NEW ZEALAND MOUNTED
RIFLES ENFIELDS and the TRENCH
Lee Enfield back sight lifted up for a long range shot, the slider able to be adjusted up and down for the appropriate range. Next a 303 ball head round as used on Gallipoli 1915. In the background an Auckland Mounted Rifles hat with the Brigades khaki and green pugaree.
Right, a 1916 twenty round pack of 303 rounds as supplied in waterproof wrapping.
Behind, the crossed rifles of a marksman badge as worn on the lower sleeve of the tunic.
Hone Heke cuts down the Union Jack in defiance of English rule. The warrior in the foreground shoulders a Enfield Musket.
Tamati Waka Nene
called out to the English Colonel that he was "A stupid man".
A PERSONAL MEMORY OF A LEE ENFIELD
AND NEW ZEALAND'S TRENCH WARFARE HERITAGE. from Steve Butler.
My third form master at College in the late 1950's was a Mr. Frith. He was a tall, quiet demure man, a person that in later years I always come to equate with the character of “Sergeant Wilson” in the “Dad’s Army” television series that was popular in the 1980’s. He was grossly inept in his role as a schoolmaster. The larrikin element in the form class made his life hell, and he was too much of a gentle man to solve the antics of buffoonery during the school day. It was apparent by the look on his face that he obviously detested his life as a schoolmaster. But I was soon to find out that he was the schools “Range Master” in charge of the shooting team – a position he loved with a passion. The shooting team under his tutorage held the countries coveted shooting trophy for many, many years.
I was a quiet boy and was surprised at Mr. Frith’s invitation to try out with a target shoot during a sports period. It was the first time I had approached a firing range and the noisy reports from the team training was stimulating.
Besides each rifle having a serial number, the rifle is stamped with other particulars. This Lee Enfield states that it was made by the BSA Company in 1915, it is a SMLE Mark III* (note asterisk represents 'star'.)
I was especially drawn to the strange smell that I would come to know as cordite.
When he presented to me the Lee Enfield 303 rifle I was a young boy smitten with love at first sight. The weight of the weapon startled me, as did the noise of the senior boys rifles firing from the mound close by. “Frithie” gently explained the workings of the weapon and pointed out the positions of the shooters as they aimed their weapons at the little targets far away down the range. After a rifle fired, I watched as each boy’s hand went through their practice drills of working the bolt to slide another round into the chamber. Amongst this din was an unusual calmness in both the shooters faces and their controlled smooth actions. Their movements were small, breathing concise and practiced, and before the trigger was squeezed, their bodies seemed to freeze for a second or two in time.
"One Click to the Left...Load"
Adjustable rear target sights on a Mark I
Lee Enfield Rifle
At the end of the training “Frithie” quietly talked to each boy in turn, discussing the results of each target, suggesting subtle changes in breathing patterns or positioning of shoulders. Each of these senior boys listening and agreeing to each of the teacher’s commands with rapt attention, a far cry from the shambles of his unruly form class.
After the team was dismissed I was instructed to take up a prone position on the mound. This was the first and only time I ever heard the man make a dissenting remark.
“Oh no, not another left hander.” He then lent down and showed me how to load a single round and how I should align the sight at the target set up 50 yards down range.
“This is a point 303 Enfield rifle," he said. "And the round you have entered is also a point 303 high velocity round with a kick like a mule. Normally we fire conversion Enfields to take point 22 ammunition – and that calibre has nowhere the recoil of this weapon, and more importantly it doesn't cost the school a fortune in ammunition. But this first shoot is to find out if you can handle the weapon as it is meant to be fired.” Over the next few minutes the teacher talked about how I was lying, where my feet where placed, my hands, the grip around the stock, the process of not pulling the trigger but squeezing the trigger and above all how to hold the butt of the weapon hard in against my shoulder.
Finally he appeared content with his instructions, and told me I should fire at the target in my own good time.
I managed to get the tip of the foresight to nestle in the vee of the back sight while the black dot of the target hovered alarmingly in the distance, and squeezed. No matter how many times Frithie had told me about the recoil I was to experience I was still unprepared. The amount of power thrown backwards through my shoulder gave me quite a fright, but I hung on and willed myself into silence.
“Yes”, muttered Mr Frith in his quiet fashion. I expected to load the magazine but instead he lay another round on the ground sheet next to my cheek and pointed to a small adjustment screw on the sight. “One click to the left… and Load…fire at will!”
The next round was nowhere as frightening, I pulled the stock tighter still into my shoulder and the recoil didn’t seem so bad, although I felt I moved an inch or two backwards on the ground sheet. Another round appeared on the ground sheet.
“Yes, another click to the left, splay your feet flat to the ground…and Load…fire at will!”
A Mark III development 303. This model went into manufacture between the Boer War and the First World War in 1907 and saw action in both WWI and WWII.
At the end of the session he smiled broadly, something I had never seen him do in class. As he spoke to me about the grouping on the target I felt that for the first time in my life an adult was talking to me as if I were too an adult. He talked about heart rate and tension, of applying concentration and relaxation at different parts of the aim. He also indicated the tell tale signs of windage as stalks of long grass bent slightly as a breeze swept the field further up the range.
I was to learn years later he had been a farmer before the Second World War. Later, while on active service he had been wounded in the chest from artillery shrapnel, after he and two others had kept a German detachment at bay from a bridge crossing with sniper fire while his division was under retreat in Greece. His chest injury prohibited him going back on the land and he reluctantly entered the education system.
His life in the classroom was an ongoing disaster and chore, but he was the best teacher I ever met, and I was lucky enough to become a member of his shooting team. I was introduced to the life skills of patience, practice, observation and personal control. Along with the instrument that pulled them altogether, the Lee Enfield rifle.
The bolt action in drawing back ejects the spent cartridge from the chamber while pulling back and re-cocking the firing pin in one action.
The “Enfield” part of the rifle’s name comes from the small town in north London where the British government established an arms factory in 1804. The subsequent prefix names were given to the either the date of production or more commonly the names of the inventors and gunsmiths who made developments to the rifles made at the works.
The first rifles made there were the continuation of the famous “Brown Bess” Long Land Pattern muskets that had been in manufacture for the British Army since 1722, and it was not until 1853 that the first muzzle-loaded single shot weapons carried the name Enfield – this early model called simply the pattern 1853 Enfield. The development of the rifle from the musket continued on through the nineteenth century with the Snider-Enfield, the Hay-Enfield, the Martini-Henry and finally in 1888 to the Lee-Enfield. Named after Scottish born American inventor James Paris Lee. His design and concept of the box magazine enabled the rifle to become a repeat firing bolt-action weapon. This could not have taken place without the parallel invention by English civil engineer William Ellis Metford who created the .30 calibre jacketed bullet and barrel rifling. This first magazine rifle production is still referred to as the “Magazine-Lee-Metford” or (MLM).
Enfield Muskets in the hands of the
inventors of trench warfare
The English colonial troops learnt their lessons well. By late 19th century British General Pratt copies Maori innovation. Here at Hawera, Taranaki 130 years after the event, the scars in the earth of "Pratts Sap" can still be seen.
This was Pratt's successful
defensive position against the Maori Kingites attack. Already at this time we observe that trench traverses are part of trench warfare construction - such mounds stop the enemy entering a sap and shooting along its length.
Enfields were a big part of New Zealand colonial development, and for a greater segment of the nineteenth century the various Enfield developments became a part of every day early settlement life. Settlers and the Military faced off against Maori in a series of vicious wars in the dense rain forests of the North Island that stretched over forty years. These escalating actions became known as the “Musket Wars” and later the “Land Wars”. So vicious and bloody had the Maori Wars become that the English military were ready to award their highest medal for bravery, the Victoria Cross, on fifteen separate occasions.
The Snider Enfields and the 1853 Enfield musket saw service through the hostilities, as well as the majority of the Hay-Enfields. An interesting aside that has happened for gun collectors, is that many of these Hay pattern Enfields have readily been collected by North American Civil War enthusiasts as “Civil-War” Enfields – that is true, but not the Civil War they are thinking of.
One wonders, by what chance of circumstance did the Maori Military mind and the sophisticated and accurate mass killing Enfield rifles come together. In every other theatre of global conflict of the nineteenth century, the more, and ever more efficient rifles were decimating the warring factions in increasing numbers. The British “Red Square” was scything down the Zulu and Indian mutineers on two different continents, and the American Confederate and Union Armies were racking each others great lines of slow marching men with hails of lead. The world had never seen the like before; it was obvious that who had the greatest firepower would win the war – any war. That is of course until the British rifle met the Maori trench.
When English troops attacked Maori fortified “Pa” they were able to bring individual tribes to their knees by flattening the fortifications with heavy artillery. To overcome the problem one chief took the concept of the “hill Pa” and dug the fortifications into flat ground. These diggings had all the refinements of the Pa workings and more. Trenches were set with rifle-fire pits and supply saps, cross-fire support saps, false saps, concealed tunnels and wooden picket entanglements. The English with their massive fire superiority couldn’t win against this new strategy – their targets where minimised or hidden, the enemy used escape tunnels to get away, and other tunnels to come up behind an advancing line to put their soldiers in the open under Maori cross fire.
James Graham wrote:
“…The Battle of Puketakauere was the most decisive engagement in the Taranaki War. In the battle less than 200 Maori comprehensively defeated 400 British soldiers killing a minimum of 30 and wounding 34. The Maori in contrast lost only five men killed. Innovative Maori fortifications were the major cause of the Maori victory. The actual pa was located on Onukukaitara hill and consisted of a small relatively simple stockade. Onukukaitara was essentially a dummy pa that attracted British attention and artillery fire. Rifle pits dug in a deep trench between the pa and the British lines were the real key to the position. The British force was split into groups with the intention of making a two pronged attack on Onukukaitara. The first division was halted a few yards from the rifle pits by a coordinated volley. The second division tried to attack Onukukaitara by way of Puketakauere hill. The British were under the understanding Puketakauere hill was not fortified. The Maori however had so skillfully concealed their entrenchments that the soldiers walked straight into an ambush.”
Earlier in the far north of the country, English troops continued to arrive in numbers to finally suppress Hone Heke who had persisted in embarrassing the Governor's forces anytime he chose. In the end the British outnumbered Heke 6 to 1 and surrounded his Pa at Ohaiawai. The Governor had also enlisted the help of friendly Maori under the command of Chief Tamati Waka Nene, an old foe of Heke.
The British under the command of Colonel H. Despard decided to storm the pa with bayonet - a steep uphill, open charge. Waka Nene was appalled and called out that Despard was a 'stupid man' - ignoring him, Despard sent 100 men to their instant death by musket fire, echoing perhaps in microcosm the same irrationality that saw millions of soldiers mown down in the mud and trenches of World War I.
A footnote to the battle: Hone Heke did not attack any British supply wagons, "Where would be the use of our taking the food and powder of the soldiers? How could they fight with us if we did that?"
It is possible that the Maori could have driven the English from the nation altogether. The English couldn’t win, but on the other hand the Maori didn’t want the English to leave either. Northland Chief Tamati Waka Nene had deliberately selected the English to colonise the country. He felt that the vultures of foreign powers were circling, and his people would, sooner or later, be subjected to either the English the Americans or the French as they crisscrossed the world in their individual attempts at global colonialism – He decided the English had the most to offer Maori by way of education and trade. So most of the forty years of conflict was an attempt to keep the English and their law in the townships, while Maori controlled the countryside. It was a plan the English would never accept and in the end colonisation numbers outweighed Maori determination, and along with intermarriage and the gradual movement of tribe members to the new work force and farming, the British crown finally dominated the country.
By century’s end, and before the smoke had cleared on the home fronts, New Zealanders, both Maori and Pakeha (European descent) had taken up the new version Lee-Enfield 303 "Long-Lees" Rifle and headed to the South African wars that began in 1899. After the Boer War and before the Great War of 1914-18 the Lee Enfield continued with developments. Besides factories such as BSA, LSA and Vickers in England and contracts given to USA companies like Remmington and Winchester Arms. it was decided to create factories abroad but within the Empire. Two factories where opened, one at Ishapore in India and a second factory in Lithgow, NSW, Australia. On 10 January 1910, the site of the factory was inspected by Lord Kitchener and was officially opened on 8 June 1912.
Many of the "Long Lees" of Boer War vintage were converted before the Great War, and other model improvements kept coming - The Lee Enfields being recognised as Mark I, Mark II, Mark III and Mark III*
design developments. When the New Zealanders arrived at Gallipoli they had a full working knowledge of the Lee Enfield and Trench warfare, their fore fathers had been “Diggers” before them. The British had learned their lessons from the Maori Wars and the world was about to learn about the trials of high velocity rifles and trench warfare.
Lee Enfield continued to be the choice of rifle for British forces through both World Wars. Many weapons were converted after WWII to 22 calibre for target shooting and training. In India the Lee Enfield is still the rifle in service with the Indian Army the weapon being completely re-tooled to NATO 7.62mm standard.
For New Zealanders the rifle is still the weapon of choice for the country's deer stalking fraternity, and is still seen on the shooting mound.
Left: Pen and ink drawings of the Maori Fortification Trenches at the Central Redoubt, Rangiriri in the Northern Waikato. Both maps shown here are from the hand of Captain E. Brooke, Royal Engineers - and dated 1863.
Those seeking in-depth information about Lee Enfields should link HERE