Lee-Medford and Lee-Enfield Cavalry Carbines. Technical information
In parallel with the introduction of the later Medford rifles a cavalry carbine was also underdevelopment being approved as the Mk.I in June 1894. Although in essence a shortened rifle the carbine differed from the contemporary rifle in a number of significant ways. Foremost amongst
these was a reduction in overall length of almost ten inches with a corresponding saving in weight of nearly two pounds. A further major change involved the incorporation of a safety catch similar
in type to that which was to be shortly reintroduced into the design of the infantry rifle resulting in the Lee-Medford Mk.II* referred to above.
Other differences related to the bolt where the lever was bent forward with a flattened knob, shallower magazine with capacity reduced to six cartridges and provision for a sling in the form of a sling-bar on the fight hand side of the butt. A swivel was also attached to the butt socket but was subsequently removed.
Further distinguishing characteristics were foresight protecting wings mounted on the fore-end cap with a wooden hand. guard over the barrel between it and the rear sight. As in the case of the Mk.I
and Mk.I* Lee-Medford rifles provision for unit markings was provided in the form of a marking disc. Finally, as a weapon intended primarily for short-range use, the volley sights were dispensed
with, while the rear sight was graduated to two thousand yards as opposed to nineteen hundred in the case of the rifles.
In common with other arms in production at that date provision was made for a clearing rod. This was, however, carried internally within the fore-end under the barrel with its head protruding from
a hole bored in fore-end cap.
This design resulted in a popular, handy and streamlined weapon which with its successors waste serve throughout the Boer War. Upon introduction of Enfield rifling the carbine design was advanced with the Mk.I Lee-Enfield cavalry carbine being approved in August, 1896. Apart from the improved rifling further minor changes were introduced into the first of the two Lee-Enfield cavalry carbines The most obvious of these was the elimination of the sling-bar and the introduction of a leather rear sight protector attached by the usual screw on either side of the fore-
end. This change was retrospectively applied to the existing Lee-Medford cavalry carbines.
The final pattern change applied to the Lee-Enfield cavalry carbine related to the dropping of the clearing rod in August, 1899 when, along with the Lee-Enfield Mk.I rifle, the carbine was advanced to the Mk.I* configuration. Since the clearing rod of the Mk.I is entirely enclosed within the fore-end, the two patterns of the Lee-Enfield cavalry carbines are more difficult to
distinguish than the equivalent rifles. However, provided the original fore-end cap has been retained the clearing rod hole clears the rarer Mk.I. Obviously a post 1899 date of manufacture indicates a Mk.I*. Unfortunately the “*” is not always easily distinguished as such being generally indicated in the form of a dot.
Boer War service of the Lee-Medford and the Lee Enfield The outbreak of hostilities saw the British regular infantry almost entirely equipped with the Lee-Medford rifles Mks. I*, II and probably to a limited extent the Mk. II *.
Although they had been in production for some four years, very few Lee-Enfield had reached the troops, but rather accumulated in reserve to the extent of some two hundred thousand rifles. It
was only upon the commencement of war when they were required to arm reservists, colonial contingents and the Imperial Yeomanry that Lee- Enfield were issued in any number. This generally took place shortly prior to embarkation or even upon arrival in South Africa.
To the horror of their users and subsequent consternation at the War Office it was found that the new Lee-Enfield had defective sights and shot eighteen inches to the right at five hundred yards. Under the usual South African battle conditions a true aim thus ensured a miss! It was , to quote Sir Henry Blackenbury, “An awful blow, just at the moment when we were beginning to take this new weapon into use, to find that this mistake had been made”
Upon investigation the “mistake” was found to relate to an over-compensation for bullet drill on the foresight of the Enfield sealed pattern rifle and a most unimaginative acceptance test. Provided
a rifle grouped its shots within a specified area when fired from a sight-testing machine it was considered fit for use by her Majesty’s forces. The necessity of the same group having to conform to the point of aim had apparently not been appreciated !
Although the problem was soon rectified in manufacture and also by issuing troops in the field with new rear sight leaves having V-notches cut o,03″ lea of center, one cannot but speculate on how many Boers owed their lives to this defect in the opening months of the war!
On account of their almost universal issue by the end of the Boer War it serves little purpose to identity individual units who were armed with Lee-Medford or Lee- Enfield, or indeed when changes, if any, took place. There were, however, certain trends which are relevant and should be
The early arming of the British Regulars with Lee-Medford of the Mk.I* and Ii patterns disconfirmed by both contemporary photographs and an examination of bullets recovered from
battlefields dating from the early stages of the war where Medford rifling predominates. These were obviously the rifles which accompanied the first divisions to South Africa. However, from
the very start they were supplemented by the Lee-Enfield issued to the reservists and yeomanry to the number of some thirty-one thousand. This presence is also confirmed by battlefield finds.
When one considers that many of the British and also the Colonial volunteers in the Canadian forces and certain of the Australian and New Zealand units were similarly equipped with Lee-Enfield, Reynolds’ estimate of sixty-five thousand in South Africa by early 1900 is not
On a similar basis an analysis of total forces less reservists, yeomanry and officers suggests that the number Lee-Medford in South Africa could have been in the region of one hundred and forty thousand. This figure does not include the Lee-Medford in the possession of colonial forces.
The report of the Royal Commission records that excluding arms carried by troops on embarking from England nearly one hundred and eighteen thousand rifles and eight thousand, five hundred
carbines were dispatched to South Africa over the three year period commencing June1899. These figures include the Lee-Enfield rifles issued to certain colonial force upon arrival in South Africa.
When one considers the Large stock of Lee Enfield in storage at the start of the war and the finding of the Royal Commission that ” The supply of rifles during the war was adequate and
satisfactory,” there is little doubt that the vast. majority of these rifles and carbines were Lee-Enfield of the Mk. I and I* patterns. Circumstantial evidence does exist, however, that some obsolete weapons were probably included for guard duties.
This ever-increasing supply of Lee-Enfield is reflected in both photographic and 1 >written records which indicate a gradual replacement of Lee-Medford by Lee-Enfield and in some instances
progression from Martini-rifles through Lee-Medford to Lee-Enfield. This latter trend. is particularly evident in the equipping of certain colonial regiments and in some instances units such as the National Scouts and Black Auxiliaries. “
The Lee-Medford and Lee-Enfield carbines similarly saw wide-spread usage being carried by British mounted units ranging from dragoons to yeomanry. They also appear to have been popular
amongst colonial volunteers and such irregular units as the National Scouts and Black Scouts. Magazine carbines even appear to have had an enthusiastic following amongst officers in infantry
regiments where the wearing of a sword and Sam Brown belt had proved rather risky. The wise consequently wore the uniforms and carried the weapons of privates to avoid the unhealthy
attention of Boer sharpshooters!
Under South African conditions, however, some of those armed with cavalry carbines appear to have been disadvantaged by its relatively short range of accuracy which according to the report
of the Royal Commission was optimistically limited to about twelve hundred yards. An official comment is of interest: “Consequently the cavalry when armed with it were at a great disadvantage in meeting Boers. The Boers only had to keep two thousand yards away from our cavalry in the hills and they could shoot them down with impunity or surround them. Practically it may be said that no advance could be made through a hilly country by cavalry armed with this weapon. After the relief of Ladysmith, the cavalry were served out with infantry rifles and this made an enormous difference in their efficiency. Before that they were practically useless in hilly country and couldn’t do the duties of cavalry or mounted infantry.”