Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign for better armour on the Western Front: Part four

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known as the creator of the great detective Sherlock Holmes. However, Conan Doyle also used his fame to campaign on behalf of British soldiers during the First World War.

Conan Doyle’s conversations with the War Office, in which he suggests equipping the troops with better shields, helmets and body armour, form the subject of this blog series.

In this final post of the series – written by Philip Abbot, Archives and Records Manager at Royal Armouries – we learn more about the response from the British Army and the trials of shields and body armour commisioned by David Lloyd-George.

Part four: The Official Response

When Conan Doyle sent his ideas on body armour and shields to the Inventions Branch at the War Office, the responsibility for the production and supply of munitions was passing from the War Office to the Ministry of Munitions. Papers in the Parliamentary Archives show that the new Minister, David Lloyd-George, took an interest in Conan Doyle’s campaign from the outset.


The Right Hon David Lloyd-George. Image source: ‘Fighting Starvation in Belgium, 1918’ available on

The Ministry of Munitions reports on the use and effect of shields and body armour

Between August and November 1916, Lloyd-George asked Ernest Moir at the Munitions Inventions Department to report on the potential use and effectiveness of shields and body armour.

Moir concluded that it was doubtful if shields could be made within a practicable weight and that there would be difficulties manoeuvring them over uneven ground, through barbed wire, or over other obstructions [1, 2]. Similarly, the armours being sold by the Army and Navy Stores not only failed to provide protection, but also posed further risk of injuries being caused by the deformation of the bullet and by pieces of the armour being driven into the body [3].

In January 1916, Lloyd-George instructed Moir’s successor, Colonel Henry Edward Fane Goold Adams, to set up a sub-committee to look into the problem, stating that he was:

“very anxious in the prospects of securing an adequate body-shield which would at any rate reduce by a material percentage the casualties from rifles, machine guns and shells.” [4]

Sir Douglas Haig intervenes and testing begins

However, perhaps the most significant intervention came from Sir Douglas Haig, who had become Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in the Field on 10 December 1915. Haig was doubtful that a bullet-proof body armour could be developed, but asked the War Office to supply a portable shield that would resist enemy bullets at close range, and a light body shield that would provide men taking part in trench warfare protection against shell splinters and grenade fragments. [5].


Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Army in the Field from 1915–1918

The personal intervention of the Minister of Munitions, combined with the Commander-in-Chief’s request, produced a flurry of activity. The Munitions Inventions Department conducted tests on the various materials to see which ones offered the best protection. These concluded that 18-gauge Firth, Whitworth, Hadfield or high quality steel should be used to make up a light body shield, that it should be covered in khaki cloth, and that it should be made in plates jointed on the same principle as the Dayfield Body Shield. Further tests were then made, which indicated that Hadfield’s water-cooled (H.W.C.) manganese steel provided the best protection

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Four shrapnel proof body shields were then produced for extended grenade-throwing tests on 23 February, which concluded that the extra protection offered by the two heaviest outweighed the slight drawback caused by their extra weight. Several changes were suggested which reduced the weight by about 2 pounds, and an order was placed for 5,000 of each type on 25 February 1916 for field trials in France along with 1,000 Dayfield Body Shields (Heavy Model).

Shields and body armour are issued to troops

By the time that Conan Doyle wrote to Lloyd George, now Secretary of State for War, in July 1916 the field trials had been completed. The Dayfields were rejected as being too heavy and cumbersome, but Haig asked for 400 modified sets of the MID body shields to be issued to every Division in France and Flanders.

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The MID body shields were used with some success by bombers, patrols and sentries, but in the event they proved too heavy and awkward to be used in major assaults, and in May 1917 Haig asked for 200 sets of a lighter design of body armour to be issued to every Division. This was the Experimental Ordnance Board (EOB) body armour, and appears to have been a development of the Type C armour previously tested. It consisted of front, back and abdomen plates, was made of 18-gauge manganese steel, padded and covered in tan coloured canvas. It weighed 9 ½ pounds, was secured with leather straps and buckles, and offered the wearer protection against pistol bullets, shrapnel and grenade fragments.

Almost 20,000 sets of body armour had been delivered by August 1918 when the deadlock on the Western Front was finally broken. Research continued right up to the end of the war, as did the evaluation of both commercially available body armour and ideas received from members of the public and serving officers.

Progress on the development of a portable or mobile shield was less spectacular. Various designs for mobile shields were examined to protect between 5 and 15 men, but these were invariably too heavy and too difficult to manoeuvre, even with a large crew. A mobile shield was tested in 1917, which was fitted with rifle slits to enable the crew of five to engage enemy targets, and the following year both the British and French used a large mobile shield akin to a three-sided metal box on wheels with a platform on which a soldier could lie with only his legs exposed. However, no satisfactory design was ever produced, and the development of the tank made such shields irrelevant.

Read more on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s First World War campaign in the following earlier posts:


1: Parliamentary archives, LG/D/10/4/1 Preliminary report on steel bullet-proof shields for use at the front to protect infantry and bombing parties, August 13, 1915;
2: Parliamentary archives, LG/D/10/4/2 Further report on steel bullet-proof shields for use at the front to protect infantry and bombing parties, August 19, 1915
3: Parliamentary archives, LG/D/10/3/25/1, Report on armour, November 16, 1915;
ditto, Report on armour, appended note, November 19, 1915
4: Parliamentary archives, LG/D/3/2/35, Memo, January 12, 1916
5: National Archives, MUN 4/2749, Letter to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, December 26, 1915

The Battle of Jutland: an eyewitness account of the largest sea battle in history

The 31 May/1 June marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland. It was the only major First World War fleet action fought between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet, and the largest sea battle in history.

Our Archives and Records Manager, Philip Abbot, uncovers some of the details of this important battle through the journals of Gerald Slade, midshipman on HMS Inflexible.

Gerald Slade was born in Hong Kong in 1899, and entered the Royal Naval College, Osborne, Isle of Wight, as a cadet shortly before his thirteenth birthday. After completing his education and training he joined the battlecruiser, HMS Inflexible, as a midshipman on 8 September 1915.

HMS Inflexible

HMS Inflexible. Source: US Library of Congress. Public Domain.

During the Battle of Jutland he was stationed on the ship’s fighting top high up on the main mast, where he had an excellent view of the action. He left a personal account of his experiences in the form of a journal:


May 30th 1916

Proceeded from Scapa Flow ahead of Battle Fleet at 8.15.

May 31st 1916

3.0 PM closed up at action stations.

4.0 PM were given half an hour for tea. Heard that the “Lion” was engaging the enemy. The 5th B.S. Sqn Queen Elizabeth was with them. We were now proceeding at full speed (about 27 kts). It was 3.50 when the “Lion” reported that she was engaging the enemy.

5.29 heard the sound of firing right ahead + a short time later saw numerous gun flashes.

5.40 sighted enemy light cruisers and destroyers. These were all concentrating on the “Chester” + she was having a very hot time of it.

5.55 opened fire on enemy light cruisers + succeeded in sinking at least one. She blew up in a dense cloud of steam.

On the evening of 30 May 1916, the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Hood (flagship HMS Invincible) sailed from Scapa Flow, and steamed south westwards at high speed, followed at intervals by the rest of the British Grand Fleet.

The opening phase of the action was fought between the German battlecruisers under the command of Admiral Hipper (flagship SMS Lutzow) and their British counterparts under Admiral Beatty (flagship HMS Lion), supported by the 5th Battle Ship Squadron, consisting of the Queen Elizabeth class battleships (the most modern and powerful ships in either fleet). Two of the British battlecruisers, HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary, blew up with heavy loss of life, and a number of the German ships were badly damaged.

Shortly after 4.00 PM, Admiral Jellicoe (flagship HMS Iron Duke), in command of the Grand Fleet, ordered the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron to increase speed and join Beatty’s hard-pressed forces. HMS Chester, scouting ahead of the squadron, was engaged by four German light cruisers, and badly damaged. When the battlecruisers opened fire, the German light cruiser, SMS Wiesbaden, was quickly disabled, but despite Slade’s claim she remained afloat.

Additional entries in Slade’s journal describe the battle:

6.0 check fire. A Torpedo passed under our stern.

6.15 we are to starboard in order to avoid a Torpedo which passed about 10 yds away along out port side. We watched it from the Fore Top + could even see the propellers moving. The Torpedo Lieut was afraid that the Gyro would fail + she might turn + bump us.

6.20 openned fire on a Battleship of the “Kaiser” class. We landed one salvo on her fore turret + appeared to have flatenned it out.

6.35 the Grand Fleet openned fire on the enemy. It was a fine sight to see them. They were so formed as to be able to bring every gun to bear. Indom. [HMS Indomitable] and Inflex. [HMS Inflexible] formed astern of the B.C.s.

6.30 the “Invincible” was blown up. She went up in a tremendous cloud of yellow cordite smoke. She broke in half + bows and stern were left floating but I saw no survivors. Apparently a salvo pitched amidships + blew up her P + Q magazine. Huge pieces of steel + iron were falling everywhere but none touched us. We have heard that six were picked up after + I think were all part …

Several torpedos were fired at the British battlecruisers, but they managed to dodge them all. As the main body of the High Seas Fleet under the command of Admiral Scheer (flagship SMS Fredrich der Grosse) were enemy’s observed ahead, Hood ordered his ships to alter course to port, and opened fire at a range of about 8,000 to 9,000 yards. Inflexible’s Gunnery Officer later reported that the first salvo hit the target. The battlecruisers themselves came under heavy fire, and although Inflexible was not hit, Slade later admitted in a letter to his mother that “we had a good many shells bursting pretty close to us & we got a few splinters from one. Invincible was sunk with the loss of all but six of her crew of 1,032 officers and men. The Inflexible had to alter course to avoid the wreckage.


HMS Invincible exploding at the Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916. Source: Fighting at Jutland: The personal experiences of forty five officers and men of the British Fleet, (London: Hutchinson and Co, Ltd, 1921). Image is available online at Internet Archive.

Battlecruisers were large ships designed to scout ahead of the main battle fleet and find the enemy, to protect the battleships from torpedo armed cruisers and destroyers, and to pursue the enemy fleet and use their guns to damage or slow opposing ships. They were armed with heavy guns (similar to those of the battleships) but were forced to compromise protection in favour of speed. The vulnerability of the battlecruisers combined with the practice of storing shells in gun turrets, ammunition hoists and other working areas to increase the rate of fire poor shell resulted in the loss of three battlecruisers at Jutland.


The Inflexible and Indomitable formed astern of the Beatty’s ships as the main body of the Grand Fleet finally appeared and engaged the enemy. Jellicoe ordered his squadrons to alter course in an attempt to bring all guns to bear (in a manoeuvre known as Crossing the ‘T’), and the High Seas Fleet was forced to turn away. Outnumbered and outgunned Scheer decided to break off the action.

… of their Fore Top’s crew (52 4 N, 6 6 E).

7.25 opened fire on a flotilla of German destroyers which were probably going to attack with Torpedoes. They were successfully driven off. Light cruisers + destroyers were now ordered to proceed at full speed + attack with Torpedoes.

7.45 a Torpedo passed 150 yds astern.

8.20 opened fire on Enemy Battle Cruisers + a Battleship of the “Kaiser” class. I think we made a few hits but the light was so bad + the mist so thick that it was extremely hard to see any fall of shot. As it was we were only firing at the flashes. We were not firing for very long. But the Indomitable carried on firing at something for about another 10 salvoes.

8.30 check fire. 3 ships appeared to be firing at “Inflexible”.

8.35 a Torpedo missed out bow by about 50 yds.

8.40 there was a violent shock felt under the ship.

8.45 a submarine broke surface? about 100 yds on the starboard beam. She may have been struck by the ship or the ship may have run on some submerged wreckage.

9.30 A/C south.

Was in the Fore Top until 10.15 then on the Bridge…

As the High Seas Fleet headed south at high speed under cover of a smoke screen the German light forces mounted a torpedo attack. The Inflexible had to alter course sharply to avoid being hit, and Slade admitted to his mother that they were “pretty lucky”. The British battlecruisers caught up with their German counterparts at dusk, and opened fire at 6,000 yards.

HMS Inflexible carried eight 12-inch guns mounted in four twin turrets, one forward (A), one aft (X), and two amidships on either side of the ship (P and Q). The guns fired shells weighing 850 pounds at a maximum muzzle velocity of 2,725 feet per second. They could be elevated to an angle of 13.5 degrees, which enabled a maximum range of 18,850 yards. The control of the guns was centralised under the ship’s Gunnery Officer in the Director Tower.



The 12-inch guns on HMS Indomitable. Source: US Library of Congress Bain Collection. Public Domain.

Powerful optical systems (9-foot coincidence range-finding equipment supplied by Barr and Stroud) were used to establish the range and bearing to the target. The results were then fed into a fire-control table (Dreyer table Mark I), a form of mechanical computer, which combined the Inflexible’s and the target’s courses, bearing and speeds, and presented a firing solution. The guns were then trained and elevated on the target, and fired together in a salvo.



Barr and Stroud Range Finder

9-foot Barr and Stroud Range Finder.

The fall of shot was observed (the shells caused huge splashes) and corrections made in the firing solution until the target was straddled. It was a complicated process, and made more difficult in action by poor visibility, rough seas, the ship’s own violent manouveres, and by the enemy’s fire. The Grand Fleet’s gunnery was much criticised after the battle.


… until 12.0. Managed to get 1/12 hours sleep + then closed up at action stations at 2.15 AM.

June 1st

3.15 AM Sighted a Zeppelin on the starboard quarter about 17-18000 yds away. The “Indomitable” fired two rounds of shrapnel at her but they did not burst anywhere near her. She then turned away + very nearly went out of sight but again turned + came towards us. A light cruiser squadron opened fire on her. Most of the shells were short except about two which burst just ahead of her. By the she was going full speed away.

11.45 passed the wreck of a big shop on the starboard side, Name unknown.

2.24 PM Passed a boat of German design marked “V29” (she is on of their latest destroyers).

2-30 – 2.50 passed through a large area of dead bodies (all German I think). Some of them had their part of the watch bade on their shoulders. All had cork life belts on. One lief buoy we passed had the letters S.M.S ____ pn it but a body was lying acorss the name of the ship.

2.45 passed the wreck of the Invincible again + a destroyer was sent to sink it.

3.15 we passed through a large track of oil which was probably from the Invincible + a large amount of wreckage probably from a destroyer.

Jellicoe was unwilling to risk a night action, and ordered his fleet to steer a course that would intercept the High Seas Fleet at dawn. However Scheer altered course during the night to cross the wake of the Grand Fleet, and although the British light forces made a series of torpedo attacks throughout the night, they failed to receive support from the main body. By daylight the High Seas Fleet had escaped.

Both sides claimed victory after the battle, but the result was inconclusive. The Imperial German Navy had hoped to surprise and destroy a portion of the British fleet, but although it inflicted heavier losses in both men and ships, Scheer was forced to withdraw. The Royal Navy had hoped for a decisive battle, but Jellicoe was unable to prevent the enemy from breaking off the engagement, and lost contact with the enemy during the night.

The Inflexible sustained no damage or casualties during the battle, other than a small indentation in the ship’s out skin cause by the collision with the underwater wreckage (Slade’s report of a submarine is not confirmed), and a crack in the right gun of “Q” turret, which had been caused during the gun’s calibration and was enlarged.

Gerald Slade continued to serve aboard the Inflexible until March 1918 when he volunteered for the submarine service. He served in submarines until 1935, when he became the Fleet Photographic Officer in the first the Mediterranean and then with the Home Fleet. He retired in 1944 with the rank of Commander.

The Curator @ War: 20 March 1915 “Foreman Buckingham: the Last Post” (part II)

Keeper of the Tower Armouries, Bridget Clifford, continues her posts on Charles John Ffoulkes, who was Curator of the Armouries from 1913-1938 – during which he took part in the World War I civil defence of London, completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection, and created a museum infrastructure within The Tower. After his retirement, he was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.

280415_Ffoulkes_Part 2


Battery Sergeant Major William Henry Noble Buckingham of the Royal Field Artillery was laid to rest with full military pomp and ceremony on the afternoon of Saturday 20th March 1915 in Ilford County Council Cemetery.  His death while training volunteers at Peterborough was not in the heat of battle as he may have imagined, but at home where he had been sent three weeks earlier to recover from a chill.  The fact that the official records give the cause of death as phthisis or tuberculosis suggests there may have been a pre- existing condition or that he had contracted the disease after re-enlisting at the outbreak of war in 1914.

The general consensus seems to have been that he was a good chap –both as Foreman of the Tower Armouries and as an Artilleryman – and his colleagues were warm in their praise of him. His death was announced locally – in the Ilford Recorder and The Stratford Express – and nationally in the Daily Telegraph.

The funeral attracted much local interest, and an enormous accompanying crowd. The Tower Curator Charles ffoulkes representing HM Office of Works had already written to Mrs Buckingham to say that he would be attending, and that he would walk with the military part of the procession (at the time he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve, manning London’s air defences). His predecessor Lord Dillon also attended, as did a number of local military representatives. The procession was lead by mounted policemen and included a firing party of 22 men, while the band of the late Essex Volunteers provided musical accompaniment.  A dummy gun and carriage to carry the coffin had had to be hastily assembled as all functioning ordnance had been commandeered for active service, and ffoulkes had had to pull some strings with the War Office to overcome the deficiency.  It went on to do further service for other families requesting a military funeral.

Among the floral tributes were those from the Yeoman Body and Chief Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, and another from “his fellow workmen A.O Corps, Tower of London”.  His sisters Nellie and Louie had sent wreathes as had his mother Ellen.  His wife’s scrapbook had a picture of the grave taken three days later showing it buried under an impressive mountain of flowers including a wreath in the form of the Royal Artillery insignia– unfortunately we only have a rather faded and blurred photocopy of the original in the Armouries archives, but it is still spectacular.

Interment had been announced for 3.30 but had to be delayed as the cortege was so large that it was past 4.00 o’clock when it finally reached the cemetery.

Mrs Daisy Buckingham survived her husband and lived through another world war, dying in 1952. Today Buckingham’s memorial has lost its Celtic cross which originally rose out of the three step plinth and now lies in front of it, and some of the metal lettering has become detached. But viewed in the spring sunshine, sprigs of early white blossom above, it provides a tangible link with the First World War and the Tower Armouries of a century ago.  I hope that Buckingham would approve of our commemorative exhibition in the South West corner of the first floor of the White Tower which this year has showcased some of his memorabilia gifted to the museum in 1997.

280415_Ffoulkes_Part 2_TOW

Catch it while you can – it will be changing soon.  2015’s topic will be  “The Enemy Within”, with  material relating to Fernando Buschmann, the Brazilian convicted of spying and shot at the Tower in October 1915.


#Gallipoli100: Captured moments from the campaign

One of the major events of the First World War to be commemorated this year will be the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign. The Allied plan was to seize the Dardanelles, the narrow straights between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and re-open the southern supply route to Russia, which had been cut after Turkey’s entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers. An attempt to force the narrows by warships of the Royal Navy and the French fleet ended disastrously in the loss of three battleships sunk, and three more disabled by mines and gunfire, and so an expeditionary force was hastily put together.


The troops, including the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs), the 29th British Division and the Royal Naval Division, landed on Gallipoli on 25 April but they failed to capture the key heights dominating the rocky peninsular, and were restricted to two narrow beach heads some 15 miles apart. The Allies soon found themselves engaged in the same kind of trench warfare as on the Western Front. A second landing by three further divisions on 6-8 August was followed by a co-ordinated attempt to break the deadlock, but this also failed and in January 1916 the force was evacuated.


Image (2) 29.jpg for post 3343

The Royal Armouries archives contain a rare photograph album containing photographs of the Gallipoli campaign. It begins with a number of pictures showing the troops arriving at Port Said in Egypt, and there subsequent training at El Kantara on the Suez Canal, as well as photographs of visits to Mohamed Ali Mosque in Cairo and the Pyramids – please see the images below.

The scene then shifts and there are dramatic images of the warships and troop transports off Gallipoli dated April 1915, and of troops being landed on the rocky shores of the peninsular from small boats at W Beach (Lancashire Landing). There follow several photographs of trench scenes captioned ‘Near the White House’, ‘Lancaster St’, ‘Fig-tree Dug out’, ‘Backhouse Post’ and ‘Essex Knoll’ and several of troops behind the lines.


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The name of the photographer is not known, but there are several photographs of the same young man in the album, and the dates and locations would indicate that he was in one of the battalions forming the Royal Naval Division.

  • When the Division landed in Egypt the 2nd Brigade (Howe, Hood, Anson and Nelson battalions) were sent to El Kantara on the Suez Canal – there are photographs of troops at El Kantara in the album.
  • On the 25th April the Division made a diversionary landing at Bulair in the Gulf of Xeros. – there are photographs of two of the transport ships, the Franconia and the Minnetonka, landing troops.
  • On the 29th April the Hood Battalion, the Howe Battalion, the Divisional and Brigade Head Quarters landed on W Beach – there are close up photographs (as if taken from a small boat) of W Beach.
  • On 6th May the Hood Battalion, the Anson Battalion and A Company of the Howe Battalion took part in the Second Battle of Krithia, and Hood captured a section of the line known as the ‘White House’ – there is a photograph captioned ‘near the White House May 15’.

The Royal Armouries purchased this amazing photograph album from an antiquarian book dealer in September 2010.


Unusual War Efforts: Attack of the Easter-bunnies!

General CP Deedes_Rabbits

General C.P Deedes, Major of the Kings Own Light Infantry at the time. Credits:

On this day in 1915, the then Major CP Deedes, member of the King’s Own Light Infantry, currently G.H.Q (General Headquarters Staff) at the War Office, received a very unusual letter suggesting a new alternative “method of warfare”.

Rabbits. Around 200-300 Rabbits as a guideline.

Rabbits at War-1

Credits: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Rabbits at War-2

Credits: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

This is a real letter, sent to the war office in April 1915, suggesting that rabbits be used as a weapon in trench warfare.

The unique idea was to train the rabbits to enter the trenches of the Germans by “feeding them at night on a diet, similar if possible, to what the Germans have.”

These bunny warriors would then be able to carry either smelling or sneezing gas, or even bombs on their “errand of destruction”.

The aim of this – “to play havoc with the enemy” and therefore “put the men out of action for a time, and enable us to attack”.

This may sound incredibly insensitive to us now, however the unknown author justifies this by writing “the above idea is not very humane, but at these times one has to drop sentiment, and adopt all sorts of ideas”. He even goes further to say if the plan proves ineffective, the rabbits could be used for a more savoury suggestion…!

First World War Archives Project: An introduction


For the centenary of the First World War, Leeds Royal Armouries is collaborating with a number of other heritage organisations to digitise archives relating to the Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield) and Local Regiments.

The project is running until March 2016 and is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund.

As the project develops we will be sharing any news, exciting discoveries, and points of interest on this blog – so keep checking back for the latest updates.

Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/1/1/4/4)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/1/1/4/4)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Royal Small Arms Factory


Established in 1816, the Enfield factory developed into the main Government producer of military small arms during the First World War. The factory produced, among others, the famous Lee-Enfield Rifle which served the British Army as a standard issue weapon for over 60 years.

Below are a few thoughts from Philip Abbott, Archives and Records Manager leading the project at the Royal Armouries:

“Enfield was such an important Governmental factory because it was a fundamental pillar throughout the 200 years of the Industrial Revolution. The factory’s fascinating history is not just that of firearms production but of our industrial and social heritage, with discoveries such as staff registers and Minute Books. We will hopefully be able to link together projects and documents through the digitalisation process and discover new clues. One main aim of this project is to find out where original records of the Royal Small Arms Factory lie now and with whom, as many important documents remained in the possession of ex-employees and administrators”

“This specific area of the project advances our knowledge of the Royal Armouries collection and creates fantastic new partnerships, which helps create and support future projects.”

The project will digitise and make available records including staff registers, plans, technical drawings and photographs in order to create a valuable resource for researchers interested in the history of the factory and its employees.

Our partners are:

Enfield Museum
Enfield Local Studies and Archives
Royal Small Arms Trust
RSAF Apprentices Association 
Historical Breechloading Small Arms Association (HBSA)
Historical Breechloading Small Arms Association. Northern Group

Regimental and Corps Museums


Regimental and Corps Museums of the British Army contain a wide range of archives, including personal diaries, photograph albums, battalion orders and trench maps.

Working with 7 regimental museum partners, the project will digitise First World War material from their collections in order to create digital resources commemorating the lives of the allied soldiers who fought on both the Western and Eastern Fronts.

Philip Abbott: “The important factor of Regimental Museum’s collections is that it’s about ‘ordinary people’, which is an aspect our own collection at the Royal Armouries can sometimes lack. We need that personal view for WWI items and documents, whether reflecting life in the factory as at Enfield or the trench via the Regimental Museums.”

“Regimental Museums have a wealth of the material we need, but need the resources we have available to bring it to the public. Therefore it’s a perfect partnership.”

Our partners are:

Green Howards’ Regimental Museum
The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding) Museum
The Prince of Wales’ Own Regiment of Yorkshire Museum
The Royal Dragoon Guards Museum
The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
The York and Lancaster Regimental Museum
The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum

Armourers course group photo - Enfield 1910

Ask A Curator Day Wednesday 17 September 2014

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a curator of artillery? Perhaps you have always wanted to know what was in a ‘vampire killing kit’, or speculated as to why the White Tower has two mummified cats in its collection! Well now’s your chance to find out and ask the experts directly as the Royal Armouries team will be taking part in the annual #AskaCurator Day tomorrow.

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Organised by cultural blogger @MarDixon, this social media event creates an unique opportunity for members of the public to communicate directly with curators and people who work behind the scenes in cultural venues. Last year 622 museums from over 37 countries took part, answering questions about collections, objects and histories from participants around the world.

Royal Armouries will have a range of experts on hand to answer your arms, armour and artillery related questions:


Natasha Bennett, Acting Curator Oriental Collections

Natasha obtained her BA in History from the University of Durham (2007), and a MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Leeds (2010). Before coming to the Armouries, she worked as an intern at the V&A and the Green Howards Regimental Museum. Prior to her MA she worked as an editorial and publishing assistant, and as a librarian.

Natasha works with our wide range of arms and armour from Asia and Africa, spanning multiple countries, cultures and time periods. Past research projects have included papers analysing Asian matchlock mechanisms and the substantial gift of Indian arms and armour bestowed on the Tower of London in 1853 by the East India Company. Currently she is looking at the textiles incorporated into Japanese armour, and is also interested in how a study of Asian and African arms and armour can provide insight into the complexities of trading relations across the world over time.

Henry Yallop, Assistant Curator European Edged Weapons

Having completed his first degree in History (BA, King’s College London 2001-2004), Henry went on to focus on the early medieval period at the University of York (MA, Medieval Studies, 2004-2005). Henry then began his museum career as a long-term volunteer at the Norwich Castle Museum, whilst working part time. He moved back to London to work for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, firstly with the Export Licencing Department and then for The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest.   When MLA relocated, Henry took the opportunity to do a Museum qualification at the University of East Anglia (MA, Museum Studies & Cultural Heritage, 2010-11) which he received after further voluntary work with the National Army Museum.

He took up the post of Assistant Curator (European Edged Weapons) in 2012 after a lifelong fascination with arms, armour and military history. He is particularly interested in the development, use and effect of historical weapons.

Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Having completed a first degree in Archaeology (BA, Exeter 1997-2000), Jonathan began his museum career as a volunteer at Coldharbour Mill Museum in Devon. After further voluntary work with the National Museum of Ireland, he received his postgraduate diploma in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester in 2002, and found work at Colchester Museum documenting the archaeological and oral history collections there.

In 2006 he joined the Collections Department at the Imperial War Museum’s Duxford site, sourcing objects and carrying out research for the major ‘AirSpace’ redevelopment. He then became Assistant Curator of Military History at the National War Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle where he curated the exhibition ‘Call to Arms’ in 2008.

He took up the post of Curator of Firearms at the Royal Armouries in 2009. Based at the National Firearms Centre, his research interests are in the area of use and effect of firearms, and gun-related mythology and folklore. He has been researching so-called ‘vampire killing kits’ since 2007.

Lisa Traynor, Assistant Curator of Firearms

Lisa completed her degree in History and Museum Studies (BA, Huddersfield 2006-11), and in particular focused on the history of arms and armour 1750-1918.  She began her museum career as a volunteer at Museums Sheffield in (2007-09), whilst studying. In 2012 she joined the Visitor Experience team at Royal Armouries Leeds, devising talks for visitors on the history of firearms and the different conflicts in which they were used. She then became the Firearms Documentation Assistant at Royal Armouries in December 2012. Through documenting the former MOD collection, Lisa studied pistols in depth, noting their actions, operating systems and calibres.

She took up the post of First World War Researcher in December 2013. Along with her two colleagues she is curating ‘Bullets, Blades and Battle Bowlers’ a gallery exhibition telling the story of the rise of weapon technology during 1914-18. She is currently working on her paper: ‘The bullet-proof vest and the Archduke: 19th-century innovation versus 20th-century firepower’. Her research involves practical ballistic testing in order to test the claims of 19th-century inventor, Casimir Zeglen. The primary aim of this research is to assess the capabilities of a 19th-century bullet-proof vest against the FN Browning Model 1910, the model of pistol used to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The White Tower

Bridget Clifford, Keeper of the Tower Armouries

Bridget joined the National Maritime Museum after graduating in History from Manchester University in1977, having cut her museum teeth as a volunteer in her ‘local’ at Hereford. Four years later, she moved to the Armouries and the Department of Edged Weapons, spending the first year battling with ‘old Tower stock’ of the pointy kind in the Brick Tower.

Four children and 20 years part-time curating later, having worked on projects ranging from re-storage of the Armouries collections in the Tower in the mid 80s, to taking over the Tower Library and Archive in celebration of the new millennium, and several Tower exhibitions in between, she returned to full-time work as Keeper of Collections South (and library!) in September 2006.

Fort Nelson

Philip Magrath, Curator of Artillery

Philip read for an Honours Degree in History at the University of Sussex, followed soon after by a Masters Degree in Museum Studies at University College London, a Diploma in English Local History and a Further and Adult Education Teaching Certificate.

Previously employed by English Heritage and Gosport Borough Council at Explosion! The Museum of Naval Firepower. He joined the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson in 1991 working in various capacities and was appointed Curator of Artillery in 2001.

Nicholas Hall, Keeper of Artillery

Nicholas read History of Art at the Courtauld Institute, London and joined the then Tower Armouries in 1972. He was fortunate to be mentored by Howard Blackmore, Russell Robinson and Alan Borg, leading scholars in the arms & armour field and to spend valuable time in the workshop with craftsmen Ted Smith and Arthur Davies.

In 1978 Nicholas became Keeper of Metalwork at Hampshire County Museums, opening a community museum in Havant. When the County bought Fort Nelson, a derelict Ancient Monument, he was asked to help decide its future. The Fort was restored and eventually became the Royal Armouries’ artillery museum. In 1988 Nicholas re-joined the Royal Armouries to develop Fort Nelson and prepare the museum displays for opening in 1995. The use of historic artillery became a particular interest, involving participation in TV programmes and consultancy on behalf of the museum.

Our curators will be available between 10am and 1pm and 3pm and 5pm to take your questions. All you have to do is tweet your questions to @Royal_Armouries or @Fort_Nelson and a curator will respond. If it is a complex question about the collection it may take a little time to research and respond, but we will certainly try and get back to you as soon as possible!

To find out more about this event please visit

Protecting WWI Troops…

One of our Library Student Interns, Hugh Osborne investigates a letter written by J.B Forster detailing a new idea to protect soldiers in the First World War.

In 1915 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the well known Sherlock Holmes series, sent a letter to The Times newspaper stating the need to protect soldiers fighting in the trenches in the First World War. Following the publication of his letter in the paper, Doyle received a number of responses from inventors, metal workers and engineers detailing their various ideas and solutions. One of these responses is particularly interesting, if however a little farfetched in terms of how effective it would be.

J.B. Forster of J.B. Forster and Co. wrote to Doyle, on 4 August 1916, detailing his idea for a woven steel net/mail to be attached to the barrel of a soldier’s rifle to catch bullets, using ‘the same principle as the cricketer’.[1] The idea was to catch shrapnel, ricochets and other low velocity projectiles. It is unlikely however that it would have caught a rifle or machine gun round which would have probably gone straight through. The net was to be mounted on the barrel using a steel frame, which could be removed and folded for storage and transport. This would have made the weapon very heavy (the net alone would have weighed at least 10lbs). The barrel resonance would have also been adversely affected, as the barrel wouldn’t have been able to flex and move in its normal way, reducing accuracy. Also visibility would have been greatly reduced making aiming the weapon all the more difficult.

For all its flaws the idea demonstrates that inventors were willing to try anything to solve the problem of how to protect soldiers. Captain Boynton’s gun shield idea is worth a mention but suffers from similar drawbacks to J.B. Forster’s design as it was also attached to the rifle’s barrel, though this time with a hinge. Gun shields weren’t a new idea; from as early as Henry VIII’s reign there are examples of shields fitted with pistols. Gun shields are still used today particularly on mounted weapons such as heavy machine guns and grenade machine guns mounted on vehicles, giving their users more protection.

Blogger: Hugh Osborne, Library Student Intern

[1] J.B. Forster, quotation taken from J.B. Forster’s letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.