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    Enigmatic markings on a Metford Mk1* Volunteer/Lee Speed

    Hi All,

    Hope this is the right forum for this post.

    My parents got hold of a Metford Mk1*/Volunteer pattern for my 14th birthday in what was then Rhodesia in 1978 (for the princely sum of Rhd$12 at a deceased estate auction). It had been nominally deactivated with a plug of lead hammered into the chamber (an old .450 or similar). Health and safety being what it was in those days, this was soon rectified and the rifle tested with some MkVII ammunition from our convoy escort browning. (We were north east Rhodesia and the Bush War was in full swing). Apart from significant expansion to the base of the case, and the round tumbling as it exited the muzzle, all was well! (So could have legit claim to have been the oldest rifle used actively on convoy escorts etc in the Bush War! ;-)

    What is of interest, though, are the markings, and potential origins of this rifle. Bolt and rifle number do not match, and the bolt (or certainly the cocking piece - is for a Mk1). The brass disk is marked 3/1893 and was in the racks of the South Staffordshire regiment (crossed out so removed from service) - however the receiver body marking does not have the crown cypher etc - it just has Lee Speed Patents - and no manufacturer stamp. (There were, however, BSA stacked rifles on the barrel nocks on the original barrel). The only other two Metford Volunteers that I've seen without the manufactures mark there were both Jameson Raid captures in the possession of the Boers - one is detailed in one of Ian McCullum's excellent series on forgotten weapons , and the other was still in the possession of the original Boer family in the Limpopo Valley (came across that while in the SADF circa 1988). The Grandfather (who had been a "bittereinder" had hidden his personal "roer" on final surrender, like many Boers and instead had handed in a recently-captured Long Lee or similar.) Coincidently, that was in the same area that Ian McCullum's rifle originated (Messina/Muscina - spelt Mucscina on Ian's rifle), so could have been a batch of Jameson Raid captures sent to the local commando.

    The Britishicon South Africa Company (behind the Jameson Raid) BSA Lee-Speeds are described in Skennertons' Lee Enfield Story (pg 67), although likelihood from the above 2 confirmed rifles are that the BSA&M manufacturer markings were on the Nocks, rather than the receiver as per the photo he supplies. While 600 or so rifles were captured by the Boers, the remaining "few thousand" remained in Rhodesia and were certainly used during the '96 Matabele and Mashona rebellions. Would have been a no-brainer, given location of the rifle, that mine was one of them, if it wasn't for the South Staffs butt marker. The marker has moulded into the wood, so has been there forever. Potential theories are that many Boer rifles were smashed against rocks etc at surrender (either by the Boers or by the British) to render them crudely "unserviceable" so could be a replacement butt. Or someone objected to Boer carvings. However, the "out-of-service" markings on the South Staffs disc beg the question as to how that butt ended up in Southern Africa. Other theory is that BSA was under extremely tight deadlines to get the BSA order out, so may have scavenged any available woodwork they had knocking around, and overlooked replacing the disk.

    Any thoughts that could shoot down or corroborate the above theories - or has anyone else come across volunteer patter Metfords/Lee Speeds with unit markings on the butt disc?
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    Really Senior Member RobD's Avatar
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    Madzi, that's a lovely rifle.
    Here's what I reckon:
    I think the military butt on your rifle indicates it has had a replacement butt fitted at some time.
    I think the stock disc is 3rd Battalion, North Staffordsire Regt - or am I mistaken? If so, this battalion did not participate in the South African War.
    I've not come across a Boer capture in which Britishicon unit markings were struck out in this fashion.
    As far as destruction of captured Boer rifles having their butts smashed, I think that is an unlikely scenario. I have seen a photo of captured rifles being destroyed by sledge hammer, but the barrels are visibly bent beyond repair. I've also heard of rifles being burnt.

    In conclusion:
    Being a commercial pattern of a military-type rifle is consistent with its having been purchased by the British South Africa Co.
    It may well have been a Raider's rifle.
    At some point it's had a replacement butt fitted.

    TerryLee, who is a regular on the forum is the world expert on rifles like this, so you might contact him for his input?
    Last edited by RobD; 05-25-2020 at 11:41 AM.

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    Member Madzi's Avatar
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    Thread Starter
    You're quite right, Rob! I must have been seeing double when I thought it was South Staffs - Markings are 2N STF - not clear from the photo, so what you thought was a 3 is actually a 2 (one of those floral Victorian 2's - see the 42 rack number below it - so the strikeout makes it look like a 3) - so defo 2nd North Staffs (previously 98th Foot) who (after a quick google) do appear to have been in South Africa (15th Brigade/7th Division - Joburg garrison and Eastern Transvaal columns). Likely scenario then that this could have been a damaged rifle that would have been stamped out of service in South Africa and the butt and other bits salvaged, and used as a replacement for my rifle? Woodwork, including butt, was quite dinged when I first got it , but has been facelifted. Interesting to see TerryLee's take, but I think your info has defo narrowed it down.
    Last edited by Madzi; 05-25-2020 at 01:07 PM. Reason: Add info

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    Madzi,

    Would you please share (publicly or privately) any numbers or markings on the action, barrel, and bolt, so that we can compare with other Jameson candidates?

    Thanks!
    .
    .
    Researching Lee Speeds and all commercial Lee Enfields. If you have data to share or questions, please send me a PM.

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    Senior Member Terrylee's Avatar
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    I have not personally researched the rifles issued to the Jameson Raiders, but have a certain amount of reference material in which the matter is covered, including Ron Bester's doctoral thesis. The opinion is that the raiders carried B.S.A.& M. Co. Lee Metford flat-top rib sporters. The rifles waiting to join them in Johannesburg with the potential rebels appear to have been mostly Commercial Lee Metford Mk IIs and I*s. The rifle in question could just possibly have been one of the latter.

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    Really Senior Member RobD's Avatar
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    In Ron Bester's "Small Arms of the Anglo Boer War" pp114-115 there is a lot of useful and detailed information about MLMs in the Boer republics before the War, which agrees completely with Terry's post. I'll gladly send you a picture of the text, Madzi, if you PM me. In brief, Ron Bester's research indicates the raiders' rifles were Lee Speed sporters in the 7100 serial number range. In addition, both Boer republics, but particularly the ZAR, had numbers of MLMs before the War, and Ron discusses their origins. The rifles of the Reform Committee in Johannesburg [fifth columnists] are thought to be Lee Speeds [like Madzi's], perhaps with serial numbers around 1000 - 2200?
    The Transvaal made good use of their MLMs in arming the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek Politie [ZARPs]- I attach a photo, and have seen others.
    For amusement, also I attach the detail of a stirring painting "Jameson's Last Stand, Battle of Doornkop 2nd January 1896" by Richard Caton Woodville. Dr Jameson is quite unique in South Africa in being disliked by almost everyone - black, white, English or Afrikaans. Yet everyone likes Kipling's "If..." which is about Jameson.
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    Last edited by RobD; 05-26-2020 at 07:22 AM.

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    Thread Starter
    Thanks Rob, Terry and jc5icon! No probs with sharing the numbers, and between the bolt and the rifle, we may have a mixture of both - 2023 on the receiver (rebels), and 7155 on the bolt (raiders). Barrel is replaced but the original (completely shot-out so in a grey zone under UKicon law) had the BSA stacked rifles. (That barrel is likely still in the possession of Peter Sarony, who did the replacement when the rifle was briefly out of my ownership when I was over in Aus circa 2011/12) so could well still be able to get further gen around that).

    The other option for the supplied BSAC rifles was that a number of them remained in Rhodesia and were used by the remnants of the BSAC Police who had not been part of the raid and other volunteers during the 96/97 rebellions - which broke out as a direct result of the denuding of manpower from the BSAP as a result of the raid. More than happy to be told that this was one of them as my great uncle John Scott (pictured) (older brother of my grandfather Bill Scott, discussed in the PPC scope thread with Roger, Img15 et al) served with BSAP in the Rebellion. Died from blackwater fever, and was buried at old Fort Hartley early 1897- definite records that there were at least 10 Lee Metfords/Speeds with the original defenders during the siege at Fort Hartley, so likely there were a lot of these rifles that remained in Rhodesia.
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    Last edited by Madzi; 05-26-2020 at 06:05 PM. Reason: minor correction

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    Thread Starter
    A few more thoughts and observations based on extracts from Ron Bester's book kindly sent to me by Rob, and also a comparisome with the Rock Island Auctions rifle with my one in terms of markings which may be of interest to jc5icon.

    Difficult to do an effective screen capture, but without doing an enhancement, the rifle reviewed by Ian McCullum appears to be Serial 1192 - confident on the 11xx, but the last two digits I can't get a clear capture - RIA on their web page do state that they do not have any absolute proof that it is a Jameson Raid capture, but certain it was in the possession of a Boer fighter. It certainly lies within the serial range that Ron Bester puts forward. Bester does mention a Mk1 with irrefutable ABW connections aquired by an American collector - the RIA one (and mine) are both Mk1* - but think there is a possibility that the RIA rifle is the same one referred to by Bester (and just semantics/typo with the Mk1 vs Mk1*? (All are Lee Speed Patent markings with no company logo).

    One interesting differene I noted with mine (#2023) compared to the RIA one is in the graduations on the side of the rear sight. Mine doesn't have any, while the RIA one has 300-400, and interestingly, a wd acceptance stamp. Thoughts as to whether that indicates that 1192 had been test fired, while #2023 was one of the rushed jobs described in Skennertonicon pg 67? Do we generally find range graduations on the side of the rear sights for Volunteer pattern metfords aka lee speeds? And why the wd acceptance marking on the sight of a volunteer pattern?



    Another thought specific to my one - and this is one of the few occassions when a mis-matching bolt adds to the interest. I would imagine that there would only be a negligibly small possibility of bolts from historically linked number ranges (1000-2200 (Reform Committee rifles) and 71xx (raiders sporting metfords) getting swopped round by chance, unless they were in the same location - in this case Pretoria Magazyn/Arsenal. (Assume that was at the Staatsartillerie HQ). Either people fiddling with the rifles in the immediate aftermath of the captures - there is always one of those guys...or a clockwatching staatsamptenaar on commando duty not paying attention while servicing the rifles. Good degree of confidence, then, that my #2023 was in the Pretoria Magazyn, and associated with captured rifles rather than the later purchased batches - but happy to hear any contrary thoughts on that.

    Conjecture now, but with Rob's earlier observations on the unit markings and confirmation that this was a replacement butt, my thoughts around that are that this rifle would certainly have been sold out to one of the guys on Commando, as per Bester, and highly likely to have had the butt carved by the owner, as was the practice. Later captured and souveniered and/or sold. While rifles with Boer carved butts were popular as souveniers been sent out of South Africa, they probably would not have been that desirable in-country - lest the new owner gets a tap on the shoulder from a large hairy boer veteran who recognises his old (privately-purchased) rifle - or worse still, members of his family if he was KIA. Butt therefore replaced with the salvage from the North Staffs rifle, and likelihood the new owner then headed up to Rhodesia. From cracks and cuts and darkening in the wood of the cracks when I first got the rifle in the late 70's, I'm assuming it ended useful life circa 1930s/40s, and ended up in the hands of the collector from whose estate my Mum purchased it. The story seems to gel a lot better than my original theories at the start of this thread, thanks to everyone's input!
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    Really Senior Member englishman_ca's Avatar
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    Nice one!!! Oh boy!

    Sherlock Holmes hat on!

    The rear sight with the 300-400 yard markings has a base that is calibrated for the early Lewes sights. It would have been taken from an 1889/90 Mk.I rifle. The leaf cap currently has a V notch? In which case the cap would be correct for a Mk.I*

    Looking at the pic, I can see a slight silver line of solder peeking from under the base where it has been attached to the barrel. Not usually seen on factory fitted sight bases, where the soldering is neat and invisible. This suggests to me that the base has been removed and replaced at some time and re-soldered. The WD would confirm this in my mind to be a martial marked replacement part put onto a commercial made rifle. The broad arrow head shown above the WD is of the style used by the London gun makers at Enfield or LSA, so not a BSA part.
    Not sure as if this would have any bearing on the story of the rifle, but it is what I see.

    Would you be so kind as to show a pic of the sight base ramps, plus the front and back of the leaf, please? I could tell you if it has been reworked or is a straight unmodified replacement (which would put the sighting calibration off a bit). Sometimes it is the tiniest of clues that open up possible avenues.

    Does the front sight have a barley corn insert pinned into place, or is it a solid one piece ramp and barley corn?

    But maybe I missed something here? This is not the original barrel as you found it on the rifle? If you changed it out my sighting questions are moot. Sorry. I am confused. You are showing pics of two different rifles? One from RIA??
    In which case i will focus my attention on the body, which might be the only factory original part (bolt has been changed, barrel has been changed, butt has been changed, trigger guard has been changed.).

    Does the visible end of the pivot for the rear volley arm have a screw slot, or is it just flat?

    Strange questions I know, but to me they are quite pertinent. I am a bit of an Enfield minutia freek.

    As a commercial rifle, unlike military ones, all of the furniture components should be devoid of factory markings. I am wondering if this one has picked up any switched out parts through its service? Anything else with WD or crowned markings? Magazine spine? Bottom of trigger guard bow (I think that it is a replacement)? Butt plate tang? Barrel bands? Sight leaf?

    I am enjoying your photographs. A wonderful example with some history. Thank you for sharing.
    Last edited by englishman_ca; 05-31-2020 at 09:53 AM. Reason: speling

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    Thanks Englishman_ca - very useful spots and suggestions! Sorry - think I may have confused things a bit with the previous photos, which are from the two rifles (Mine and the one reviewed for Rock Island Auctions by Ian McCullum). The sight with the markings and solder is the RIA one (#1192 photo number), the other one is from my rifle (#2023 action, #7155 bolt).

    Bit of clarification on mine - Barrel on my one is new - circa 2013 but sights are original - same 2023 number as on the action. Original barrel was a metford-rifled barrel with BSA stacked rifles on the Nocks form (or at any rate, rifling appeared to be metford from the 6 inches or so of rifleing remaining mid-barrel, and cannot recall an E stamp. That is likely still in the possession of the gunsmith that did the work mentioned earlier in the thread. Although he couldn't release it back, I understand he was looking to keep it as a profile barrel. Problem was (as per first post) original barrel was totally shot out so starting to get dangerous (not an issue as a kid in 1970's Rhodesia when I first got it, but is now as an adult in the UKicon! ;-). With UK firearms law, it is a case of use it (but not an option if it is dangerous) or lose it for a firearm on an FAC - could possibly have tired to argue on it being over 100 years old for an exemption, but likelihood there would have been pushback forcing a deactivation. Unfortunately to get the original barrel back I would have needed a separate slot on my FAC for the old barrel, and the gunsmith would not have been allowed to give/sell me a dangerous out-of-proof barrel. Confuses even me! ;-) However the sights on my barrel (without range markings) are definitely the original ones.

    RE the rifle with yard sight markings on and solder from the Ian McCullum video link earlier (in my very first post on the thread). Very good spot on the solder! So that likely indicates that Ian McCullum's RIA review one is a replacement sight and would originally have been blank on the side, same as mine?

    Butt on mine has definitely been changed to a military salvage from a 2 North Staffs Mk1* - likely in the 1900's and in South Africa - as per the previous posts with RobD, but no indication (unless you have spotted something with the profile that I'm not aware of) that the trigger guard was changed. Defo no markings of any kind on it, so likely still the original volunteer pattern? Definitely the same one it had when acquired in '78, but if it was battle damage rather than boer carvings that motivated the change of the butt, possible that the trigger guard was changed at the same time if it is an unexpected profile?

    Posting photos here of the volley sight, foresight and leaf, as well as cocking piece detail etc. There are indeed WD markings on the middle barrel band and front volley arm (and had been a duffle cut just in front of the middle band) and a crown SB (Sparkbrook?) on the front band. Something else on the front of the bayonet lug plate, but can't make it out. Nothing on the butt-plate tang - think those markings were for the Mk 2? so the butt, with disk, seems consistent as having come from a Mk1*. (and given the 2nd North Staffs had been on an India posting before SA, possible they hadn't upgraded). Also a WD mark on the cocking piece, which appears to be for a Mk1. Bolt number, as per previous posts, was consistent with the numbers for the Sporting Metfords of the Raiders, so would they have been MK1's, or is the cocking piece also a replacement, I wonder? No marks on the magazine, but innards for the magazine are not original. Rear volley arm is screw type, is that correct from the photo? Most interested to hear your further thoughts/insight from the other bits in the photos.
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