at Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield Lock, fitted the earliest form of charger guide, to allow stripper clip replenishing of the 10-round magazine. This took the form of a half-guide fitted to the left outside of the receiver’s bolt raceway and a peculiar sliding guide fitted to the usual removable bolt head on the action’s right side.
When the bolt is drawn back, a milled projection on the rear of the split bridge rear receiver pushes the bolt head charger guide forward, aligning it with the fixed guide on the left receiver, thus allowing for insertion of the 5-round stripper clip. One of the interesting things about this rifle system is that the detachable magazine is supposed to be left in place and replenished with strippers and only one spare magazine was issued per soldier, in case the original became lost or damaged in combat. This first attempt at providing charger reloading capability was overly complex and the later Mark III rifles had the usual U-shaped charger guide fitted over the action, featured by the vast majority of No. 1 rifles.
The Mark I***’s three asterisks are the result of what are probably WWI or post WWI “FTR,” or “forward through repair” modifications to bring the older rifle to close to Mark III standard issue. The original windage adjustable rear sight was eliminated, along with the upper wooden handguard with its integral protective ears. Other casualties of the upgrade included the elimination of the “volley sights,” which massed infantry would have used to provide rapid “plunging fire” onto enemy troop concentrations, and were normally fitted to the left side forestock and the left wrist buttstock socket’s thumb safety.
However, the rifle now in my collection still wears the original Mark I sliding charger guide, its first variation striker and cocking piece, a second variation bottom metal that accepts the stop clip equipped third variation magazine for the .303 Mark VIII 174 grain spitzer ammunition and the original serial number. The latter confirms its 1905 manufacture by Enfield Arsenal.
The late Professor Charles Stratton of the University of Idaho has written a number of small paperback volumes on the Lee-Enfield rifle system, which are available through North Cape Publications of Tustin, CA. They offer a concise and easily read description of proof marks, development modifications and approximate dates of manufacture from the various countries and arsenals that supplied arms for the Empire on which the sun never set. I found Volume 1 of the series invaluable information for this article.
Copyright 2010 by David Tong. All rights reserved.