Introducing The Royal Small Arms Factory: Roll of Honour Project

The RSA Trust is working with the Royal Armouries to deliver a research project that will commemorate the women, men and young people who worked at the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) in both World Wars. The RSA Trust is providing £1,000 plus staff time to ensure the project is a success. The text below, from the Royal Armouries, gives the full details of the Roll of Honour Project.

President of the Royal Small Arms Factory Apprentices’ Association, Ray Tuthill explained the need for this project, “In the days when RSAF was open publicity was not encouraged [therefore] the crucial contributions made by RSAF’s workforce to the war effort have not received the recognition accorded to some others and the WW1 centenary offers an appropriate occasion to try to rectify that omission whilst living memories of the factory still survive.”

Ray’s view is echoed by John Clark, Archives and Local Studies Manager at the London Borough of Enfield, “The RSAF was an important and major employer in Enfield and did much to shape the history of the area. The contribution of its workers during both world Wars is long overdue for some recognition”.

The RSAF was the birth place of the famous Lee Enfield rifle, which played such a vital role during both world wars. At its peak during the First World War the RSAF employed over 8,500 workers making rifles, machine guns, bayonets and swords for British and Commonwealth forces, and during the Second World War there were over 6,000 staff at Enfield mainly producing the famous Bren gun and Sten gun as well as other types of machine guns for tanks and aircraft, as well as smaller shadow factories at Fazakerley and Maltby. The factory also repaired thousands of rifles during both world wars.

The project manager and head of archives at the Royal Armouries, Philip Abbott, expanded on what we hope to discover during this project, “We know a great deal of the history of the RSAF from surviving records, but very little about the people who worked there. We hope that this project will bring to the fore the stories of the ordinary men and women who played such an important role not just in the two world wars but the history of the factory in general”.

After the Military Services Act was passed in January 1916 the RSAF employed large numbers of women workers.
The project is funded by the National Lottery through a £9,800 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the RSA Trust. Partners include Enfield Local Studies and Archives, Enfield Museum and the Royal Small Arms Factory Apprentices Association and the RSA Trust. The project will undertake the following:

  • the unveiling of two commemorative plaques at Enfield Island Village where many of the original buildings of the RSAF have been preserved;
  • the conservation of almost 40 staff photographs taken in December 1918 and January 1919;
  • the transcription of four surviving staff registers containing some 1500 names of men who worked at the factory during the First World War;
  • the identification of other men and women who worked at the factory during 1914 to 1919;
  • the creation of two Rolls of Honour of RSAF staff who fell in the service of their country during the two World Wars; and
  • the creation of a Roll of Honour of staff who worked at the factory.

The project will be accompanied by:

  • Two exhibitions – one at the beginning, and one at the end of the project – illustrating the information discovered; and
  • Two open days at which members of the public and former members of staff of the factory will be able to come along and find out more about the project, and bring any memorabilia relating to the RSAF which they would be willing to have recorded.
  • There will also be educational opportunities for schools in the Enfield area studying local history as part of Key Stage 2 and 3 to contribute to the project.

How you can help

If you would like to volunteer to take part in the project, but helping us to transcribe and research the staff register and create the Rolls of Honour, please follow the link to the Royal Armouries Volunteermakers page and sign up!

For further information please e-mail the Archives team at the Royal Armouries