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During the Second World War HM King George VI made morale-boosting visits to factories throughout Great Britain.

On Sunday 6 June 1940, he visited the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) at Enfield Lock, with the Minister of Supply, Herbert Morrison, where workers were busy making weapons to replace those lost by the British Expeditionary Force during the evacuation of Dunkirk.

During his tour of the factory, the King saw rifles, Bren guns and heavier types of machine guns in every stage of production. He frequently stopped and talked to the workers.

the King in uniform examine a BREN gun with a technician and 3 men in suits during his tour of the factory

King George VI with Herbert Morrison (left) examines a Bren gun. Royal Armouries Archives.

Daphne Laing, who was employed as a wages clerk, recalled that:

“The King visited the RSA when I was there. He was just a man, but a lovely one. He went around talking to the staff, including us in the Cash Office, and afterwards, he had lunch with some of the senior people.” [recorded in an interview for Enfield Local Studies and Archives on 26 July 2019]

He spoke to W.J. Hoy, who was making parts for a Bren gun, and asked him, “Are you working at full pressure?” Hoy replied that they were working 24 hours a day, “We’ve got the men and we know they want the guns.”

Later on, he fired a Bren gun on the outdoor ranges. He sat on a piece of canvas and fired sixty rounds, two magazines, at a target two hundred yards distant. The first magazine he fired in rapid burst, but the second he fired in many single shots. When he got up the King said “Very good. It is a very nice weapon to use. I am surprised there is so little recoil.”

The King in uniform firing a BREN gin while 4 other men look on

King George VI firing a Bren gun on the range at Enfield. Royal Armouries Archives.

The King’s visit to the RSAF was kept secret at the time, but photographs appeared later in newspapers, and film footage shot to be shown in newsreels at cinemas around the country. Even then the name and location the factory were not revealed.

Movietone News, The King visits Sunday work at Factory

Pathe News, The King sees them go to it

 An untold story in the Bren gun saga

A man poses for a passport photo with slick back hair and a shirt and tie.

Arthur William King’s passport photograph. Reproduced by permission and courtesy of the RSAF Apprentices Assocation

For every story of exceptional bravery, there are scores more that, for whatever reason, have simply never been related.  Therefore it is such a treat when one comes to the surface and can finally be told, as is the case with an otherwise normal young man from Waltham Abbey in Essex, who travelled to Czechoslovakia in 1938 on a secret mission for the British Government.

Arthur William King was born in 1904, son of William and Martha King, and spent his childhood growing up in and around Greenfield Street in Waltham Abbey.  Arthur’s father, William, worked at the Royal Gunpowder Factory, a significant employer in that area, and it was only natural when Arthur followed in his footsteps.  He served his apprenticeship in the Royal Ordnance Factories at Waltham Abbey, Enfield and Woolwich, and was promoted to foreman at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, before eventually becoming an official representative of the Chief Inspector of Armaments. His job led to him travelling both to the United States, where he acted as the British representative to the Colts Firearms Manufacturing Company, and also around Europe, which is where the story begins to get rather more mysterious.

The Road to War

Nazi Leadership stands in a row with Neville Chamberlain after signing the Munich agreement.

The Munich Agreement 1938, Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R69173. Creative Commons.

In September 1938, Neville Chamberlain travelled to Munich, to deal with the Adolf Hitler’s territorial demands over Czechoslovakia. He returned to Britain declaring ‘Peace in our time” but only after agreeing to cede the Sudetenland, the border regions of Czechoslovakia, to Nazi Germany. Shortly after this, in December, Arthur made his first trip to Czechoslovakia, spending almost a month in the country in an official capacity, though doing what exactly, remains unknown.

A page from a passport showing numerous official stamps

Arthur William King’s passport showing Nazi Stamps. Reproduced by permission and courtesy of the RSAF Apprentices Assocation

The plot thickens with Arthur’s second visit to the country, which saw him leave England on 14 March 1939 and race across Europe at the same time as Nazi Germany forces invaded Czechoslovakia, at a time when most sensible people were heading in the opposite direction, trying to flee before the advancing Germans arrived. He travelled through Vlissingen in the Netherlands, then on to Bentheim in the Reich before making his way overland all the way across Germany into Czechoslovakia, now travelling through Nazi territory on a diplomatic visa, as well as carrying a temporary German identification card. He arrived on the 15th on the same morning as the last train left Prague for Poland.

A green ID card in German from 1939

Arthur William King’s temporary ID Card. Reproduced by permission and courtesy of the RSAF Apprentices Assocation


The Reason

Why the interest with Czechoslovakia?  In the city of Brno, 230 miles south-east of Prague, the Czechs had designed an excellent light machine gun, the ZB vz26, which had been adopted by the British Army as the Bren Gun, and manufactured at the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) at Enfield Lock. The name Bren recognised the joint work done at BRno and ENfield.

A machine gun with a top loading magazine and a stand. It has BREN written on the front.

Bren Gun Mk. 2. Royal Armouries

Sensitive to the now occupying German forces, the British Government was keen to get a modified design of the latest Bren Gun out of Czechoslovakia while they still had the opportunity. Using his diplomatic cover, Arthur managed to smuggle the gun under the noses of the Germans into the British Embassy in Prague; however the problem remained of how to get it back to England.  This was solved by dismantling the gun and putting the various components into diplomatic bags, which the Germans were unable to search without causing an international incident.  These bags were then sent individually back to London, rather boldly via Berlin.  Parts and drawings all arrived safely in Britain where the gun was reassembled.

A propped up gun with dark wooden stock and gunmetal mechanisms.

ZBvz26 Light Machine Gun. Royal Armouries

Above and Beyond

Arthur did not stop there, though.  He also took the opportunity, using his fluent German language skills and his natural charms, to take photographs of key buildings in Prague whilst chatting to the guards in order to gain useful information.  He also sat on a park bench with a couple of girls looking like innocent tourists whilst keeping an eye on German tanks entering the city and counting them.  Of course he was thoroughly debriefed upon arrival back in London. Incredibly, Arthur made further dangerous trips to Czechoslovakia after the Nazi occupation, at great risk to himself.

Three Guards with rifles guard a large building's front gate.

Photograph of German guards outside the Prague Palace taken by Arthur William King. Reproduced by permission and courtesy of the RSAF Apprentices Assocation

With the commencement of the Second World War, Arthur went to work for the Ministry of Aircraft Production and in 1942 he was allocated his own personal aeroplane and pilot.  Utilising these, he spent much of the time being flown around various RAF stations fitting new 20mm cannon to Spitfires.  He continued working for the Ministry after the war, finally retiring in 1964.  Due to the secretive nature of the work, Arthur’s wartime exploits were never officially recognised.

Those who did sensitive work during the war took their roles incredibly seriously, and many took their secrets with them to the grave, remaining forever silent.  Although Arthur spoke little of his war related adventures, what he did tell his family, coupled with a treasure trove of documents he left behind, including his passport filled with Nazi Swastika stamps and visas, gives us a glimpse into the murky world of espionage, and hints  at his unspoken bravery and total disregard for his personal safety.  Arthur William King was a truly remarkable man and an unsung hero.

Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield Lock) Roll of Honour

As part of a project to mark the contribution made by the men, women and lads who worked at the Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield) during the First and Second World Wars the Royal Armouries and Enfield Local Studies and Archives have researched this Roll of Honour, which lists the men from the factory who died in the service of their country.

If you have any further information about these individuals, or any names that you wish to add, please contact

First World War

Private Benjamin BANKS, Machine Gun Corps, died 6 August 1918
Lieutenant P. R. BARTON
Private Edwin William BONE, Machine Gun Corps, died 10 January 1918
Private Charles BROWN, Honourable Artillery Company, died 2 September 1918
Private Albert BUNNEY, 11th Bn., Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), died 7 June 1917
2nd Lieutenant Cyril Percy BURLEY, 7th Bn., Royal Sussex Regiment, died 8 August 1918
Private Robert Edward BUTLER, 2nd Bn., Essex Regiment, 18 April 1918
Private Horace CLARK, 3rd Bn. (attached 2nd/4th Bn.), London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers), died 1 September 1918
Private E.W. CLIFTON, 19th Bn., Middlesex Regiment, died 3 October 1918
Gunner Albert Edward DAVIES, 149th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, died 27 October 1916
Gunner William C. DORRINGTON, 94th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, died 20 August 1917
Signalman E. W. EDSON, Royal Navy, died 23 February 1917
Private Frank FARLEY, Middlesex Regiment, died 14 March 1915
Private Albert FOSTER, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, died 22 March 1917
Rifleman W. FREEMAN, Queens Westminster Rifles, died 17 August 1917
Regimental Sergeant Major, Michael GUILFOYLE, 7th Bn., Royal Dublin Fusiliers, died 9 October 1916
1st Air Mechanic, William Harry HART, Royal Naval Air Service, died 31 January 1917
Private William HAWKES, Machine Gun Corps (Heavy Branch) formerly King’s Own Scottish Borderers, died 11 February 1917
Gunner Gerald Walter HURST, 4th Bn., Royal Marine Artillery, died 23 April 1918
Lance Corporal George James KEENS, 1st/8th Bn. Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), died 25 November 1917
Private William Leonard LUCKMAN, The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (1st/7th Bn. , Middlesex Regiment), died 3 May 1917
Private Felix MASKELL, Rifle Brigade attached 58th Bn. Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), died 25 April 1918
Alfred McDOWELL, Royal Navy, died 17 April 1917
Private A. MONTGOMERY, 9th Bn., Lancashire Fusiliers, died 16 January 1917
Private Frederick OAKDEN, 1st Bn., Middlesex Regiment, died 16 April 1918
Private F. PARKINS
Private Robert John PITE, 1st Bn. Hampshire Regiment, died 31 October 1914
Driver Thomas Francis RAINER, C Battery, 103rd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, died 5 October 1917
Private Sydney STARR, 4th Training Reserve Bn., Yorkshire Regiment, died 15 October 1917
Private Cecil SUTTON
Private Leonard Harold WALLACE, Essex Regiment, died 18 April 1918

William Henry MIDDLEHURST, Army Inspection Department, RSAF, accidentally killed on the firing range, 9 October 1915

Second World War

Ordnance Artificer 3rd Class Leslie Leonard CAPON, Royal Navy, died 31 December 1942
Petty Officer Airman Derek Walter DIGGINS, Royal Navy, died 30 May 1944
Sergeant Kenneth William KEEN, RAF Volunteer Reserve, died 19 April 1943
Sub-Lieutenant Ronald Ernest PRITCHARD, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, died 1 November 1844

Drawing of RSAF (Enfield) and clock tower

Discussions of alcohol consumption are prominent in today’s society, with many commentators arguing that the binge drinking culture could be curbed by stricter management and restricted opening hours for pubs. The idea of limiting alcohol intake is certainly not a new one, however. Stuart Bowes explores a scheme that, in 1916, sought to regulate drinking in four Royal Small Arms Factory [RSAF] pubs in Enfield.

hotel with people stood outside

The Royal Small Arms Hotel, early 20th century

The threat of alcohol

During the First World War it was believed that it was not only the nation’s health that was at stake, but its ultimate safety. Indeed, David Lloyd George (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) declared in March 1915: ‘We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink, and so far as I can see the greatest of these deadly foes is drink’.

In response, the Government set up the Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic) [CCB] in May 1915 to regulate the consumption of alcohol. Among its powers, including restrictions on licensing hours and forbidding the buying of rounds, was the authority to take licensed premises under state control. This was the State Management Scheme. In the end, this policy was only ever implemented in three areas – Carlisle, Cromarty Firth, and Enfield – all of which housed armaments and munitions factories that were crucial to the war effort.

The Enfield pubs slaking the thirst of the RSAF

It was in Enfield that the scheme was first trialled. On 2 February 1916, four pubs in the vicinity of the Royal Small Arms Factory [RSAF] in Enfield came under state ownership, the Greyhound, Royal Small Arms Hotel, Ordnance Arms, and Swan and Pike. These four pubs were chosen because their clientele was overwhelmingly formed of RSAF workers.

pub on a canal path

The Swan and Pike, early 20th century

The rationale was simple. If workers at armaments factories like Enfield drank too much then productivity would suffer through missed hours and underperformance, leading to critical shortages on the fronts. Government ownership was designed to prevent this damaging outcome through a variety of controls, such as regulating the strength of beer, reducing opening hours, and redesigning interior layouts so landlords could monitor all their customers. In Enfield, for instance, the state-owned pubs were only open for four and a half hours around factory meal times. Spirits were seen as particularly dangerous to productivity given their relative strength. So in a letter of 25 January 1916 to Board of Customs & Excise the CCB related that it had ‘been necessary to remove spirits from Enfield’.

letter removing spirits from The Greyhound pub

Central Control Board Letter of 1916 Demonstrating Removal of Spirits from Enfield © National Archives

The scheme was not all about restriction though. It also sought to improve the standards of Enfield’s pubs for the benefit of its patrons. This was largely pursued in two distinct but related strategies. Firstly, the state-owned pubs were refurbished to increase space and create a more pleasant atmosphere in which punters would feel less inclined to drink to excess. When the Greyhound reopened a member of the CCB, Henry Carter, praised it for being ‘spacious, airy and comfortable’. Secondly, there was an increased emphasis in these pubs on serving food, facilitated by the construction of larger dining rooms. By providing cheap and well-cooked for meals, it would fill the workers up and mitigate some of the negative effects of the alcohol they consumed. After the reconstruction of the Royal Small Arms Hotel in June 1917, its main dining hall was able to seat 600, allowing it to feed 2,000 to 3,000 workers a day.

pub on a canal with a horse and cart in front

The Greyhound, early 20th century


By all accounts these innovations seemed to be received well by both the RSAF workers and the authorities. Following the reopening of the Greyhound a group of workers sent an address to the chairman of the CCB – Lord D’Abernon – commending its sensitivity to the workers’ comfort and even praising it ‘as a model of what all public-houses should be in industrial places’. Likewise, it met general approval from its state sponsors: ‘by general consent the Enfield Lock enterprise resulted in an increase of sobriety, good feeling, and working ability’. Not all were pleased though. The pub owners felt that they had been cheated of the lucrative profits brought by the expanded workforce of RSAF Enfield during wartime. Thus there are hundreds of pages in the CCB documents devoted entirely to discussions of compensation, in which the publicans strongly pressed their case.

man walking a horse along a canal with pubs in the background

The Swan and Pike (left, in background) and Ordnance Arms (right), early 20th century

A short lived experiment

In spite of the support of most of those affected, the scheme was not to last. Unlike in Carlisle where the State Management Scheme lasted into the 1970s, in Enfield it proved relatively short-lived. Reduced demand at the end of the war saw the Ordnance Arms and Swan and Pike close in 1919. Finally, in 1922 the two remaining pubs were returned to private ownership. Enfield’s experiment in state-regulated drinking was over.

It may be nearly a century since the State Management Scheme in Enfield ended, but there is much it can still tell us. The crucial significance of factories like RSAF Enfield to the British government during the First World War is demonstrated by the fact that ministers were willing to invest manpower and resources to regulate just one aspect of the workers’ lives that could have a detrimental effect on armament production. The importance of pubs as the linchpins of communities is evidenced by the great interest with which the RSAF workers followed the scheme and supported any alterations to these cherished institutions. Furthermore, it provides us an opportunity to investigate the inner workings of this unusual and tightly-knit society based around a government arms factory. Ultimately though, it shows us how we are not that different from our forebears in our desire to have a drink.

This piece has been created from research undertaken during the Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield) Roll of Honour Project. This project, carried out with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund, seeks to uncover the lives of the workers at RSAF Enfield during the First and Second World Wars. A major part of the project is investigation of the documents, photographs, and objects concerning the factory held in the Royal Armouries collections.


Kew, National Archives, HO 185/208
Kew, National Archives, HO 185/339
Tim Putnam and Dan Weinbren,  A Short History of the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield (London: Centre for Applied Historical Studies Middlesex University, 1992)

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

Red brick clock tower

Clock Tower above the Machine Shop at Enfield Island Village © R Tuthill

Any visitor to the site of the old Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock (now Enfield Island Village) will be immediately drawn to the Machine Shop, which stands at the heart of the complex, and is one of the oldest surviving buildings. At the centre of the building is the clock tower with its bell, which chimes on the hour, every hour, to tell the time for local residents and those working at Enfield Island Village.

The history of the clock has always been something of a mystery as it is dated 1808, eight years before the factory at Enfield was officially commissioned. Now records uncovered at the National Archives have revealed that the clock was originally installed at the Royal Small Arms Manufactory at Lewisham in 1808, and then moved to Enfield in January 1819 almost exactly 200 years ago.

Architectural drawing of the clock tower at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield

Plans and elevation of the Clock Tower for the RSAF at Enfield Lock

On 2 February 1808 the Board of Ordnance, which was responsible for the supply of equipment to the armed forces, ordered a common turret clock from the clockmaker, John Thwaites, for the manufactory at Lewisham for which they later paid £95 14s 0d (about £4,450 in today’s money). Thwaites was one of the most renowned clockmakers of the day, and supplied time pieces all over the world. His turret clocks were designed to be mounted in church towers, town halls, and other public buildings, and would have been essential in factories to ensure that workmen kept to time. The Lewisham clock was able to run a full 8 days without rewinding and was linked to a bell.

Turret clock mechanism

The name of the clockmaker and date of manufacture can be seen stamped on the clock © RSA Trust

The records further reveal that when the Board decided to close the factory at Lewisham in 1818, and to transfer the workmen and machinery to the new Royal Manufactory at Enfield Lock, the clock was also relocated. The minutes of the meeting of the Board of Ordnance held on 18 January 1819 relate that the:

Storekeeper [George Lovell] at Enfield having by letter of the 9th instant stated that in obedience to the Board’s Orders of the 28th October 1818, the Clock from the Royal Manufactory at Lewisham had been removed to the above Station and recommended that the same might be regulated and kept in repair by Mr. Thwaites the Ordnance Clockmaker.

It is not known where the clock was originally located, but when the factory was modernised in 1856 it was moved and mounted in the tower above the new Machine Shop, where it remains today, and linked to a new bell, called Albert after the husband of Queen Victoria.

Bronze bell with the name Albert cast on it

The bell of the Enfield clock tower © RSA Trust

Enfield’s eight day turret clock is one of the earliest surviving clocks of its type still in working order, and is still maintained by the original manufacturers, Thwaites and Reed. It is the oldest surviving relic of the Royal Small Arms Manufactory at Enfield Lock… and perhaps the only surviving relic from the factory at Lewisham.

This post is based on a detailed history of the clock compiled by Ray Tuthill, the current President and Heritage Officer of the RSAF Apprentices Association, and a former apprentice at the RSAF from 1952 to 1957; and are supplemented by research carried out by Philip Abbott, the Archives and Records Manager at the Royal Armouries at Leeds.

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.

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.


"We're both needed to serve the guns", "fill up the ranks, pile up the munitions"

For the centenary of the First World War, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds is collaborating with a number of other heritage organisations to digitise archives relating to the Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield) and Local Regiments.

The project runs until March 2016 and is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund.

As the project develops we will be sharing any news, exciting discoveries, and points of interest on this blog – so keep checking back for the latest updates.

plan for how kit should be arranged for inspection

Arrangement of Kit for Inspection © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/1/1/4/4)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Royal Small Arms Factory


factory and clock tower at enfield

Established in 1816, the Enfield factory developed into the main Government producer of military small arms during the First World War. The factory produced, among others, the famous Lee-Enfield Rifle which served the British Army as a standard issue weapon for over 60 years.

Below are a few thoughts from Philip Abbott, Archives and Records Manager leading the project at the Royal Armouries:

“Enfield was such an important Governmental factory because it was a fundamental pillar throughout the 200 years of the Industrial Revolution. The factory’s fascinating history is not just that of firearms production but of our industrial and social heritage, with discoveries such as staff registers and Minute Books. We will hopefully be able to link together projects and documents through the digitalisation process and discover new clues. One main aim of this project is to find out where original records of the Royal Small Arms Factory lie now and with whom, as many important documents remained in the possession of ex-employees and administrators”

“This specific area of the project advances our knowledge of the Royal Armouries collection and creates fantastic new partnerships, which helps create and support future projects.”

The project will digitise and make available records including staff registers, plans, technical drawings and photographs in order to create a valuable resource for researchers interested in the history of the factory and its employees.

Our partners

Enfield Museum
Enfield Local Studies and Archives
Royal Small Arms Trust
RSAF Apprentices Association 
Historical Breechloading Small Arms Association (HBSA)
Historical Breechloading Small Arms Association. Northern Group

Regimental and Corps Museums


Cartoon of Lord Kitchener standing on a chair issuing weapons from the Tower of London

“Has Lord Kitchener, in his passionate desire to encourage the Volunteers, ever thought of the untapped resources of the Tower of London?”

Regimental and Corps Museums of the British Army contain a wide range of archives, including personal diaries, photograph albums, battalion orders and trench maps.

Working with 7 regimental museum partners, the project will digitise First World War material from their collections in order to create digital resources commemorating the lives of the allied soldiers who fought on both the Western and Eastern Fronts.

“The important factor of Regimental Museum’s collections is that it’s about ‘ordinary people’, which is an aspect our own collection at the Royal Armouries can sometimes lack. We need that personal view for WWI items and documents, whether reflecting life in the factory as at Enfield or the trench via the Regimental Museums.”

“Regimental Museums have a wealth of the material we need, but need the resources we have available to bring it to the public. Therefore it’s a perfect partnership.”

Our partners

Green Howards’ Regimental Museum
The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding) Museum
The Prince of Wales’ Own Regiment of Yorkshire Museum
The Royal Dragoon Guards Museum
The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
The York and Lancaster Regimental Museum
The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum


a line of men stood behind guns

Armourers course group photo – Enfield 1910