7 July 2016 – Half a century ago today a formal military ceremony was held at Bisley to bury a .303″ No.4 Lee Enfield rifle. Why did this strange event happen?
An old series of photographs on the Daily Mirror’s picture agency website shows the 26-strong naval party carrying the rifle to its grave, reportedly near the 300yds firing point.
The snaps, taken by Mirror photographer Lucy Thomas on 7th July 1966, captures the scene as the suitably gloomy-faced funeral party (with more than a few poorly-hidden smiles) march solemnly to the grave, deposit the casket containing the rifle in it and fire three parting volleys of blanks over it.
What was the occasion? And why bury a rifle?
According to the website of the Royal Irish Regiment Association – an R IRISH soldier seems to have played the bagpipes for the lament – this was what happened:
The ‘burial’ took place at Bisley, Surrey during the United Services match. A piper played a lament as an escort with arms reversed accompanied the flag-draped gun carriage at the slow march. The rifle was lifted from the gun carriage and solemnly lowered into the grave. An exhortation was delivered by an officer – to much laughter. A bugler played the last post and a firing party fired three blank rounds over the grave.
It appears the No.4 rifle was formally withdrawn from use that year, with 1966 being the last year in which the rifle could be used by competitors in the military matches. The mock funeral seems to have been a playful way of saying farewell to the venerable old workhorse, which was replaced in British military service by the 7.62mm L1A1 Self Loading Rifle.
The NRA website notes that its modern-day Target Rifle discipline grew out of the Service Rifle discipline in the late 1960s, when the association made the decision for the SR(b) sub-class, which allows the use of modified military issue rifles including the No.4, to evolve into its own separate discipline.
The caption for this photograph of the ‘corpse’ being lowered into its very muddy grave notes that the grave was positioned near the 300yds firing point. Perhaps some enterprising soul will start digging up Century Range during this year’s Imperial Meeting?