Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) rifle, Mark III*

This is the rifle that Private John Ball, protagonist in David Jones' In Parenthesis, struggles with as he tries to drag himself back to British lines.

The Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) rifle, cal. 303, was first adopted by the British Army in 1902. Its name refers to it being the "shorter" version of the Lee-Enfield adopted in 1895, and not that it has a "short magazine." The word "magazine" appears in its name because before the turn of the century most rifles were single-shot, a rifle having a magazine being the exception. The Mark III in its various configurations was the primary rifle used by the British in the Great War. Rifles such as the Mark III, and the magazine rifles of the other warring armies, contributed to the new firepower and lethality of Great War battlefields. Rather than the muzzle-loaded, large caliber, slow- moving, black-powder propelled bullets of the American Civil War, the Mark III fired a highly accurate, relatively small, high-velocity bullet, and used smokeless powder -- and had ten rounds in its magazine. (For some images of this ubiquitous weapon -- in action, and later mythologized -- click here.)

This particular model, the Mark III*, was introduced January 2, 1916 (in time for the Battle of the Somme in July), and benefitted from combat experience. The Mark III* omitted the early long-range sights, and also the magazine cut-off designed to keep a soldier firing the weapon single-shot until an emergency (the emergency had now arrived).

This particular rifle [in the physical exhibit at the Lee Library] was manufactured by Lythgow, in Australia in 1916. The "hollow," cut-out front-sight guards are unusual. All the serial numbers match, except for the bolt -- which could indicate that this rifle was refitted with a new bolt and used in the Second World War. The Mark III* was the Mark III configuration adopted for use in the Second World War, and in addition to the thousands of Great War rifles used in the Second World War, over a million new Mark III's were produced during 1939-1945.

Special thanks to Ryan Judd, University Police, and the construction staff of the MOA for helping to prepare this exhibit — especially a safe resting place on the White Stone for ol' Durendal.