The Lee-Enfield was the standard British Army rifle for much of the 20th century. It was a simple but very reliable bolt action rifle firing the standard rimmed .303" centrefire round, the weapon being derived from the physically similar black powder Lee-Metford, with new rifling to cope with smokeless powder catridges.
It had been scheduled for replacement almost before seeing action, but a series of delays and interruptions led to it being used into the 1950s, and not disappearing completely until the 1980s. A bewildering range of marks and models were produced, but and the short, magazine version resulted in the widely-used acronym SMLE. This actually referred to the 1914 version which was 3" shorter than the previous Long, magazine rifle. It also had a broad bayonet boss flush with the muzzle which took the 18" sword bayonet. It was called the No. 1 SMLE. The SMLE was officially replaced in 1942 by the lighter No. 4 Rifle, although many troops retained the SMLE due to supply problems. The No. 4's main change was to expose 2" of barrel at the muzzle onto which fitted the new socket bayonet. This looked like a shiny 7" nail. After 1945 a regular flat bladed 7" bayonet was issued. Also post 1945, the No. 8 or "jungle carbine" was developed for use in Malaya and other similar campaigns. IE the rifle was shortened by about 7" and most of the wood in front of the breech removed. A bell shaped flash hider was fitted and this meant a new bayonet with large ring fitting was required.
This rifle was probably designed at the Royal Enfield Small Arms Factory, which is based in what is now known as Enfield Lock at the bottom of Ordnance Road. The old site has now been built over with a housing estate; however some of the original buildings have been converted and evidence of the works are still visible. Within the local area there is also the Waltham Abbey gunpowder mills.
Despite some flaws, the rifle had many excellent qualities that kept it competitive throughout both world wars. In the First World War, its rate of fire was superior to any other rifle, and its accuracy was more than equal to the skill of its users (in other words, while there were more accurate rifles, virtually all of the troops couldn't shoot well enough to take advantage of it). In the Second World War, it was theoretically outshined by the American M1 Garand, which was semi-automatic, but its high rate of fire, lighter weight and great reliability made it a close contest.