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.


Palmers Green to New Southgate WWII Heritage Trail

As part of the Enfield at War Project we have been producing war walks for Edmonton, Enfield and Southgate. The Enfield Town First World War Heritage Trail is already available and now the next one has just come back from the printer.  The Palmers Green to New Southgate WWII Heritage Trail is an easy walk that takes between 1½ and 2½ hours.  It starts at Princes Avenue  the site of the highest number of deaths in a single incident in World War Two and takes you through Palmers Green to Broomfield Park,  Waterfall Road, Arnos Park, Bowes road ending up at the Grove Road Open Space in New Southgate.  The leaflets are available from Enfield Local Studies Library & Archive, First Floor Thomas Hardy House, 39 London Road, EN2 6DS and will be distributed to all Enfield libraries. The map can also be downloaded from the Enfield Council website: . WWII walks for Enfield and Edmonton will be available soon.

Also on the Enfield at War website are articles from local newspapers published during the First World War: . They are a mixture of the serious and the silly reflecting the attitudes and opinions of people at the time.


Although Gallipoli is thought of as mainly involving Australian and New Zealand troops many other nations took part. One local man described to the Southgate Recorder that the troops were truly international with English, Irish, Welsh, Scots, French, Jews, Indian and Senegalese as well as the Anzacs.

Gallipoli Casualties

Wounded & missing Deaths
Australia 18500 8195
New Zealand 5150 2431
British Empire * 198000 22000
France 23000 27000
India 1700
* excluding Anzacs

By 1915 the situation on the Western Front was a stalemate.  Churchill hoped to break the stalemate by forcing Germany to fight on two fronts. By capturing Gallipoli on the western side of the Dardanelles the Allies hoped to remove Turkey from the war and possibly persuade some of the Balkan states to come in on the Allies side.

It was originally intended to be a naval operation. The attack began on the 19th February 1915. Bad weather caused it to be abandoned after three battleships were sunk and others damaged.

The delay allowed the Turks time to prepare defences and re-inforce the troops.

Gallipoli map

On 25th April troops started to land. The Australian and New Zealand Troops forced a bridgehead at Anzac Bay. The British tried to land at five points around Cape Helles but were only able to establish a foothold on three before having to call for re-enforcements. French troops landed at Kum Kale after launching a feint at Besika Bay.

Account of Gallipoli landing by Private Eastaugh from Enfield
Account of Gallipoli landing by Private Eastaugh from Enfield

After this very little progress was made. Anzac Bay was surrounded by steep cliffs which kept the Australian and New Zealand troops penned up on the beach at the mercy of Turkish shells and sharp shooters.

Conditions were appalling. In summer it was extremely hot and in the winter months freezing cold. There was an inadequate supply of fresh water. It was difficult to bury the bodies of the dead due to the rocky terrain and the constant shelling of the Turks. Hot weather and putrefying bodies produced swarms of flies.  This and the lack of clean water contributed to the spread of diseases such as dysentery, diarrhoea, and enteric fever. Of 213,000 British casualties 145,000 were from disease.

The end came with the evacuation of the ANZAC bridgehead and Suvla Bay (10th-19th December 1915) and the evacuation of Cape Helles(10th December 1915 – 6th January 1916).

We don’t know exactly how many local men were at Gallipoli. We have the names of some of those who died there:

Private John Robert Akers, 2nd Royal Fusiliers

Albert Howard Andrews, 6th Lincoln Regiment

Frank Gilderoy Batters

Sergeant Garnett Arnold Baughan, 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Private WP Bryant of the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers from Edmonton

JM Findlay Dickson son of RS Dickson of Palmerston Road

Geoffrey Frangcon-Davies, Honourable Artillery Company

Sergeant Austen Campbell Dent

Lance Corporal AG Dring, 2nd Royal Fusiliers

Victor Gadd went down with the ‘Goliath off the Dardanelles

Private WH Hartridge

Private SV Loveday, 21st battalion Royal Fusiliers

Jack Maller, New Zealand Army

Corporal William Ernest Miller, son of Daniel & Emily Miller of 6 Allandale Road, Enfield Wash

Ernest Verrill Nunn

Frank Page

Sergeant WJ Piggott, 1st London Field Company

Trooper Prytherck

Corporal Gordon Robinson, RAMC son of Benjamin and Mary Ann Robinson of 160 Chase Side, Enfield

Sub Lieutenant Eric Vyvyan Rice son of Sir William Rice of Grasmere, Bowes Park (one of six brothers serving in the armed forces)

Eric Rice

Herbert James Wigg

If you know the names  and stories of any others who took part in the landings at Gallipoli we would love to hear from you.

There will be a commemorative event  to mark 100 years since the start of the Gallipoli campaign in the War Memorial Garden at Broomfield Park, Aldermans Hill on 26th April from 15.00- 17.00