The Royal Small Arms in WW1

Before the First World War the Royal Small Arms Factory employed 1851 workers. Weapons had been produced there since 1816. The work was comparatively well paid. The site had its own church, school pub and football team.

At the end of 1914 the factory employed 5,000 men. By June 1917 there were 7,040 men, 1,448 women and 1,095 ‘boys’ (9,583 total workers).

The war meant many men left to go and fight and women were employed to replace them.

A Shfit assembling 1 (2)

The Short Magazine Lee Enfield .303 is perhaps the most famous product associated with Enfield. During the war the factory concentrated on producing this rifle. At its peak throughout 1916 – 17 6,000 rifles per week came out of the factory. In all 2 million rifles were made in Enfield during the conflict. The factory also modified and repaired Vickers machine guns.

The outbreak of war caused increased pressure on housing for the additional workers coming to the area. In 1915 the YMCA built 60 huts to house workers who couldn’t find lodgings in the area. Each man had a cubicle with ‘a bed and an easy chair’ costing 17s 6d per week (£38 today). They also built a canteen so that there was somewhere for workers to eat other than the pub

RSAF Canteen
RSAF Canteen

Right from the outbreak of war there was a campaign for temperance. Some wanted all pubs closed and total prohibition. Drunkenness cost money in lost production and shoddy work.   Lloyd George increased the duty on beer and the alcoholic content was decreased. There was a ban on running up a slate or buying rounds for others. There was even a music hall song about the state of the beer:

Lloyd George’s Beer, Lloyd George’s Beer.
At the brewery, there’s nothing doing,
All the water works are brewing,
Lloyd George’s Beer, it isn’t dear.
Oh they say it’s a terrible war, oh law,
And there never was a war like this before,
But the worst thing that ever happened in this war
Is Lloyd George’s Beer.

Buy a lot of it, all they’ve got of it.
Dip your bread in it, Shove your head in it
From January to October,
And I’ll bet a penny that you’ll still be sober.
The importance of the RSA was underlined when King George V visited in April 1915.

There was some ill feeling in the area that young, fit single men were avoiding the armed services and ‘hiding away’ in the RSAF. Workers in the factory were issued with special badges to show they were doing war work.  In 1916 orders were given to de-badge all unskilled and semi-skilled workers under  the age of 41.

Industrial relations were not always good. In May 1917 600 members of the AEU went on strike. This was opposed by the Worker’s Union, who organised counter demonstrations. The strike ended within the month.

In January 1918 floods turned the area in a lake. The factory could only be reached by wading and work had to be suspended.

 Flood near RSAF

At 11 o’clock on 11th November 1918 the official notice came that the war was over. The RASF closed down and everyone came out to celebrate. The end of the war brought an end to overtime and some over-age men were given notice. The factory was ordered to concentrate on repair work only. By Easter 1919 the number of workers at the RSAF had been reduced to 2,700 from a war time high of 12,000


Second Open Day at the Archive

On Monday we held the second Enfield at War Open Day at the archives. About 60 people attended during the day.

We were able to show the new interactive Kiosks in action. These show aspects of the Borough during both World Wars using photos (including some 3-D images of guns from the Royal Small Arms), memories and videos.

Visitors trying out the interactive kiosk
Visitors trying out the interactive kiosk

One of the very large bomb maps for Enfield was displayed across several tables just outside the archive. We have three of these maps which record where the bombs fell in the Second World War. Joe Robinson gave a talk using the map as illustration about the bombings, especially the V1s and V2s which he has researched extensively. His findings can be seen on his website which is well worth a look for anyone interested in the flying bombs that landed in Enfield.

Also on display were ARP reports and lists of Civilian dead in WW2.

Page from the ARP reports for Edmonton
Page from the ARP reports for Edmonton

We put out copies of newspapers from both First and Second World Wars.

There were lots of ephemera from autograph books, ration books, cartoons and magazines.  The archive’s collection of wartime photos was available for visitors to browse through. Some visitors brought in their own memorabilia to share with us.

Staff were on hand to explain the exhibits and to help visitors with questions about their family history. Several useful contacts were made for future oral history projects.

In all the day was a great success.


Open Day at the Local Studies Archive

On Monday 21st September the Archive will be holding an Open Day. This is the second open day held as part of the Enfield at War Project. The first one back in January was a great success and we hope this one will be too.  We will have on display the WW1 books of remembrance and you will be able to see our new interactive kiosks in action.

The interactive kiosks will have pictures and test illustrating what was happening in The Borough of Enfield during both World Wars. On them you will also be able to listen to the reminiscences people who lived in Enfield during World War Two and watch a filmed retelling of the shooting down of the Cuffley airship in 1916

As part of the project we have been producing war related walks around the Borough of Enfield. The latest one has just been published. This is for Edmonton in the Second World War. You will be able to pick up one of these and the others at the open day. There will be one more walk to come for the Enfield area which is due soon.

We would also like to hear from anyone who has personal memories of the Second World War as we are collecting oral histories for the project

The 1945 General Election

The general election of 1945 was the first since 1935. It was held on 5th July 1945 but the results weren’t declared until 26th July to allow time for the overseas forces’ votes to be counted.  The popularity of Winston Churchill was so great (he had an 83% approval rating) that it was expected to be a landslide victory for the Conservative Party.

However voters were suspicious of the Conservative pre-war record, domestic and foreign. They were largely blamed for the policy of appeasement which had allowed Hitler to grow in power unchecked. Many remembered the return of soldiers after The Great War when they had been promised ‘Homes fit for heroes’ which had failed to materialise and the mass unemployment of 1930s.

The Labour Party under Clement Atlee were seen as supporters of The Beveridge Report which advocated a ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state  and which had proved hugely popular with the public when it was published in 1942.

The policies of the Conservative Party which prioritised security were out of step with the public whose top priority was housing. With the end of the war Labour were seen as the party best able to rebuild the country. There was a degree of scare mongering form the Conservatives at the consequences of a Labour victory. Mr Bartle Bull claimed that a Socialist victory would mean throwing away everything they had fought so hard for. At a meeting in Oakwood School a man objected to the candidacy of Beverley Baxter on the grounds he was Canadian. Alderman Pinching said that this was a good thing as Mr Baxter could represent the views of the Empire. ‘If we don’t think in terms of Empire it is God help Old England’, he declared. Labour candidate  Ernest Davies said that the main issues of the election  were resettlement and reconstruction. The Labour party were accused of disloyalty in forcing an election before the war with Japan was won.

At a meeting in Hazelwood Lane Captain Malandine, the Liberal candidate was asked about sending refugees back to their own countries:

PGSG 29 Jun 1945 empire and refugees

The main issue was housing. At a meeting at Southbury Road School  Mr Bartle Bull was questioned by an ex- sergeant major who had lost a leg during the war. When he had first been demobbed he had been unable to find work. When he did he lost money having to go before medical boards. he had to attend 15 and was allowed only 9/- for the loss of a days work. His rent had increased from  15/- before the war to 32/6. There were some strange questions for the candidates:

There were three candidates in each of the local constituencies as follows:


Evan Durbin (Labour) *

Squadron Leader Geoffrey Sparrow (Conservative)

JA Ward (Independent)


Bartle Brennan Bull (Conservative)

John Danny (Liberal)

Ernest Davies (Labour) *

Southgate (then part of Wood Green constituency):

Beverley Baxter (Conservative)*

Captain Edwin T Malandine (Liberal)

Councillor WA Vant (Socialist)


There was a suggestion that the war hero Charles Coward would stand as a candidate in Edmonton but nothing came of this.

TEWH 15 Jun 1945 Coward

The result of the election was a victory for Labour.  Labour won in both Edmonton and Enfield. Local people also won seats in other areas. Percy Daines of Chase Green Avenue won for Labour in East Ham North.

EG 3 Aug 1945 Daines

PGSG 3 Aug 1945 resultsMrs Mabel Ridealgh, a prominent member of the Enfield Highway Co-operative Society won for Co-op and Labour in Ilford North. The results were first reported in the late news section of the paper.TEWH 27 Jul 1945 results

War in the Far East

The soldiers fighting in Burma, Malaya, Hong Kong and other parts of the Far East are often described as the Forgotten Army. Events in this theatre of war were certainly reported less frequently than events in Europe despite local residents being involved.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7th December 1941 was followed by the attack on Hong Kong on 8th and the sinking of the British ships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales on 10th. The Enfield Gazette for 12th December 1941 made no mention of Pearl Harbor but in ‘Late News’ reported that 2000 survivors of the Repulse and the Prince of Wales had reached Singapore. There was also a report that the Japanese had landed at Kuantun on the East Malay coast.

The 1st Middlesex Regiment (The Diehards) were at Hong Kong. The ‘Diehards were a machine gun battalion.  According to the Enfield Gazette 500 of the men came from Edmonton, Enfield and Tottenham. All but a hundred of them were regular soldiers who had been abroad for ten years. A dozen school friends from Bush Hill Park had joined the ‘Diehards’ together in the 1930s. Two were brothers Reg and William Law of Sixth Avenue. Another BHP resident was Fred Carpenter who wrote four long letters a week home to his mother in Third Avenue, providing news for the whole district*. On 26th December the Gazette reports that the defenders of Hong King   were still fighting.  News that Hong Kong had surrendered on 25th December had not yet reached home. In the edition of 2nd January 1942 the Gazette reports that the ‘Diehards’ and the Royal Scots were forced to surrender when the Japanese bombed the water pipe supplying the garrison.

For many families in Enfield that was the last they heard of their relatives for several years. Some families only found out what had happened to their relatives after Japan surrendered and the POW camps were liberated.  Ray Stubbs, who lived in Southgate, wrote a book about his time as a prisoner of the Japanese. In it he described how it was two years before prisoners were allowed to write home. They were given postcards but had to stick to standard phrases such as that they were being well treated and had plenty to eat. When the cards were collected the Japanese guards burned them all in front of the prisoners. Stubbs’ was twice reported ‘missing’ to his family.

PGSG 16 Nov 1945 Stubbs

Some news did come through: Lance Corporal Wilfred Arthur Martin age 21 of the 2nd Battalion of the Cambridgeshire Regiment was reported killed in action on 25th January 1942. He was the eldest son of Mr and Mrs WJ Martin of Enfield Wash. He was educated at Enfield Grammar and had been employed as a dispatch clerk to WJ Spear & Sons of Brimsdown. Private Leslie Andrews, age 23, who was reported missing in January was found to be a Prisoner of War in Japan in July 1942. Before the war he had worked for Bellings.  The paper quoted his parents saying they hoped he would be home for his twenty fourth birthday. Sadly the Commonwealth War Graves website shows an entry for Private Leslie William Andrews of Enfield Lock in October 1942. The parents of Corporal Kenneth Bethell on the other hand had no news from their son after a letter in October 1941 telling them of his move to Malaya. He seems to have made it home.

A tragic case reported in the Enfield Gazette on 13th March 1942 was of a woman whose life was so ‘shattered’ by her husband’s death in Singapore that she jumped into the River Lea with her four year old daughter so that they could be reunited. The woman was saved but the child drowned. The woman was found guilty of the murder of her daughter and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted.

After the surrender of the Japanese was announced there was a two day public holiday celebrated with parties and bonfires. Two Edmonton men witnessed the Japanese surrender. CFN (Craftsmen REME) J Matthews of St Joan’s Road saw the Japanese envoy’s plane land in Rangoon. It was escorted by eight Spitfires. The Japanese planes were ordinary transport aircraft painted white.  Ordinary Seaman Leonard Warnell also witnessed the Japanese surrender: See Below:

TEWH Aug 1945 Warnell Jap surrender

In Edmonton Mrs Webb of Cuckoo Hall Lane made a flag featuring the ‘Angel of Peace’ which she presented to the Council. There was a victory parade which started in Bounces Road. Led by the Mayor, Alderman Preye, it included bands arranged by Walter Tyrell with contingents from ex-servicemen’s organisations, National Fire Service, Civil Defence, Women’s Voluntary Service, Nurses from The North Middlesex Hospital and many other organisations. The parade went along Fore Street to Pymmes Park where a service of thanksgiving was held led by the Reverend WB Davies of St Martin’s.

Most POWs held in the Far East missed the celebrations at home. As many of the camps were in remote areas it took time for them to be liberated. Even then some of the prisoners needed hospital treatment before they were strong enough to be flown home. It was also with the end of the war that local families began to receive official notice of relatives who had died.

*All three Bush Hill Park boys appear on the CWG website.

Local Heroes

Towards the end of the Second World War more and more reports appeared in the local newspapers about local men (I haven’t found any women yet) being awarded medals for acts of bravery. This is a very random selection taken from the Tottenham and Edmonton Weekly Herald and the Enfield Gazette.

Flight Lieutenant Albert George Willers from Upper Edmonton was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). One of the actions he was cited for was in August 1944 when he attacked a train near Abbeville and his plane was damaged by anti-aircraft fire. Despite this he managed  to fly his aircraft home with great skill and executed a masterly landing.

Colour Sergeant Major SA Brown, Royal Engineers was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for devotion to duty whilst serving in Madagascar. The son of Mrs Dearing of Harman Road, Enfield he was a civil servant before the war and volunteered at the outbreak of hostilities.

Colour Sergeant Major SA Brown
Colour Sergeant Major SA Brown

Wing Commander Adrian Warburton, DSO and Bar, DFC and two Bars was the most decorated reconnaissance flyer in the RAF. He was reported missing presumed killed in April 1944. He was the only son of Commander Geoffrey Warburton and Mrs M Warburton of Park Avenue, Enfield.

Wing Commander Adrian Warburton
Wing Commander Adrian Warburton

Pilot Officer RG Morgan of Colne Road, Winchmore Hill was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM). He was a former member of the Edmonton Air training Corps. He was an air gunner in a Halifax bomber.

Lieutenant Cyril Henry Bottell of Enfield was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for services in North West Europe. The citation was for an attack on a German Command post in Antwerp. Lieutenant Bottell led his men with great courage, leaping across a two foot wide parapet hurling grenades before him to gain entry. He was severely wounded in the stomach but continued to lead his platoon and then covered the withdrawal being the last but one person to leave the building.

Captain Ronald RD Wigley son of the late Mr TR Wigley and Mrs Wigley of Park Crescent, Enfield was awarded the Military Cross. He joined the army in 1940 and served from Alamein to Sicily.  He was educated at Enfield Grammar School.

Flight Lieutenant Beadman, eldest son of Mr and Mrs H Beadman, partner in the firm of Henry Beadman and Son, Baker Street, Enfield was awarded a bar to his DFC for conspicuous gallantry while leading two squadrons of Mosquitos in a daylight raid on Germany. He was an experienced flyer before the war and joined the RAF at the outbreak of hostilities. He was one of five brothers who all served in the forces. A younger brother Sergeant Pilot EAB Beadman was killed in action in June 1941.

Flight Lieutenant Beadman
Flight Lieutenant Beadman

Sergeant Tommy Rose of Lea Road, Enfield, son of Mr FS Rose of Bridgenhall, Russell Road was awarded the Military Medal for his service with General Montgomery. He was educated at Lavender Road School.

Sergeant Tommy Rose
Sergeant Tommy Rose

Bombardier JC Pines of Enfield was awarded the British Empire Medal in recognition of his two and a half years’ service on the Dover cross-Channel guns. The Dover guns played an important part in the attacks on Calais and Boulogne. He attended Chesterfield Road School. Before the war he was a commercial artist.

Bombardier JC Pines
Bombardier JC Pines

Flight Lieutenant Dennis Hewitt  Pruden from Winchmore Hill was awarded the DFC. The citation records that this officer has set a fine example of courage and devotion to duty.

Sapper Frank Robert Wheeler of Enfield was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for services on the Italian Front. He was commended for operating his ‘dozer’ in order to repair a vital road while being shelled.

Flying Officer Tony Whitehead of Monastery Gardens, Enfield was awarded the DFC. He was educated at St Ignatius College and was an active member of the Riverside Football Club with his brother Lieutenant Bernard Whitehead who served with the Chindits under General Wingate. A younger brother, Cyril was at Dunkirk and then served in Germany.

Captain Arthur Desmond Andrews of Enfield was awarded the MC for services in North West Europe.  His coolness and devotion to duty undoubtedly saved the infantry from heavy losses and enabled them to fight their way through the cordon of enemy that surrounded them.

These are just a few of the local men who were awarded medals during the Second World War.

Women in the Second World War

Conscription for women was introduced in December 1941. All unmarried women aged between 19 and 30 (later extended to 43) were required to register for war work. Women could join the services: The Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) or the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). Although women could not serve in combat roles joining the services meant that women could learn a trade such as mechanics which would never have been open to them in peacetime. Women flew planes and staffed anti-aircraft guns amongst other tasks. Winston Churchill’s daughter Mary served in the 469 Heavy (Mixed) Anti-Aircraft Battery at Chase Side, Enfield.

The ban on married women working as teachers and nurses was lifted as they were essential to replace the number of men who had gone into the armed forces.

Women teachers at Bury  Road
Women teachers at Bury Road

They could also work in industry or farming. By December 1943 one in three factory workers were women making munitions, planes, ships and other items essential to the war effort.

In Enfield women took over many postal deliveries. They helped run the British Restaurants and information centres. Women worked in increasing numbers in all the local factories, such as the Royal Small Arms, Ripaults, Belling, The Metal Box and many others.

Women also volunteered as fire watchers and joined the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) which helped with billeting evacuated children, providing food and clothing for bombed out families and providing emergency rest centres.

The Women’s Land Army was set up in June 1939. At its peak in 1943 there were over 80,000 Land Girls. Land Girls were employed at Forty Hall, Oakwood Park  (see below)and other farms in the area.