This exhibit (1070), of 1880s vintage Remington Lee is historically significant to the British Army. Not only for Britain and the British Army but the whole of the Commonwealth!
This is the actual rifle that was purchased by Britain in 1885 from Mr James Lee via the Remington rifle factory at Ilion in New York in order to test his patented bolt action with its two rear mounted horizontally opposed bolt locking lugs, the 10 round fast feeding magazine, and the trigger mechanism. As it was only these features that were the subject of the trial, this particular rifle is in 0.433 inch Spanish calibre. The trials were moderately successful, and as a result a further batch was purchased.
‘Moderately successful’ yes but one drawback was that the full-length stock was weak. In fact, this particular rifle broke during the original trial and you can see where it has been repaired. As a result of this our subsequent production versions were all made with a separate butt and fore-end together with a 3/8” steel stock bolt to reinforce the previously weak butt.
You can see that the LEE action was to replace the oh-so-slow and cumbersome Martini Henry underlever, but the ‘powers-that-be’ were still in the era of slow deliberate fire. Therefore, Enfield modified it with the magazine cut-off to ensure that it was hand-fed, singly ….. and slowly! Perish the mere thought that anyone would be so reckless as to contemplate rapid fire! ……..That’s the whole point of Lee’s design.
The result of these trials was the acceptance of the anglicised LEE METFORD made at Enfield but something even better was waiting in the wings. Not just better but, well… without mixing words, something quite magnificent.
What followed in 1903 with the introduction of cordite propellant was the magnificent, reliable, accurate, rugged ……., mere words don’t do it justice. This was the Lee Enfield, now a hallowed name that has cut its own niche in the folklore legends of firearms. Shown in the collection alongside the original Remington Lee is just such an example. The Short Magazine Lee Enfield Mk3* (exhibit 3028) also known as the RIFLE, .303” No1 Mk3, first introduced in 1903, perfected to this Mk3 form by 1907 and virtually unchanged ever since. You can see that Enfield kept what they wanted, - the easy bolt action, - reliable magazine and - simple trigger mechanism. This rifle, and minor variants, served the armies of the Commonwealth through two world wars and almost every conflict since, and many hundreds of thousands are STILL giving sterling service all over the world.
So tough, strong, accurate and reliable was it that the very LAST full bore Lee Enfield to serve in the British Army is shown close by as the RIFLE, 7.62mm L42A1 (exhibit 2541). Oh, it’s a different calibre, the wood stock has been shortened and the barrel lengthened but the trigger, magazine and bolt remain the same. But there is more….. A minor variant of Lee’s design is still serving in the training role as the .22 inch calibre No8 trainer (exhibit 2132).
From the battlefields of Le Cateau to the Somme, to El Alamein, Burma, Korea and Malaya, it’s been there, done that, got into the film AND has worn out many t-shirts. The accolade belongs to James Parris LEE.