Skip to main content

On Saturday 6th May 2023, the Coronation of King Charles III will take place at Westminster Abbey. The Crown Jewels, which are kept at the Tower of London form an important part of the ceremony, as the sacred objects which represent the powers and responsibilities of the monarch are presented to the new King or Queen during the service. To mark the Coronation the Royal Armouries in Leeds displayed replicas of the Crown Jewels also kept at the Tower of London.

The Crown Jewels have a long history and have witnessed many of the triumphs and tribulations of Great Britain. In this story, we will explore their connection to a Leeds suffragette, Leonora Cohen, OBE,  nicknamed ‘The Tower Suffragette,’ who fought her whole life for the rights of women.

A photograph of a respectable young woman in profile who gazes proudly into the distance with a determined look and a glint of humour

Leonora Cohen, OBE wearing a Holloway Brooch following her release from Holloway Prison. © Leeds Museums and Galleries, UK / Bridgeman Images.

Leonora Cohen, OBE (née Throp) was born in 1873 in Hunslet, Leeds to Jane Throp, a seamstress and Canova Throp, a sculptor.

Her father died at a young age, leaving Jane to raise Leonora and her two brothers.

From early on, Leonora experienced the hardships of the inequality between men and women. Her father’s loss was felt in the wages her mother brought home, 3 ¼ d per hour as a tailoress. At this time, male tailors were earning double per hour. She left school as soon as she was old enough to work with her mother and make a financial contribution to the household. At the age of 14, she became an apprentice milliner.

Jane would often lament “Leonora, if only we women had a say in things” but women didn’t have a say. Women couldn’t vote.

This played on Leonora’s mind and in an interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post in 1966, she said “I have always been appalled by injustice. A drunken lout of a man opposite had a vote because he was male. I vowed I’d try and change things, I felt it in my bones.”

In October 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a campaign for women’s suffrage and equality. Although the movement is famously associated with acts of violence and vandalism, it didn’t start off as a militant organisation.

Leonora joined in 1909 and recalled speaking to crowds “for the cause in every park and on all the moors in Leeds.” The Leeds branch of the WSPU regularly had a stand in Victoria Square, located outside of Leeds Town Hall and she would enlist her son Reg to help sell “The Suffragette,” a newspaper described as “the organ of the movement.” Suffragettes raised funds and awareness for their cause by hosting social events such as fancy-dress dances and making marmalade and jam. She laughs, telling a reporter in one interview, “I think I must have made enough marmalade to fill Roundhay Lake.” An impressive feat, given that the lake is in Roundhay Park, Leeds, known for being one of the largest city parks in the world.

Jam and marmalade could only take the suffragettes so far. It soon became apparent that for their cause to be heard and taken seriously, they needed to change their tactics, adopting the mantra “Deeds, not words.” They soon began taking direct action, which included arson, bombings, hunger strikes and dangerous stunts, some of which ended tragically like Emily Wilding Davison’s attempt to cross the track at Epsom during the 1913 Derby, where she was fatally trampled by the King’s horse.

Reflecting on this, Leonora said “I only became a militant suffragette because I realised that the use of constitutional methods for many years had achieved nothing.”

Leonora became one of Emmeline Pankhurst’s bodyguards and describes wrapping herself in “an undercovering of corrugated brown paper for protection.” The extra padding proved useful in 1911, when she was arrested for the first time at a demonstration for throwing a rock at a government building. She remembers being “knocked down and rolled under the hooves of the police horses. Over 300 of us were taken to Bow Street and I was given a week in Holloway.” According to reports, there were so many arrests that the police had ran out of charge sheets, the cells were full, and it took a week to deal with the prisoners. At that time, London’s Holloway Prison, which has since closed, was one of the largest women’s prisons in Europe and had a reputation for housing suffragette inmates. Former detainees would receive a ‘Holloway Brooch,’ a medal presented by the WSPU for their fight for the cause. Those who had served prison time were documented in a Roll of Honour, dated between 1905 and 1914.

Her ’crowning’ moment came in 1913, when the Leeds branch of the WSPU came to London to make deputations to Parliament. After her rousing speech, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George had deemed worthy of the floor of House of Commons, women’s suffrage was still not included in the reform bill and then the idea of it was dropped altogether.

Ignored again, filled with frustration, anger and poised with the expectation to do something truly outstanding for the cause, she picked up a London travel guide, studied it very carefully and decided that she would “smash something at the Tower of London.”

On 1st February 1913, she arrived at the Tower of London and made her way to the Wakefield Tower, where the Crown Jewels were on display. The room was filled with schoolchildren, and she was mistaken by the Yeoman Warder as their schoolteacher, so he paid no attention to her. She reached into her coat and pulled out a small iron bar from a kitchen grate with a label attached to it saying, “My protest against the government’s treachery to the working women of Great Britain.” She threw it over the heads of the children, and it smashed into the glass show case containing The Order of Merit. The Warders seized her, and she was taken into custody.

Immediately, the news of this shocking act spread, and alarm bells rang throughout Britain. The government ordered the closure of the Tower, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Gardens, Kew Gardens and Holyrood Castle. Newspaper headlines screamed “Is the King’s Crown safe?” while reassuring concerned readers that the electric current running around the Crown is “so strong that contact with the metal would probably mean instant death to any intruder so incautious as to touch them.”

At Thames Police Court, Leonora was committed for trial and was charged for unlawfully and maliciously committing damage to public property by breaking a show case at the Tower of London. The damage exceeded £5 and was estimated at a cost of £7.

At trial, she had decided to represent herself, taking on the cross examination of witnesses. She asked a Yeoman Warder “Was I hysterical?” He replied, “I should say your nerves were somewhat shaken and you were very excited.” She retorted, “I say that I was quite calm, I’ve never felt more calm in my life.” Which was met with a roar of laughter from the courtroom.

Leonora would later admit that she had been terrified, saying “I hate violence and destruction. I can’t think of how I managed to do such a thing.”

The brilliance of her defence was her insistence to ask a jeweller for a private estimate of the cost of damage to the show case. When the prosecutor’s show case maker told the trial that his estimate for repairing the damage would be £7, the defendant remarked “that is a very fancy price, and it is State money that will be wasted.” The jeweller’s quote came back as £4 18s, including a good profit. Leonora argued that because the cost of the damage was less than £5, she should never have been indicted for the offence. The jury deliberated at length and could come to no decision, so she was acquitted.

A photograph of a group of smartly dressed women looking determined

A group of suffragettes taking part in a procession to Woodhouse Moor. © Leeds Museums and Galleries, UK / Bridgeman Images.

Leonora continued to be surveilled by the police. Her speeches were scrutinised for any hint of threat, and in May 1913 she was brought before the Leeds County Court and charged on remand for inciting to commit crime and for disturbing the peace. Lines taken from her speech given at the procession to Woodhouse Moor (also known to Leeds locals as Hyde Park), such as “every woman in the Union is ready for anything, namely arson and pillar boxes” were used to accuse her of damage to pillar boxes in Leeds.

Defending herself again, she asked “How many militant actions followed my speeches?” The witness replied, “That I cannot say.” “Have you any evidence to prove that damage can be attributed to the members of the WSPU?” The witness responded, “We have no evidence.”

After a lengthy battle, she agreed to be “bound over,” meaning that to keep the peace, she would promise not to re-offend and be given a fine. She could not participate in WSPU activity.

In November 1913, Leonora was arrested one last time, charged with damaging three plate-glass windows in the Labour Exchange, Portland Crescent, Leeds during a visit from the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. The total estimation for damage was £26, and she was sent to Armley Gaol, now HMP Leeds to await trial. Leonora, along with three other prisoners, helpfully named ‘Woman A,’ ‘Woman B,’ and ‘Woman C’ by local newspapers at the time, went on a hunger strike, refusing to eat or drink. It was stated that she was so ill and weak that she couldn’t have her temperature taken, let alone appear in court. She was temporarily released from gaol on the grounds of poor health around a week after her arrest. She never did return to prison.

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 saw the end of militant activity, as the WSPU stopped working toward suffrage. Women threw themselves into war work, supporting the fighting forces. Leonora worked in a munitions factory and was quickly appointed to membership of the National Munitions Advisory Committee, where she was the only woman representing the trade unions. She served on several local committees and was elected President of the Leeds and District Trade Council in 1926. Later, she became President of the Yorkshire Federation of Trade Councils.

In 1922, she became a Justice of Peace and in 1938 was appointed to the Licensing Bench.  She served as a Leeds Magistrate for 30 years. She was chair of the Women’s Employment Committee under the Ministry of Labour and in 1928, she received an Order of the British Empire for her public service, where she joked that she went from “prison to the palace.” She even returned to the Tower of London for a less dramatic visit.

In 1918, Parliament granted women over 30 who were householders or wives of householders the right to vote. It wasn’t until 10 years later, in 1928 that women over the age of 21 could vote, regardless of status.

A photograph of an old woman, elegantly dressed facing forward, looking proud of her accomplishments and a life well lived

Leonora Cohen, OBE, aged 91 years old, July 1964. © Leeds Museums and Galleries, UK / Bridgeman Images

In her later years, she lived a quieter life, living in a flat in Headingley, Leeds. Her husband, Henry Cohen, passed away in 1949. Henry had been her biggest support and strength. He was by her side throughout each court defence, often seen carrying posies, which were part of Leonora’s outfit. He had endured years of rude and unpleasant comments aimed at his wife such as “If I had a wife like yours, I should tie her to the table leg.”

Leonora said of her husband “I am afraid I was a terrible worry to my husband, he was the most patient, kind and understanding.”

In his will, Henry left a moving tribute to Leonora, saying “I have lived in perfect appreciation of all her loving and unselfish devotion throughout our happy life together… My love for her has been the one perfect happiness that life has given to me, and I leave my son the solemn duty of taking my place to make her declining years happy and comfortable as she deserves of us both.”

Leonora would live to be 105. On her 100th birthday, she said “One hopes that women of the future will organise themselves into groups or unions and that they will use their vote intelligently to ensure that we will have the very highest standards of womanhood.”

Acknowledgements: Research kindly supported by Leeds Museum and Galleries.

Artillery gun

25 cm Trench Mortar M1916 sMW n/A (Schwerer minenwerfer neuer art or new model) XIX.953. 

This “Trench mortar” is on display at Fort Nelson in the Voice of the Guns gallery.

Tucked away in an unobtrusive corner of the Voice of the Guns Gallery at Fort Nelson lies a German First World War trench mortar. Apart from its obvious interest as an artillery piece it has two great stories to tell with regard to its acquisition and its restoration.

I was first alerted to the potential offer of its donation in 2004 from a lady in the Midlands. The story went that it had been brought back from the Western Front after the war by her father, a Lieutenant Colonel A. W. Brewill who had commanded the Robin Hood Rifles, Nottingham’s Territorial Army Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters. According to the regimental history, he had enlisted as early as 1878 and although well over the accepted age for military service by the time of the First World War, led the battalion on the attack of the Hohenzollern Redoubt in October 1915. Luckily, he survived the war and was able to return with this trophy before passing away in 1923 when aged only 61.

Artillery gun

Once on the farm, the mortar had apparently remained in the same place for around 85 years and the donor remembered playing on and around it as a small girl. More recently, it had first been offered to the modern descendant her father’s regiment, the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, based at Chetwynd Barracks, Chilwell, Nottingham, who, as it transpired, had neither the financial resources for its restoration and on-going care nor a suitable location in which to display it. Fortunately for the Royal Armouries and the national collection, their commanding officer recommended Fort Nelson as the proper repository for such a weapon. When I saw a picture of it for the first time, my heart sank and I wondered what we might be letting ourselves in for.

Artillery gun

The gun was in bad condition when Royal Armouries staff came to collect it

Would its delicate condition permit transport without causing it further damage and deterioration? As can be seen in the picture, it was looking very sorry for itself surrounded by a ring of rust that had accumulated over the years. Undaunted, myself and a colleague ventured north in a Luton van to collect it once the formalities had been completed. As I recall, after the mortar had been carefully manoeuvred onto the van’s tail lift, it failed to operate! Luckily enough, a friendly neighbourhood farmer watching the proceedings was able to bring a JCB in to complete the lift! Once safely delivered to the fort, the project was not started immediately due to other conservation work in progress at the time. When eventually it did, it occupied our conservation technician, Mick Cooper, for around five years of painstaking application to bring it to completion.

Perhaps one of the trickier aspects of the work related to the replacement of several of the wheel’s wooden spokes without upsetting its balance and visual appearance. In addition, small areas of the metal bed had completely rusted through and flaked away. Building up progressive layers of filler was also a challenge requiring patience and consuming a great amount of time. The elevating gear was missing which we decided not to replace. As Mick and I gave great thought to these and other difficulties we wondered how many rounds this weapon had fired and how it came about?

Germany was amongst several countries to notice that one of the principle artillery failings during the 1904/5 siege of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese war, was the age-old one of heavy artillery’s inability to reduce fortifications. What was required for the future was a short-range weapon such as a mortar capable of delivering a heavy explosive charge onto a target with relative accuracy – and plenty of them. Further, if that could also include the destruction of barbed wire obstacles which field artillery found difficult to clear then so much the better. In Germany, a committee of engineers was formed to seek a solution by devising a suitable launcher. Their objective was aided immeasurably with their alignment to the new German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall rather than with their rival, the long-established firm of Krupp. Three models were planned: heavy, medium and light with the former receiving attention first and introduced in 1910 as the sMW a/A (alter art or old model), heavy mine launcher. It had a rifled bore of 25 cm (9.84 in), was muzzle-loaded with a recoil mechanism and the laying facility of a gun. Its 97 kg (215 lb) shell, with an explosive charge of 50 kg (110 lb), equated to the bigger-bored mortars of 28 cm (11 in) and 30.5 cm (12 in) yet was a tenth of their weight. Regarded therefore as portable with a mass of only 768 kg (1693 lb), the five man detachment could emplace it in a trench and expect to fire up to 20 rounds a minute to a range of 880 m (960 yd).

Artillery gun

This new model was manufactured in 1916 with a longer barrel for further range – which was always a desirable characteristic in any artillery piece. It meant that the mortar did not need to be deployed in the trench but emplaced further behind the lines to prevent the counter battery fire that it usually always attracted. Its range therefore increased to 1250 m (1368 yd).

It is curious to note that the trench mortar found little favour in both Britain and France during the early stages of the First World War. That was until Sir Wilfred Stokes, Managing Director of Ransomes & Rapier of Ipswich, managed to persuade the Minister of Ammunition at the time, David Lloyd George otherwise, following a favourable demonstration of his Stokes mortar in June 1915. He was sufficiently impressed to order one thousand paying for them with money donated by an Indian maharaja! The sMW was powerful and robust and could also deliver a phosgene gas D-Mine. As a measure of its importance to the Germans during the First World War, 44 examples were available at the commencement of hostilities which, by the war’s end had grown to 1234 in service.

More information about the gun can be found in our Collections Online.

Railway gun on display

18-inch breech loading railway howitzer, 1918, Britain (AL.387) – on loan from the Royal Artillery Historical Trust. © Jonty Wilde / By kind permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust

This “Railway Gun” is on display at Fort Nelson in the Artillery Hall.

Getting up close is the best way to comprehend its size and to appreciate the manufacturing expertise expended in the construction of this super-heavy monster artillery. The barrel weighing 86,364 kg (85 tons) was designed to throw a shell of 1135 kg (1.12 tons) containing a bursting charge of 78 kg (172 lb) of T.N.T. to a range of just over 20 km (13 miles). To achieve this the barrel had to withstand around 25,401 kg (25 tons) of pressure per square inch around the charge of 120 kg (265 lb) of cordite. The reason for this was to bring an even greater weight of firepower down on the German Hindenburg defensive line on the Western Front than had been possible with two naval 14-inch guns. These were also railway mounted, made by the Elswick Ordnance Company (EOC) of Newcastle and named ‘Boche-Buster’ and Scene-Shifter’.

Responding to a request from General Headquarters in France for bigger artillery, the Munitions Council, probably towards the end of 1917, invited both EOC and Vickers Ltd to submit designs based on a bore of 18 inches. Eventually EOC built three, including the one we have today, and Vickers two but none of them were finished before the end of the war! However, they were put to very good use thereafter as will be revealed below. Introduced into British service on the 8th May 1920, this barrel, designated L1, had been proof fired and had its charge determined in April 1919 at Woolwich. Soon after it was sent to the Proof and Experimental Establishment at Shoeburyness in Essex for further proof firing and other firings to enable the compilation of its range characteristics, that is, the relationship of barrel elevation and propellant charge to range – vital information for a Battery Commander. The mounting upon which L1 sits is much older.

Mountings such as these were constructed by the Royal Carriage Department, Woolwich, solely for the proof firing of heavy calibre naval guns between 12-inch and 16.25-inch. This example as number 10 was built in 1886 and weighing 96,525 kg (95 tons) spent most of its working life at either Shoeburyness or Woolwich oftentimes ferried between the two on War Department barges.

In the years following 1918, most of the heavy artillery barrels and railway gun rolling stock was moth-balled at various Royal Army Ordnance Depots. The commencement of the Second World War in 1939 focussed attention again on the nation’s available artillery. Moves were made to locate, classify and note its condition and one of the experts called upon to help was none other than Major S.M. (Monty) Cleeve, Battery Commander of 471 Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, who, with a 14-inch Mark III gun upon ‘Boche-Buster’ gave a demonstration firing to King George V on an official visit – the so-called ‘Kings Shot’ in 1918. Cleeve found four 18-inch barrels including L1 and four mountings at Chilwell, Nottingham. Could such important artillery be brought back into service? Winston Churchill certainly believed so following his coming to power as Prime Minister in May 1940 and the fall of France one month later. This allowed the Germans to commence emplacing powerful coast defence guns in the Pas de Calais region opposite Dover quite capable of cross-Channel bombardment. The Kent coast defences in particular needed strengthening and Churchill’s view was that these old guns and mountings could help but not before much inspecting, maintenance and railway line preparation. Eventually, barrel L2 and ‘Boche-Buster’ were united in October 1940 but the journey to Kent was not started until February 1941.

Large artillery gun firing from a railway carriage and track in 1941

18-inch Howitzer on ‘Boche-Buster’ firing a ranging round in Kent, May 1941.

Although operated by the 11th Super Heavy Battery, Royal Artillery, and housed in Bishopsbourne Tunnel on the Elham Valley Line, this unit was never called upon to engage an enemy target and was therefore regarded as somewhat of a white elephant by the other coast defence detachments. Nevertheless, Churchill enjoyed showing it off to visiting VIP’s when visiting that part of Kent. Its relatively short range meant that at best it would have been able only to cover the approaching shoreline in the Dover vicinity. By 1943 it had been withdrawn to Salisbury Plain to continue further investigative firing trials into concrete penetration.

These had started at Shoeburyness in 1943 involving L1 on No.10 with twin objectives in mind. Firstly, to use one or more 18-inch Howitzer in subsequent operations in France following the invasion of Europe specifically firing a shell of modified design strong enough to penetrate concrete and secondly, research into strengthening air-dropped rotating and non-rotating 454 kg (1000 lb) bombs when targeting concrete. It was far cheaper and simpler to use a gun rather than attempt to hit a target from an aircraft flying at height. It avoided taking an aircraft and its crew from front-line service and the post-strike recovery of the bomb was much easier. It is believed by the author of this piece that Barnes Wallis was involved in this research in order to help with the construction of his 5080 kg (5 tons) Tallboy and 10,160 kg (10 tons) Grand Slam earthquake bomb. Interestingly, L1 fired its last round, a 1000 lb bomb, as late as the 27th November 1959.

Large gun mounted on a railway carriage and track

18-inch Howitzer on Railway Proof Carriage at Shoeburyness, Essex on 7 June 1990. Crown Copyright.

For some years afterwards, both gun and carriage remained at Shoeburyness somewhat neglected in a remote siding. Apart from an occasional coat of paint and several attempts to pass the unit on to other defence establishment, it was not until 1979 that it was refurbished and moved to a more visible location there. Full retirement came in 1991 when it was gifted by the Ministry of Defence to the Royal Artillery Historical Trust and placed on public display outside the Rotunda at Woolwich. There it lay for seventeen years until 2008 when it was moved again, this time to the Royal Artillery Barracks at Larkhill where it was set-down on a section of railway line adjacent to the sports field. In 2013 permission was granted for it to star in the exhibition ‘Tracks to the Front’ at the Dutch National Railway Museum (DNRM) in Utrecht, Holland detailing the story of trains in wartime as part of the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht. A clause in the six-month loan agreement committed DNRM to meet the expense of its relocation to an English site which, after a short period of negotiation, was agreed to be the Royal Armouries (RA) Museum of Artillery at Fort Nelson. Its transport by road and sea to Holland and back was of sufficient interest to feature as a documentary in the Monster Moves television series for Channel 5. The loan to the RA was originally for five years but this was extended in 2018 to 2023.

18-inch Railway Howitzer and Railway Proof Carriage arriving at Fort Nelson

18-inch Railway Howitzer and Railway Proof Carriage arriving at Fort Nelson on 17th September 2013. © Philip Magrath

More information about the gun can be found in our Collections Online.

By Luca Golzio

After the introduction of the Military Service Act in 1916 the number of men who were required to leave the RSAF to join the armed forces increased. They were replaced by men who were either unfit to serve or who had been released from military service due to wounds or ill-health, and by women, who had traditionally been employed only as clerical staff, canteen or char ladies.

A group of First World War women munitions factory workers pose for the camera

A group of women munition workers at the RSAF many wearing their On War Service badge. In the centre is the Lady Superintendent, Jessie O’Brien, the others are unknown. © Enfield Local Studies and Archives.

The number of women working at the RSAF grew dramatically from only 5 at the end of 1915 to over 1,000 by the end of the following year, with the majority taken on to perform skilled and semi-skilled work in the workshops and stores.

typed memo

Women workers progressed to highly skilled jobs with higher rates of pay. © National Archives. Ministry of Munitions Memo.

Even girls as young as 14 were employed – and there were no less than 106 in October 1917.By the time the war ended nearly 1500 women were working in the factory performing a variety of important tasks such as examining components and parts to ensure that they were correctly manufactured, and viewing finished rifles.

Index card with details of women workers

Index card showing the rapid rise in the number of women workers at the factory after April 1916.

A summary of the workers at RSAF Enfield throughout the First World War
Date Men Boys Women Total
August 1914 1672 107 0 1778
December 1914 4154 694 0 4848
December 1915 6079 1185 5 7269
March 1916 6339 1255 22 7616
December 1916 6722 1233 1158 9163
December 1917 7145 1134 1465 9744
November 1918 6730 987 1459 9176
hand written page

After April 1916 men who were conscripted for military service from the RSAF were replaced by women. RSAF Factory Memo Book.

The introduction of large numbers of women caused some practical problems for the RSAF. Many new rules and regulations were introduced, a hostel built, and a separate canteen provided, which had a recreation room for rest and amusement attached. The women provided a piano, and dancing, gymnastic, needle work and other classes were arranged by the Lady Superintendent.

Handwritten page from the memo book

Strict dress regulations for women workers were introduced for health and safety reasons. RSAF Factory Memo Book.

There were such large numbers of women now employed in place of men fighting at the front, that a women’s “On War Service” badge was produced and issued to any women working in munitions and arms factories, regardless of whether they were considered skilled or unskilled workers, in recognition to their efforts. They often had to travel long distances to and from work, and those wearing the badge were often granted priority boarding buses and trams, and given concessions on fares. Some people would even show their appreciation by offering them their seat.

hundreds of women sat in the canteen at wooden tables and benches

The large canteen built for women workers at the RSAF. © Enfield Local Studies and Archives.

Unfortunately, no records survive of the women who worked at the RSAF during the First World War, but they can be seen on the photographs of staff of the various departments and workshops taken in 1918, which will be the subject of a future post.

Heritage Lottery Fund

By Luca Golzio

Although many men were happy to volunteer for the armed forces in the patriotic fervour that characterised the beginning of the First World War, there were others who for various reasons declined to enlist. However, there was great pressure on men of military age to volunteer, and young women were even encouraged to present a white feather, the traditional symbol of cowardice, to those who were not in uniform.

Crowds of men leave the RSAF Enfield factory gates at "dinner time".

Workmen leaving the factory at dinner time.

In October 1914 John Pretyman Newman, the Conservative MP for Enfield, who was serving as a Captain in the Middlesex Regiment on the Western Front, harshly criticized the men of his constituency because he felt that the enlistment figures for the town were too low. Some of the workers of the Royal Small Arms Factory, those who were reservists in the armed forces, did volunteer at the beginning of the war, but others were discouraged from doing so because the factory was engaged in vital war work. Those who wished to enlist had to seek permission from the Superintendent of the factory in order to do so.

Staff memo from 1915 stating that all men needed permission before enlsiting in the army

Before the introduction of conscription men wishing to volunteer for military service at the beginning of the war needed permission from the Superintendent. Staff Memo 1915.

In early 1915 the War Office decided to issue an “On War Service” badge to workers at munitions factories. The badges were not meant to be issued to everyone who was working in a factory, but only those workers who were regarded as highly skilled and indispensable for the war effort, although in practice they were often given semi-skilled and even unskilled men. The bearer of such a badge was therefore able to prove to anyone that, although not giving service in the armed forces, he too was doing his part for his country. The first badge was oval-shaped and was topped with a crown. It was made of brass, but had a blue enamelled border bearing the inscription and the date, with the arms of the Board of Ordnance in the centre. It was replaced by a cheaper brass version in 1916.

Brass badge featuring 3 cannons and 3 balls, surmounted by a crown and the motto "on war service 1915"

The “On War Service” badge introduced for workers in the Ordnance Factories in 1915

By the beginning of 1916 the steady flow of volunteers had ceased, and in order to ensure that there were enough men for the armed forces the Military Service Act was passed. All single men between the ages of 18 and 41 were eligible to be called up unless they did very skilled work or were medically unfit or there were other exceptional circumstances. In May conscription was extended to married men.

Staff memo stating that all men were liable for military service

After the introduction of conscription all men between 18 and 41 were liable for military service. Staff Memo 1916.

Workers at Enfield were no longer exempt from military service, and had to either enlist immediately, or attest as willing to serve, or be automatically called up. Medical Board’s visited the factory to examine men to see if they were fit for military service. Some men appealed against being called up, but by June 1917 a total of 1,470 men had been released from the factory to join the armed services, of whom 280 were married and 1190 single.

On War Service badges – part 2

The number of women working at the RSAF grew dramatically from only 5 at the end of 1915 to over 1,000 by the end of the following year.

During the First World War, acts of bravery became an almost daily occurrence as people did things that would have been unthinkable in peacetime. Some acts of bravery though, were so extraordinary that they needed special recognition.

The Victoria Cross is awarded for valour and devotion to duty in the face of the enemy. It is the highest possible award that can be given. During the First World War, 627 people committed acts of such extraordinary bravery that they received the Victoria Cross.

Twelve of these 627 people called Leeds their home, and their names are recorded on a memorial stone in Leeds city centre. Their acts of bravery are listed below and begs the question: where can lay claim to be the bravest place in Britain?

Victoria Cross with suspension bar and ribbon

Victoria Cross with suspension bar and ribbon awarded to Quarter Master Sergeant William Marshall, 19th Hussars, date of action 29th February 1884. By permission of Tyne and Wear Museums.

Memorial stone with hundreds of poppies placed in front of it.

Victoria Cross memorial for those born and buried in Leeds

Private William Boynton Butler

Born: Armley, Leeds, 1894
Died: Leeds, 1972 (aged 77)
Age when awarded the Victoria Cross: 23

Four First World War brave soldiers stood at ease in a line, with a Churchill tank in the background

Private William Boynton Butler stands third from the left alongside three other recipients of the Victoria Cross. © IWM (Q54252)

For most conspicuous bravery when in charge of a Stokes gun in trenches which were being heavily shelled. Suddenly one of the fly-off levers of a Stokes shell came off and fired the shell in the emplacement. Private Butler picked up the shell and jumped to the entrance of the emplacement, which at that moment a party of infantry were passing. He shouted to them to hurry past as the shell was going off, and turning round, placed himself between the party of men and the live shell and so held it till they were out of danger. He then threw the shell on to the parados, and took cover in the bottom of the trench. The shell exploded almost on leaving his hand, greatly damaging the trench. By extreme good luck Private Butler was contused only. Undoubtedly his great presence of mind and disregard of his own life saved the lives of the officer and men in the emplacement and the party which was passing at the time.

“…it will only be for what other men have done, or what is being done every week of the year.”

A letter from William Boynton Butler to his parents, September 1917

Sergeant Laurence Calvert

Born: Hunslet, Leeds, 1892
Died: Dagenham, Essex, 1964 (aged 72)
Age when awarded the Victoria Cross: 26

First World War brave soldier in uniform posing for the camera

Sergeant Laurence Calvert VC MM. © IWM (VC 174)

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack when the success of the operation was rendered doubtful owing to severe enfilade machine-gun fire. Alone and single-handed Sjt. Calvert, rushing forward against the machine-gun team, bayoneted three and shot four.

His valour and determination in capturing single-handed two machine guns and killing the crews thereof enabled the ultimate objective to be won. His personal gallantry inspired all ranks.

“… I could not bear to see the lads of my company getting knocked out by that damned Jerry gun, and I thought it was up to me to shift it, and this is the result.”

A letter from Laurence Calvert to his mother.

Company Sergeant-Major Harry Daniels

Born: Wymondham, Norfolk, 1884
Died: Leeds, 1953 (aged 69)
Age when awarded the Victoria Cross: 31

For most conspicuous bravery on 12th March, 1915, at Neuve Chapelle. When their battalion was impeded in the advance to the attack by wire entanglements, and subjected to a very severe machine-gun fire, these two men voluntarily rushed in front and succeeded in cutting the wires. They were both wounded at once, and Corporal Noble has since died of his wounds.

Private Wilfred Edwards

Born: Norwich, Norfork, 1893
Died: Leeds, 1972 (aged 79)
Age when awarded the Victoria Cross: 24

For most conspicuous bravery when under heavy machine gun and rifle fire from a strong concrete fort. Having lost all his company officers, without hesitation he dashed forward at great personal risk, bombed through the loopholes, surmounted the fort, and waved to his company to advance. By his splendid example, he saved a most critical situation at a time when the whole battalion was held up and a leader urgently needed. Three officers and thirty other ranks were taken prisoner by him in the fort. Later, Pte. Edwards did most valuable work as a runner, and he eventually guided most of the battalion out through very difficult ground. Throughout he set a splendid personal example to all, and was utterly regardless of danger.

Captain David Philip Hirsch

Born: Weetwood, Leeds, 1896
Died: Wancourt, France, 1917 (aged 21)
Age when awarded the Victoria Cross: 21

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack. Having arrived at the first objective, Capt. Hirsch, although already twice wounded, returned over fire-swept slopes to satisfy himself that the defensive flank was being established. Machine gun fire was so intense that it was necessary for him to be continuously up and down the line encouraging his men to dig and hold the position. He continued to encourage his men by standing on the parapet and steadying them in the face of machine gun fire and counterattack until he was killed. His conduct throughout was a magnificent example of the greatest devotion to duty.

Private (Shoeing-Smith) Charles Hull

Born: Harrogate, West Yorkshire, 1890
Died: Leeds, 1953 (aged 63)
Age when awarded the Victoria Cross: 25

For most conspicuous bravery. When under close fire of the enemy, who were within a few yards, he rescued Captain G. E. D. Learoyd, whose horse had been shot, by taking him up behind him and galloping into safety. Shoeing-Smith Hull acted entirely on his own initiative, and saved his officer’s life at the imminent risk of his own.

Lance-Sergeant Frederick McNess

Born: Bramley, Leeds, 1892
Died: Boscombe, Dorset, 1956 (aged 64)
Age when awarded the Victoria Cross: 24

For most conspicuous bravery. During a severe engagement, he led his men on with the greatest dash in face of heavy shell and machine gun fire. When the first line of enemy trenches was readied, it was found that the left flank was exposed and that the enemy was bombing down the trench. Serjeant McNess thereupon organised a counter-attack and led it in person. He was very severely wounded in the neck and jaw, but went on passing through the barrage of hostile bombs in order to bring up fresh supplies of bombs to his own men. Finally he established a “block” and continued encouraging his men and throwing bombs till utterly exhausted by loss of blood.

Sergeant Albert Mountain

Born: Richmond Hill, Leeds, 1896
Died: Leeds, 1967 (aged 71)
Age when awarded the Victoria Cross: 22

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during an enemy attack, when his company was in an exposed position on a sunken road, having hastily dug themselves in. Owing to the intense artillery fire, they were obliged to vacate the road and fall back. The enemy in the meantime was advancing in mass preceded by an advanced patrol about 200 strong. The situation was critical, and volunteers for a counter-attack were called for Sjt. Mountain immediately stepped forward, and his party of ten men followed him. He then advanced on the flank with a Lewis gun and brought enfilade fire to bear on the enemy patrol, killing about 100. In the meantime, the remainder of the Company made a frontal attack, and the entire enemy patrol was cut up and thirty prisoners taken. At this time, the enemy main body appeared and the men, who were numerically many times weaker than the enemy, began to waver. Sjt. Mountain rallied and organised his party and formed a defensive position from which to cover the retirement of the rest of the Company and the prisoners. With this party of one Non-commissioned Officer and four men, he successfully held at bay 600 of the enemy for half an hour, eventually retiring and rejoining his Company. He then took command of the flank post of the Battalion which was “in the air”, and held on there for 27 hours until finally surrounded by the enemy. Sjt. Mountain was one of the few who managed to fight their way back. His supreme fearlessness and initiative undoubtedly saved the whole situation.

Private Arthur Poulter

Born: East Witton, North Yorkshire, 1893
Died: Leeds, 1956 (aged 63)
Age when awarded the Victoria Cross: 24

For most conspicuous bravery when acting as a stretcher-bearer. On ten occasions Pte. Poulter carried badly wounded men on his back to a safer locality, through a particularly heavy artillery and machine-gun barrage. Two of these were hit a second time whilst on his back. Again, after a withdrawal over the river had been ordered, Pte. Poulter returned in full view of the enemy who were advancing, and carried back another man who had been left behind wounded. He bandaged up over forty men under fire, and his conduct throughout the whole day was a magnificent example to all ranks. This very gallant soldier was subsequently seriously wounded when attempting another rescue in the face of the enemy.

Sergeant John Crawshaw Raynes

Born: Sheffield, Yorkshire, 1887
Died: Leeds, 1929 (aged 42)
Age when awarded the Victoria Cross: 28

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. On 11th October, 1915, at Fosse de Bethune, his battery was being heavily bombarded by armour-piercing and gas shells. On “Cease fire” being ordered Serjeant Raynes went out under an intense shell fire to assist Serjeant Ayres, who was lying wounded forty yards away. He bandaged him, and returned to his gun when it was again ordered into action. A few minutes later “Cease fire” was again ordered owing to the intensity of the enemy’s fire, and Serjeant Raynes, calling on two gunners to help him—both of whom were killed shortly afterwards—went out and carried Serjeant Ayres into a dugout. A gas shell burst at the mouth of the dugout, and Serjeant Raynes once more ran across the open, fetched his own smoke helmet, put it on Serjeant Ayres and then, himself badly gassed, staggered back to serve his gun. On 12th October 1915, at Quality Street, a house was knocked down by a heavy shell, four men being buried in the house and four in the cellar. The first man rescued was Serjeant Raynes, wounded in the head and leg, but he insisted on remaining under heavy shell fire to assist in the rescue of all the other men. Then, after having his wounds dressed, he reported himself immediately for duty with his battery, which was again being heavily shelled.

Corporal George Sanders

Born: New Wortley, Leeds, 1894
Died: Leeds, 1950 (aged 56)
Age when awarded the Victoria Cross: 22

A World War One brave soldier smiles into the camera

Corporal George Sanders VC MC. © IWM (Q81178)

For most conspicuous bravery. After an advance into the enemy’s trenches, he found himself isolated with a party of thirty men. He organised his defences, detailed a bombing party, and impressed on his men that his and their duty was to hold the position at all costs. Next morning he drove off an attack by the enemy and rescued some prisoners who had fallen into their hands. Later two strong bombing attacks were beaten off. On the following day, he was relieved after showing the greatest courage, determination and good leadership during 36 hours under very trying conditions. All this time his party was without food and water, having given all their water to the wounded during the first night. After the relieving force was firmly established, he brought his party, nineteen strong, back to our trenches.

“Everybody is so pleased I have got it as it is such an honour to the battalion”

A letter from George Sanders to his parents (reported in the Leeds Mercury, Monday 18 September 1916).

Private Jack White (Weiss)

Born: Leeds, 1896
Died: Salford, 1949 (aged 53)
Age when awarded the Victoria Cross: 20

For most conspicuous bravery and resource. This signaller during an attempt to cross a river saw the two Pontoons ahead of him come under heavy machine-gun-fire, with disastrous results. When his own Pontoon had reached midstream, with every man except himself either dead or wounded, finding that he was unable to control the Pontoon, Pte. White promptly tied a telephone wire to the Pontoon, jumped overboard, and towed it to the shore, thereby saving an officer’s life and bringing to land the rifles and equipment of the other men in the boat, who were either dead or dying.

In this season of remembrance we are proud to display three medals and to highlight the stories of the Leeds men who received these honours for their service to our country during the First World War. The medals will be displayed in the War Gallery until 28 April 2019.

To mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries, uncovers an extraordinary object, found in the tower stores. This oak board was commissioned to commemorate the Armouries’ staff’s contribution to the war effort, and is currently on display at the White Tower as part of a four year commemorative exhibition.

On 11 July 1917, the Tower Armouries’ Curator Charles ffoulkes wrote to Mr Carpenter, the Tower carpenter, requesting:

“a rough sketch for the Board of frame of oak for the Armouries. I enclose details which should be painted in letters about half an inch caps, and a quarter of an inch small letters. Space should be left for four or five names at the bottom”.

He attached a list of seven names, C ffoulkes, W H Buckingham, T H Williams, D Nash, G Shaw, G Taylor and WA Harwood. Later, changes were made to the board’s original brief. Three extra names were added (T Garnett, J W Griffin and W Heath), as well as ffoulkes’ promotion to Major, Royal Marines, August 1918.

Oak board, showing the names of members of the Armouries staff serving in the war

Tower Armouries Staff War Service Board (xviii.682)

A celebration of contribution

64 years later, in 1981, I came across the Board in store but paid it scant attention. Great War memorials were an established part of the landscape and the celebration of Armistice Day declining. The First World War poets were an integral part of adolescence and 1914 marked the end of history according to my A level syllabus. Most families still had elderly relatives who had taken part in the conflict.

As the centenary of the outbreak of war loomed times had changed. The last surviving combatant died in 2012. Nationwide plans were in hand to commemorate the event. In the White Tower, a rolling 4-year exhibit was underway. The board was the obvious choice for 2018 and I sought it out again to properly assess it.

My assumption that this was a memorial board proved wrong – it celebrates the Armouries’ staff’s contribution to the war effort and its creation was very much in line with ffoulkes concern that insufficient work was being done to preserve a record of this great conflict. So who were these men?

Charles ffoulkes

black and white archive image of a man sat behind his desk, surrounded by arms and armour

ffoulkes in his office in the Flamsteed Turret, 1916

Charles ffoulkes volunteered for London’s Air Defence, becoming a Lieutenant Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a the service came under the Admiralty’s wing. His active involvement secured a unique trophy of a spent German incendiary device and shell cases from the guns returning fire during the first Zeppelin raid on the City of London, 8 September 1915.

A spent German incendiary device and shell case in a display case

A unique trophy (xviii.474 A-C)

In March 1917 ffoulkes accepted the job of Curator and Secretary of the National War Museum (today’s Imperial War Museum). Fortunately the Tower Armouries post was “a rather unusual appointment with a nominal salary, no age limit and no fixed hours of duty”, allowing him to continue in the role on Saturday afternoons and any other spare time.

W.H. Buckingham

Black and white portrait photograph of a man holding a helmet

W.H. Buckingham at the Armouries

Buckingham is one of the two fatalities recorded in the conflict, indicated by a small cross. He is also one of the few Armouries staff of this era we can put a face to. A West Ham lad, Buckingham completed his carpenter’s apprenticeship and joined the Tower in the late 1880s  . Promoted to Armouries’ foreman in the mid -1890s, he also served as a Volunteer Artilleryman spending 1900 on active service in South Africa. He was 44 when he and Williams joined their Regiments in September 1914. Battery Sergeant Major Buckingham, R.F.A served King and Country drilling recruits in Peterborough. Sent home on 3 weeks sick leave he died 15 March 1915 of phthisis (tuberculosis). His funeral in Ilford five days later attracted an enormous crowd and the cortege including ffoulkes was so large it delayed his burial by an hour.

an old black and white photograph of men hoisting a wooden horse into the White Tower

A rare photograph of an Armouries work party in action. May 1913: Foreman Buckingham supervises Henry VIII’s new wooden horse hoisting into the White Tower.

D. Nash

Buckingham’s successor Foreman Nash joined the Armouries in 1892. Enlisting in October 1916 he became attached to the War Trophies section of GHQ France collecting “souvenir” material. He resumed his position as Armouries Foreman in March 1919 finally retiring as Armouries Supervisor 30 October 1942.

Men of mystery

The others named on the Board remain shadowy figures. Able Seaman W.A Harwood served on HMS Pembroke and died Sunday 14 January 1917. He is buried in Paddington Old Cemetery, Kilburn.

Shaw’s appointment is recorded on 3 August 1916, as is his joining the colours four days later. Taylor’s absence in noted on 19 December 1916, the same day A White was appointed to replace Harwood. The 1918 Minute book records Griffin’s January arrival, Thompson and Garnett’s in July; Garnett was dismissed October 1923 – his misdemeanour unspecified.

The board makes no mention of Acting Foreman Bishop, Nash’s substitute. Called up for service 18 December 1916, there is reference to extended service exemption a year later. The Minute Book notes he sounded the all clear at the Tower’s Armistice Parade at 11am on 11.11.1918 explaining he was a bugler (late 1st Hants Regiment). He moved aside on Nash’s return in 1919. It appears Bishop sustained an injury in 1922 which may explain his resignation in February 1925.

The ending of the “war to end all wars” was a defining point in world history and the lives of all those involved would be changed forever. Fighting on the Western Front officially ended at 11.00am on 11 November 1918 – securing peace took longer. ffoulkes organised a gun- crew to join Hyde Park’s gun-salutes celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919) and finally Lausanne(24 July 1923). He was also involved with a number of war commemorations including the Whitehall Cenotaph, Westminster Abbey’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and Tower Hill’s Mercantile Marine Memorial.

Though we may know little about the men on the board itself, we honour their sacrifice so we might live in freedom today.

The Board is currently displayed on the first floor of the White Tower as the centrepiece of “Armstice 11.11.18”

The poppy is widely recognised in Britain and the Commonwealth today as the symbol of remembrance. It was a Canadian officer, John McCrae, who first noticed these small red flowers growing around the graves of fallen soldiers in 1915, and was moved to write his famous poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

"Will you help?" A British soldier head emerges from a field of poppies, representing his fallen comrades: "sellers needed for poppy day"

Designed by a Captain E.H. Spencer of Leeds and adopted by the British Legion for the 1955 Poppy Drive. It shows the face of a Tommy surrounded by a blood red background of poppies, and represents the sacrifice of the men who lost their lives.

Inspired by the poem, American teacher Moina Michael bought paper poppies from a local department store and handed them out, in memory of the fallen, to delegates of a YMCA conference in New York that was taking place the day the Armistice was signed. She then campaigned for it to be adopted as the official symbol of sacrifice in America, and in 1920 the American Legion National Convention gave its approval.

It was Madame Anna Guerin while working for the ‘American and French Children’s League’, which used the poppy as its emblem and had been supplying America with artificial poppies, who first thought of selling the artificial poppies to raise money for veterans. She encouraged the adoption of the poppy by other Allied nations as a symbol for their losses, and met with Field Marshall Earl Douglas Haig, the Founder and President of the British Legion, and persuaded him to adopt the poppy as their emblem in late 1921. The first Poppy Appeal was launched later that year in the run up to the third anniversary of the November Armistice, with the proceeds being given to veterans in need of financial and medical support.

"1914-1918 - Remember - 1939-1945" Two British soldiers from both world wars stand side by side. "sellers needed for poppy day"

Designed by Captain E.H. Spencer of Leeds, showing a Great War soldier standing next to a comrade from the Second World War. Although not adopted by the British Legion, the poster’s message is a reminder of the continued importance of the role of volunteers in the sale of poppies today.

The original poppies were manufactured in France, but a Poppy Factory was established in London in 1922 by Major George Howden MC of The Disabled Society for ex-servicemen and women, which employed up to five veterans to manufacture them. A second factory was established in Edinburgh in 1926 by Countess Dorothy Haig for the sister charity, the Earl Haig Fund Scotland, which was founded in 1921 for the same purpose. Year by year the demand for poppies grew, and in 1933 the London factory was moved to larger premises in Surrey.

Today in the lead up to the anniversary of the Armistice millions of poppies are manufactured, and sold by volunteers in shops and supermarkets across Britain. These unpaid helpers are the backbone of poppy sales, and without them the vast amounts of money raised for veterans would not be possible. Anyone can become a member, regardless of whether they are an ex-member of the armed forces or not, as long as they help to continue the tradition of poppy selling.

Many variations of poppies are now produced for a variety of messages, including a white poppy available from the Peace Pledge Union, which honours the civilian loss felt in war.

Written by Aaron Clayton, Hull University

When the empires of Europe clashed in 1914, military commanders struggled to adapt to the new weapons available on an industrial scale. Military technology was further developed, and new ways found to use it. In this blog post, we take a look at the No.5 Mark 1 Mills grenade, first British hand grenade ever to be issued on a large scale.

Development of the No.5 Mark 1

During the First World War, the War Department believed that the Belgian designed self-igniting hand grenade would be a valuable asset for British soldiers in the trenches. Patented in 1912 by Captain Leon Roland of the Belgian Army, the Compagnie Belge de Munitions (CBdM) was established in order to market the grenade to a British manufacturer.

The task was given to William Mills of Mills Co. An experienced engineer, he was given the task of redesigning the grenade, making it safer and more efficient than its Belgian counterpart.

Shiny black painted hand grenade

Hand grenade – No.5 Mk. 1 Mills Bomb (about 1915) XX.2204

After a few false starts, Mills in 1915 sent prototypes to the troops in France of his cast iron bodied, egg shaped grenade. Eventually this prototype became the No.5 Mark 1 and was the first British hand grenade ever to be issued on such a large scale.

Resembling a small pineapple due to its segmented outer form, these segments were originally designed to fragment. Due to the nature of explosives, however, they failed to do so, but instead provided a firm grip in the wet conditions of the trenches.

How was it used?

To detonate the grenade the safety pin had to be removed. Once the pin was pulled out, by use of the attached ring, the user would hold the lever down and prepare to throw. When thrown the lever would release. As the lever released the striker would drop onto a percussion cap, the blast from which lit the fuse. This burned for five seconds before it reached the detonator.

A good bomber would have to be able to throw a bomb to a distance of around 30.5 m (100 feet), thus protecting themselves from the blast. It was deemed that cricketers, especially those with a good bowling arm, made the most effective bombers.

The No.5 grenades were supplied to the infantry in wooden chests, each containing 12 grenades, with a tin of igniter sets. These complete detonator units each comprised the detonating charge, a 5-second fuse, and a cap chamber housing the initiating percussion cap, along with a base plug key.

Diagram of a No 5 Mills hand grenade

Instructional diagram showing the Mills Hand Grenade, Godstone Grenade School, Britain, 1917, taken from a loose-leaf notebook belonging to Lieutenant J.M.Y Trotter, No.2 Officer Cadet Battalion, relating to his training.

Arming a Mills bomb was straightforward, requiring only that the base plug be unscrewed, the detonator assembly inserted and the plug screwed back down. This was always done ahead of time and whilst in cover, but remained an inherently risky task. Private Clarrie Jarman, a scout bomber of the 7th Queen’s Regiment recalled: “There was a bang and screams and the stretcher bearers went at the double to some poor devils who had let their concentration wander.”

Personal recollections

Private J. Curdie, 6th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry/Royal Flying Corps

Private Curdie describes how to make improvised hand grenades out of jam tins (mp3, 2 MB). [download transcript (txt, 2 KB)].

Private Thomas Nash, Manchester Regiment

Private Thomas Nash gives a gruesome account of the effects of throwing a Mills bomb hand grenade at a German soldier (mp3, 3 MB) [download transcript (txt, 2 KB)] being under machine gun and artillery fire, and going ‘over the top’ with bayonets fixed. He enlisted in 1916 and served on the Western Front.

What effect did they have on trench warfare?

These grenades were an essential part of trench warfare, in particular during raids. Interestingly, notes from a bombing course that took place at the School of Arms in Hythe in January 1920, still taught the tactics of bombing a trench. It has to be concluded that the lessons learned from the War impacted on the future of bombing and what tactics to use to gain optimum effect.

In order to storm a trench you would need eight men and one NCO  in the following formation:

Like many of the weapons developed for industrial scale use during the First World War, the Mills bomb defined a class of grenade that remained the standard British fragmentation grenade for over 55 years.

Written by Lisa Traynor, Curator of Firearms.

You can read more about the origins and use of the Mills bomb and other arms of the First World War on our collections online feature.

Heritage Lottery Fund

To coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War the Royal Armouries has launched a project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund to mark the contributions of the men and women who worked at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield during the two world wars. Here we explore the life of one of the few workers at the RSAF during the Great War we have identified by name.

Middle-aged man in a factory wearing glasses inspecting the trigger assembly of a rifle

William Godfrey assembling a rifle

by Tom Betteridge

Trawling through the surviving collection of photographs of the RSAF during the First World War one photo stood out in particular. It was a photo of a lone worker and written on the back was the name William Godfrey and the date 1918. With just a name and a photo, the task of piecing together William’s life began, using census and other records.

Alfred William Godfrey was born in London on 27 August 1871 to John and Emily Godfrey. In 1881 the family was living at 57 Government Row, Enfield, and his father was employed as a gun stocker at the Royal Small Arms Factory. His father left home sometime after 1881, it is not known why, but his mother listed herself as widow in the 1891 Census to avoid any social stigma attached to having been deserted (when his brother Arthur married some years later he listed his father as a deceased gun maker on his marriage banns although he was in fact still alive). By this time William aged nineteen was the oldest of six siblings, and working at the RSAF as a filer. His mother was a self-employed laundress, and his younger sister Elizabeth born about 1873 was a cartridge maker. The presence of a lodger in the household may be an indication that the family were suffering from financial hardship at this time.

In 1893 William married Bertha Adams, and in 1901 he and his wife were living at 8 King’s Road, Cheshunt, with two young children. He was still working as a gunmaker, and his younger brother Arthur John Godfrey was also working at the RSAF. Both brothers appear in one of the few surviving staff registers, with William’s staff number recorded as ‘1639’, and a note stating that he was transferred to the Assembly Shop on the 11 May 1912. Arthur’s name appears twice on the register; once in 1903 and again in 1906 when he is listed under the Sighting Department. His staff number is ‘1776’.

Rifle held in a bench vice surrounded by tools and parts

An rifle assembler’s workbench

In 1911 William was living at 66 Catisfield Road, Enfield Wash, with his wife, 3 sons and 2 daughters, and was still working as a gunmaker at the RSAF. In 1918, when the photo was taken, he was an Assistant Foreman on the night shift at the factory. His wife, Bertha, appears to have died in 1932, and when the 1939 Health Survey was taken William was living at 18 Catherine Road, Enfield, with his unmarried youngest daughter Gladys. He was still working as a rifle assembler, and presumably served at the factory throughout the Second World War.

William died on 23 September 1954.

William’s story is just one of many stories that can be told, and with further research there is still more to be uncovered about his life and job at the R.S.A.F.

Please contact us if you have information on the men or women who worked at the Royal Small Arms Factory and you would like to share this with us as part of the project.