A Better Rifle at Halloween

A cancelled order
  • June 15th 1914, London.

    Two men looked down at the telegram, their faces showed a mixture of apprehension and concern. “that’s it then, we are dished” said the first, “not dished but perhaps significantly discommoded” said the second.

    The two men were the managing partners of the Farquhar-Hill rifle company, the telegram they had received was the cancellation of an order placed by the kingdom of Siam for 5,000 of their new rifles. These rifles had been ordered by the King Rama VI to equip the Wild Tiger Corps, but with the fluctuations of palace politics the order was cancelled.

    “What are we to do Moubray” said the first man, “we have finished the first 2,000 rifles and Birmingam Metals have made 250,000 rounds for the rifles, they can’t expect to sell the ammunition, it is a rimless .28 as you know”. “Arthur, let me think for a moment” the second man’s face had already taken on a thoughtful appearance, he managed the finances of the fledgling company and it was his relationship with the King of Siam which had allowed for the contract to be signed in the first place. It was a good contract 5000 rifles, spare parts, gunsmiths’ tools, training cadre and 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition in the first shipment with another 5,000,000 rounds of ammunition to follow over the next 5 years. Farquhar was also aware of the risks they had taken in accepting such a large contract for a small kingdom on the other side of the world. He had ensured that the contract was tightly written and enforceable in Britain, in addition he had insisted that a significant deposit be placed prior to commencing manufacture, likewise their costs for the start of ammunition manufacture had already been covered by deposits paid by the Government of Siam.

    As for the rifles themselves when first contacted by the king’s agents in 1911 they had been unable to interest the British Army in the rifles, they had managed to make several different prototypes and had slowly worked out some of the problems. The magazine had been seen as a problem, resolving that had taxed all of Hills considerable capabilities, in the end it was a conventional 12 round magazine but one which by locking open the bolt could be reloaded with 6 round stripper clips.

    The Farquhar-Hill Mark IV Semi-Automatic rifle which had been ordered was nothing like the SMLE which was now equipping the British Army. It was in almost every regard a better weapon, a gas operated rifle with an intermediate spring it was smooth to shoot and with the higher velocity .28 calibre round it had better ballistics as well. To cap it all off the rifle was equipped with a sophisticated sight system which would allow the trained rifleman to extract the best performance from the system. Overall length was slightly longer than the SMLE but as Wild Tigers were an infantry only force this was not seen as a hinderance.

    Farquhar and Hill both knew the rifle was excellent, everyone who had used it agreed, but the British Army was not interested, they had no need for and were in the midst of planning to re-equip themselves with a new rifle which had learnt the lessons of the Boer War.

    Britain was not interested, who had the money to take over the order? The substantial deposit was of course forfeit but Hill and Farquhar still needed to sell the rifles to someone.
    Bisley Triumph
  • 22nd July 1914, London

    “New Rifle Shocks at Bisley” “Windrum Dominates”

    The Farquhar-Hill rifle which equipped the riflemen of Guernsey shocked the shooting fraternity as they outshot the Australian’s to clinch the Kolapore cup with a score of 785 to Australia’s 776. Team Captain Windrum also won the Barlow cup for rapid fire and snap shooting, further demonstrating the versatility of the rifles which the Farquhar hill company had provided to the island team.
    Last edited:
    The lamps dim
  • 1st August 1914, London

    “The Serbs are interested” announced Moubray Farquhar, his partner Arthur Hill was still coming to terms with the cancellation of the order for his new rifle by the kingdom of Siam, he had modified the design and worked with a Birmingham Ammunition maker to develop a new cartridge for the rifle. But the cancellation had been a crushing blow just as they stood at the cusp of success and even glory, a wholly new design of rifle which would harness some of the power of the expanding gas to operate the bolt via a gas cylinder and intermediate spring, the resulting rifle had a restrained recoil and a smooth action, when .

    Whilst Farquhar’s acumen had ensured that they had sufficient money available to complete the order, but to make a profit, the rifles had to find a buyer, they had been contacted by the Serbs who thanks to a madman had a sudden need for more small arms. But would they be able to pay.
    Last edited:
    Strike Sure
  • 1st August 1914, London.

    “Fall in, at the Double” with that sharp command from Regimental Sergeant Major the whole battalion which had been milling around by the train they had just disembarked from formed up. The battalion commander, Colonel Malcolm projected his voice loudly enough that he could be clearly heard over the noise of the station, “Men our training camp has been cancelled, you are to hold yourselves prepared for mobilisation at any time.” “As you are all aware the European Powers are either at war or will shortly be at war, whatever comes the London Scottish will be ready.”
    Pro rege et patria
  • 1st August 1914, Kyle of Lochalsh.

    The train pulled into the Kyle of Lochalsh and men of D and H companies the 4th Battalion, Queens Own Cameron Highlanders disembarked, they had just finished annual camp at Kingussie and it had been a success with the men practising fieldcraft, musketry and all the other skills required by the Territorial Army. Their battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Campbell was pleased with their training and the men were pleased with their new commander. Rumours of war had reached the Highlands and the men were ready should they be called.
    Mk VII
  • 2nd August 1914, London

    “Sir my men have been called back from camp by the War Office, before we got any chance to train, you are aware that my men have the MK I SMLE and we need to train with the new round we have been issued with.” Colonel Malcolm was at his club and speaking to his Brigade commander Brigadier General Heyworth by telephone. “Colonel Malcolm, I am aware of your battalion’s equipment, at the moment no one knows what will happen, we must hold ourselves ready.” “Thank you, sir, I await your orders” with that Colonel Malcolm returned the telephone to its cradle.
    War and preparations for War
  • 2nd August 1914, London.

    The reading room in the club was crowded with men smoking and reading telegrams and newspapers, the Daily Telegraph had broken with tradition and published an unusual Sunday edition with the headline on page 5 “Germany has drawn the sword. Last night she formally declared war on Russia”, much of the paper was given over to details of the mobilisations of various European nations. An edition of The Scotsman which had come down on the mornings train, was busy attacking British Socialists for advocating peace at any price.
    A steamer sinks
  • 8:00 am 3rd August 1914, Folkstone

    The channel steamer was heading east south east with a bone in her teeth, she had only just made the sailing window due to a problem with her boiler and now the typical channel fog was thickening. The British Agent for Egypt was aboard, travelling back to Cairo after a period of home leave and he was frustrated by the delay and by the fog, he had already sent his ADC to speak to the Captain. If the ferry was late, he would miss his train and then his carefully constructed itinerary would collapse, and he would have to cool his heels in Marseilles waiting for the next vessel.

    As it was, he was not sure if he should even return to Egypt, since the Curragh Mutiny the Army was in turmoil and he was worried. With every sign that war coming he wanted to be in London. Asquith was a good man but indecisive and all too likely to give the French and Russians a free hand, Britain had no reserves to speak off, he had seen territorials fight in France in 1870 and he was not confident that Britain’s would do any better.

    Suddenly there was a scream from the lookout on the bridge, “ship on the port bow”, a merchant ship on a nearly reciprocal course had loomed out of the fog and was bearing down on the smaller steamer. The collision when it came was massive, the bow of the merchantman cutting into the hull of the more lightly built steamer almost to the bridge, rolling her over as she absorbed the impact and was crushed by the other vessel. Then the other ship did the worst thing possible, stunned, and shocked by the collision her master reversed her propellors pulling her back opening the gaping wounds in the steamer to the hungry sea.

    The steamer immediately began taking on water, her passengers and crew rushing the lifeboats, the list was immediate and severe, the lifeboats sufficient in number since the Titanic and other disasters, had hung up on their davits and could not be launched. The next part was inevitable, with the delay imposed and the need for speed that had led to the disaster, the list became a roll and almost without any hesitation the steamer sank beneath the glassy sea, the fog returned and nothing remained but a few forlorn swimmers splashing in the gloom.

    The merchantman launched her one boat, and with mounting despair they began to haul first the hale into the boat but soon it was nothing but the drowned.

    Lacking a radio, the first the authorities knew of the disaster was when the merchantman slowly made her way into Dover. A search was organised and doubled when it was realised who was aboard. But it was too late for him, eleven survived but Earl Kitchener of Khartoum was not one of them.
    An ultimatum issued
  • 4:00pm 3rd August 1914, London

    The cabinet meeting was in turmoil, the first cause of the disorder was the note from the Belgian government that had informed Sir Edward Grey of the German demands for entry into Belgium and of Belgium’s intent to defy them. Whilst the appropriate response was being debated in the cabinet office a messenger came in, he handed the Prime Minister a short message. The telegram informed him of the death of Kitchener in the brutal shorthand of the medium. When he announced it to the assembled ministers disorder became despair and confusion.

    It was expected that shortly Britain would be at war with Germany, but who would be the Secretary of State for War? They all demanded to know, with a war but without Kitchener he would have to give the role to someone. He needed to remain above the fray, he could not continue to combine the role with being Prime Minister. Then it struck him, perhaps the restless energy of Churchill would be suited to the task, he had previous military experience and was a popular First Lord, he could rally the Empire to the coming war and the defeat of the Germans. Some thought the war would be over quickly, but the Prime Minister was not confident, the power of 5 empires would grind each other down, this would be a war won in the factories and fields as much as in the marching and counter marching of Armies.

    The war would be expensive and demand the full capacity of the industrial might of Britain, who better to marshal that money and ensure that the factories produced what was needed than Lloyd George. The other advantage of elevating both Churchill and Lloyd George, was that although friends, they were also sometime rivals, they would keep each other in check. He was pleased with the symmetry of his decision. The common purpose and unity that would come from combining both the Army and Navy under a single master, would be matched by a minister who directed the power of British Industry and Finance. Even better he did not have to sack or displace anyone from their current roles, he would not be sowing any dragon’s teeth, of stifled ambition and ill feeling.
    Not your old Bundook
  • 10:00 am 4th August 1914 London.

    Hill and Farquhar were aware that with the coming of the war their factory would likely be making armaments, but they wanted to make sure the arms being manufactured were of their design. They also knew that their 1914 model rifle was substantially more advanced than the SMLE which equipped the British army, both Britain with its improved P13 Rifle and Canada with the Ross had experimented with alternative rifles to the venerable design. Their rifle was no longer experimental, they had an order for a production quantity, and manufacturing had continued whilst they shopped around for a new customer. They currently had 2475 of the rifles completed with production running at approximately 15 rifles per day with the factory only running a single shift.

    They had to convince the Army, they needed someone to understand what an advantage a self-loading rifle would bring to the battlefield. Their rifle had improved on the older design that they had demonstrated in 1911, it was more robust, simpler to manufacture and more tolerant of ammunition variability. The Kingdom of Siam and their development liaison had pushed for the rifle to be able to cope with mud and rain. New alloys had gone into the intermediate spring and the seals on the gas piston were of a new design using a pair of wiper seals to protect the main seal.

    The design was ready for action, their ammunition manufacturer had also continued to work, the contract had paid all their costs up front, and they wanted to be able to put the new round into operation somewhere.
    Sir John please sit down.
  • 10:00 am 4th August 1914 London.

    Winston Churchill was sitting in his office in the Admiralty with General Sir John French, “I know you have been promised the BEF but I want you here, we need to get our war plan’s into shape. This will be a long war, fighting the Boers took half a million men and nearly 3 years, anyone who thinks we can defeat Germany and Austro-Hungary in less than that is delusional. Lloyd George and I have to have the best advice, we need to build an army that uses the strength of the empire to smash the huns flat. What do you say to that Sir John?”
    Smith-Dorien to the Fore
  • 2:00 pm 4th August 1914 London

    The meeting between Sir John French and Winston Churchill having gone on for far longer than either man would have liked they had decided to head out for lunch, they had chosen to go to Rules as they both enjoyed eating there. They were seated in a private room owing to the confidential nature of the discussion. Sir Charles Douglas had joined them with Prince Louis of Battenburg, as they sought to discuss who should take command of the British Expeditionary force. In the event that it was required by the German refusal to accede to the British Ultimatum.

    The Generals under consideration were Smith-Dorien, Haig, Grierson and Plumer. All of them had much to commend them, Sir John French was pushing that General Haig be appointed as Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces. Churchill was in favour of Smith-Dorien who he recalled had spoken out about the likely duration of the coming war and who had been careful with the lives of his men in South Africa. Unable to come to a decision they had called on Sir Charles to mediate on the decision, he suggested Grierson but Churchill ruled him out, brutally suggesting that an officer as fat as him had no place in modern war. Smith-Dorien was finally selected much to Churchills satisfaction. With that and with the meal continuing as they discussed the gathering storm the next subject to be broached was were to land the BEF, Antwerp was raised and when Churchill said the Royal Navy could not guarantee the supply lines Prince Louis bristled and said “it takes 2 years to build a ship, a two hundred a tradition, we will ensure your lines of supply”. They agreed that Antwerp should be defended and at least 2 divisions should be landed in Ostend to ensure the port was secure and to reinforce the Belgian Army. The remainder of the BEF would be landed in France and assemble in Amiens. All the Regular divisions would proceed to France with the Territorial Army providing reinforcement and another 4 divisions as soon as they had been assembled.
    Churchill was adamant that the Army prepare for a long war saying "Gentlemen, we face a trial such as will shake the foundations of our empire, we must exert ourselves to the utmost. This war will end with the Germans either on their knees or at our throats, they will use all the inventiveness for which they are known. We must fight this war on the sea, on the land, in the fields and in the factories. We must be clever, inventive and cunning, the old ways will not do. We do not know how this war will end but with God's grace and the united power of this Kingdom and its Empire we will prevail"
    Last edited:
  • 5th August 1914.
    From the London Gazette
    His Majesty's Government informed the German Government on August 4th, 1914, that, unless a satisfactory reply to the request of His Majesty's Government for an assurance that Germany would respect the neutrality of Belgium was received by midnight of that day, His Majesty's Government would feel bound to take all steps in their power to uphold that neutrality and the observance of a treaty to which Germany was as much a party as Great Britain.
    The result of this communication having been that His Majesty's Ambassador at Berlin had to ask for his passports, His Majesty's Government have accordingly formally notified the German Government that a state of war exists between the two countries, as from 11 p.m. to-day.
    Foreign Office,
    August 4th, 1914.
    Port Righ
  • 11:00 am 5th of August, Portree

    The Drill hall of H Company the 4th Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders was organised, the men of the company had been awaiting the call to arms and they had swiftly mustered. Others had also been seen at the drill hall that morning, men of the district who wished to join up. They names were taken down, several men who had recently left the battalion were also re-enrolled undertaking the Imperial Service Commitment at the same time.
    Last edited:
  • 2:00 pm 5th of August, London

    Men had been streaming into the Battalion Headquarters of the London Scottish since the start of the day, they had been notified by post and telegram, but many had arrived on seeing the news. The regular cadre under the instruction of Colonel Malcolm had had them preparing since the return to London. Each man underwent a brief medical and was issued his arms and ammunition, then they were sent home again. Alongside the men of the battalion came men from the reserves and also hundreds of potential recruits, the adjacent Caxton Hall was requisitioned as an annexe to aid in processing these men.
    Last edited:
    A place to train
  • 7:00 pm 5th of August, London

    Colonel Malcolm was again in the lounge at his club, he was speaking to another member who had a large estate near Chipping Barnet. “My good fellow, your men can march catch the tube up to Highgate station, then from there they can march up to the estate. There is room on the grounds for a range, although only out to 500 yards, you will need to dig butts as well.” Colonel Malcolm was slightly stunned, he had known the man who made the offer and who was an elderly veteran of the London Scottish only slightly but his offer stunned, his estate would be disrupted by the presence of hundreds of soldiers but a range would give his men a chance to try the new ammunition, the digging and marching would harden them as well. “Sir, I thank you for your kind offer, my adjutant will arrange transport and shall telegram with my plan as soon as possible”
    The sub-committee for the prosecution of the war forms
  • 11:00 am 6th August 1914, London.

    The sub-committee for the prosecution of the war, was a subset of the Asquith Cabinet, chaired by Winston Churchill with David Lloyd-George, Asquith would only attend as an occasional observer and remain aloof. He would chair the full war cabinet but its role was to scrutinise and approve the decisions of the sub-committee, which had a much more changeable makeup with people being appointed or attending at the whim of the two principles. Sir John French was attending joined by Smith-Dorien, Henry Wilson the Director of Military Operations and the man responsible for Intelligence and Planning, Hadden and Von Donop from the Ordinance Board. The Royal Navy had sent Prince Louis, Admiral Fisher and Rear Admiral Oliver the Director of Naval Intelligence.

    Prince Louis was being attacked in the press for his german connections and it was felt that his resignation may be necessary, with his role to be taken over by Admiral Fisher. Admiral Jellicoe was not present being with the fleet at Scapa Flow.

    Other than Churchill and Lloyd-George, the cabinet was represented by Walter Runciman who was President of the Board of Trade, the Home Secretary Reginald McKenna and Charles Masterman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Almost immediately the meeting devolved into acrimony, with Runciman, McKenna and Masterman against the policy of total war which had rapidly become the position of Churchill and Lloyd-George. The Officers present represented a range of positions, all of them bellicose however some such as French thought the war would be over quickly whilst Smith Dorien and Wilson though it likely to be long.

    Churchill’s plan to deploy 2 regular divisions to Belgium whilst the remainder went to France was discussed in detail. The defence of the Belgian coastline was raised, all present, were dismissive of the fighting power of Belgium, with reports that German Siege guns had already started to attack Liege and sweep into Belgium. Runciman pointed out that if the Germans held the coast of Belgium the port of Ghent could be used to attach British Trade in the North Sea.

    Runciman went on to give a brief summary of a number of critical points regarding Germanies position, noting that thanks to the Haber process Germany could make its own Nitrates, likewise with a steel industry twice that of Britain, they could not rely on industrial might alone to win the war. A blockade was discussed and the

    Implementation approved with the intention of preventing any war related materials reaching Germany or Austro-Hungary.

    The meeting continued, for many long hours as the magnitude of the undertaking was identified, both Wilson and Oliver described the military situation of the major powers, with Oliver noting the growth of Germanies submarine forces which would threaten both the Royal Navy and the Merchant Marine. In response to this threat Churchill issued his first Action this Day memo demanding that the technical capacity of the Royal Navy be strengthened in response to the threats posed by Submarines, Zeppelins and Torpedo Boats.
    The Sub-Committee meets again
  • 2:00 pm 7th August, London

    The sub-committee for the conduct of the war was meeting again, the news thus far had not been good. The German’s had started to attack the Belgian forts at Leige. The commander Leman had been concussed by a nearby shell explosion and now he, the fortresses and the 3rd Infantry Division and 15th Infantry Brigade were surrounded with no way out. Radio reports indicated that the Infantry were digging in between the forts and readying to fight in the city itself. An attempt to evacuate the civilian population had been rebuffed, and already some heavy fire artillery fire had hit civilian targets along with the first raid by Zeppelin bombers.

    The French had commenced an attack into the Alsace Lorraine as part of Plan XVII and the limited report indicated heavy casualties there.

    The enthusiastic reports of men volunteering for the forces was not being greeted with complete enthusiasm, already businesses had reported the loss of skilled personnel and it was feared that as the nation was gripped with war fever the numbers would worsen.

    Lloyd George was proposing that critical workers in ship building, mining and other critical industries should be prevented from joining up. Lloyd George also called for conscription, he pointed out that the American Civil war was a better analogue for the coming struggle than either the Boer War or the Franco Prussian war. That war took 4 years and cost nearly a million dead, and winning it required total national commitment. We must be prepared for the same thing, this war will only end when the will to fight of one side or the other is smashed and their means of making war are destroyed.

    To that end it was agreed that a scheme of purchasing commissioners would be investigated, their powers and the legislative tools required would be identified. In order to bring as much of the power of empire under central direction and to focus their efforts on the war.

    Likewise, a number of committees would be formed, one would be aimed at economic warfare against the central powers. It would direct its efforts and undermining the attempts of German and Austria to gain access to world markets and to keep the sub-committee informed as to the progress of the blockade and other strategies.

    The other two would focus on technology and would seek to find new ways to bring the war to a victorious conclusion.

    The final committee would be directed towards public opinion both within Britain but also without at the wider empire and the world beyond, their task would be to raise morale at home whilst sapping it the enemy’s camp.
  • 4:00 pm 7th August, London

    Hill was again sitting with Farquhar, they were examining a sample of the rifle, looking at it and trying to work out how to make a simpler and cheaper version which they were sure would be needed in the coming clash. The current rifle cost almost twice as much to make as a SMLE and whilst it was a better rifle, millions would be required if the army was to grow to match that of Germany or France. Simplification would be the order of the day, the work they had done to get it ready for the Siam order had already improved the rifle significantly, but the rifle was still perfect, nor was it intended for the kind of rapid production that would be needed. At best working with 2 shifts the factory would be able to manufacture 50-60 rifles per day, hardly sufficient to arm the empire.

    We need a Scientific Management Specialist thought Farquhar, remembering the Birmingham meeting where he had encountered the American guru. They had already implemented some of his principles in the design and organisation of the factory, but the size of the original order had not called for its full implementation. This would have to change, and a time and motion expert would be recruited, Farquhar would manage the finances and business, Hill the design work but a new man was needed to run the factory.
    MK VII
  • 7:00 am 8th August, Chipping Barnet.

    “Sir, I could not fire a qualifying score” “What?” Colonel Malcolm was shocked. He had motored up to the range ahead of the first company to shoot with his RSM and a number of others from Battalion HQ and they were trying out the range they would be using. The Regimental Sergeant Major was a regular soldier seconded from the Gordon Highlanders and a soldier who had fought at the Dargai Heights and the relief of Ladysmith. He normally shot the mad minute to demonstrate to the men how it should be done, his best effort was 28 hits on a Second Class Figure target, he was the captain of the Battalions rifle team. He was not a man who would ever fail to put 15 rounds into the target in the prescribed minute. “Are you all right Sergeant Major” “Sir, I am Sir” he replied, “I do not understand why but my rifle kept jamming” I cleared 5 jams in the minute. “Try with another rifle” “Sah”

    With that he departed back, to try again as his Colonel had commanded, he took a rifle from the rack and loaded with 2 stripper clips carrying 5 of the new Mk VII spitzer ammunition. They loaded ok.

    Shortly there after he returned with the rifle in his hand and a dejected look on his face, with him was his batman, he simply looked shocked and confused.

    “Sir, Macleod and I both attempted the course of fire, neither of us could shoot it.” The RSM continued “Macleod had 3 jams, I had 4. There is something wrong with this ammunition.”

    “Try another crate and get me a rifle” With that the Colonel, the RSM and a shocked private soldier returned to the range.