This is a all to common question I get from really keen collectors, soon naturally followed by “so what can you tell me about my 303?”.
It’s also one of the most frustrating, as unfortunately I can only really tell you what you already know or what you have read on this website!
A good example is the “I’ve an SMLE that my grandfather had, he was in the NZ/Australian/ UK/ Canadian/ Indian….. Army stationed in Europe, Africa, Pacific etc what can you tell me”. Well unless it has a butt disk (SMLE) I’m really at a loss to tell you much more other than that you have a SMLE (for example). With the disk i may be able to tell you of a unit? But even then I’m pretty much going to ask Mr Google or Mr Bing! Or look at some of the other reference websites. Yes there are butt disks in a few rifles, in NZ these are No4 rifles used at NZ airforce bases and some also found on rifles issued to ships.
YOUR best bet to work out the history of a rifle if it was in fact a firearm brought back by a returned serviceman is do the history on where that person served or go to your respective Armed Forces archives and see what service history they have for that family member.
Sadly confirming the providence of the vast majority of rifles is very very hard to do (unless you are EXCEPTIONALLY lucky to have say a trials rifle or a No4T in transit case!!!). Sure you may be able to decipher what country it was issued to, with some rifles you can tell possibly what part of the year it may have been made, but often more than that is just guessing! There are a few good reason for this.
Firstly, it was a World War! accurate records about particular rifles and their unit allocation were never or rarely maintained. Then factor in the destruction of such records post war periods. Consider the numbers of weapons that were subject to battlefield repairs, being swapped or borrowed!!!(there are some VERY good examples of this, kiwi’s landing in certain theatres only to “borrow” better weapons from British forces).
Also there was the intelligence that could be gleamed from captured firearms, ever noticed the codes on the individual parts…..there was a very good reason again for those codes, it didn’t say made in factory X at City Y, as next City Y would get a visit from bombers. Again the information that could obtained surrounding unit strength, type and equipment standards and and the information gaps that could be filled from that. Also unit designations or movement, formation strength or unit type could be gleamed from captured or found weapons by disks or reg markings.
Then there is the comment “But there is a second set of stamped numbers on the (fill in the gap) (a) Stock, (b) Wrist (c) Forewood ” yep there sure are, and most of those are merely inventory / rack numbers a few are serial numbers put on at a regimental level when repairs were done. All that really tells us is little more than that someone was accounting at some level their weapons. Again these records were kept at reg, unit or what ever level, at the end of the usefulness of the records being kept……out the records went!
Yes there are some rifles that had great markings such as say the odd Australian SMLE or like I said a No4T in a transit case. But lets be honest team, there were millions of Lee Enfield rifles made during the world wars and accounting of individual rifles was not high on the priority list.
Yes, I appreciate that its frustrating, but sadly its just the way things are!
Here is another resource that may help http://www.enfieldcollector.com/serials.html