The bayonet has a long history starting from the 17th Century, and its development has reflected the improvements in the soldier's individual firearm. Over the centuries bayonets have changed in shape, length and style.

The Short Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle was introduced in 1902 and was initially issued with a 12~ double-edged sword bayonet, very similar to the Lee-Metford bayonet of 1888. However, the thinking of the time was that 'reach' was all-important in bayonet fighting and this should not be sacrificed because a shorter rifle was now in service. This thinking produced the familiar 1907 Pattern bayonet - a 17N single edged sword type with deep fullers or grooves along the blade and a wooden handled grip.

It was fixed to the rifle's nosecap at two points. The crossguard has a ring which fits over a stud or bayonet boss under the muzzle, and the rear of the pommel has a slot which engages a T shaped projection, the sword bar, below the nosecap. A spring catch in the pommel holds the bayonet securely in place. Figure 1, which shows the 1903 Pattern bayonet, illustrates the fixing.

sword1903Early issues had a hooked quillion on the crossguard. See Figure 2. This was intended to catch the opponent's blade during bayonet fighting. In reality a soldier in battle would have other things on his mind than concentrating on catching an opposing blade, and the hooked quillion was discontinued in 1913.

Bayonets, which were largely hand made, were produced to a rigid specification for materials, dimensions, and finish. Each bayonet was subjected to bending and striking tests and if defects were found in 25% of a consignment, the whole consignment could be rejected.

The majority of 1907 Pattern bayonets produced during the 1914-1918 war were by the Wilkinson Sword Company, who made over 2.5 million.

Other manufacturers were the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, Vickers, Mole, Sanderson and Chapman. The manufacturer's name was stamped on the blade immediately above the crossguard. Other marks impressed on the blade were the Royal Cipher, '1907 indicating the pattern, and the date of acceptance. This latter showed month and year e.g. 6 17 (June 1917). In addition, various inspectors marks are to be found, together with regimental markings.

The 1907 bayonet, while it may have looked impressive on parade, was not a very practical weapon. When fixed to the rifle it altered the rifle's shooting capabilities and in windy conditions it made the rifle more difficult to hold steady. The long blade glittered, even in moonlight. In use, the cross-section of the blade made penetration difficult, though the wound produced was very unpleasant. Withdrawal was often awkward, especially when penetration as deep. Troops were instructed to place a foot on the enemy's body to assist withdrawal and if the bayonet still stuck, training manuals advised that ~a round should be fired to remove the obstruction'.

As a hand-held weapon it proved almost useless, patrols and raiding parties preferred knives, clubs and knuckle-dusters. The best uses found by soldiers for the bayonet were wither as a poker or, stuck in a trench wall, as a hook for equipment.

Throughout the war great importance was attached to bayonet training, as typified by Lt. Col. R.B. Campbell's famous lecture on The spirit of the Bayonet' which inspired Siegfried Sassoon's poem 'The Kiss'. Infantry attacks were intended to take the bayonet to the enemy. All other elements in battle existed solely to achieve this end. How effective a bayonet charge actually was is now difficult to say as accounts vary. One thing is certain - to be on the receiving end must have been a terrifying experience...


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