As World War I Loomed, the British Army Finally Took Its Machine Guns Off Carriages
The realities of war forced the guns into trenches
In the photograph above, the machine-gun section of the 8th Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) poses with its machine guns.
In that photograph, the Machine Gun, Maxim, Mk.I is mounted on a carriage while, in the photo below, it’s on a tripod and deployed in a trench during a field exercise. Following its experiences during the Boer War, the British Army abandoned carriages as machine-gun mounts. By the 1910s, the British Army solely used tripods.
The Maxim’s tripod is clearly visible in the third photograph at bottom, which depicts both of the machine gun section’s guns set up side by side.
All three photos come courtesy of Newbattleatwar.com, whose focus is on commemorating the men of Midlothian, Scotland who fought during World War I. The site’s owner curates a collection of photographs given to him by George Souness, nephew of George Souness, one of the men in the photograph at bottom. Souness was killed in 1918.
The 8th Royal Scots was a Territorial Force battalion. The Territorial Force was a part-time, volunteer reserve branch of the British Army that formed in 1908, that same year the 8th Scots also stood up. The battalion would later become the first Scottish territorial unit to mobilize for World War I. It arrived in France in November 1914.
The Machine Gun, Maxim, Mk.I made extensive use of brass for its spring housings, spade grips and barrel jacket. In the field these often wound up painted. The photographs above were probably taken some time between 1908 and 1912. The troops in the first photograph appear to carry Magazine Lee-Enfields.
British battalions at the beginning of the war each had a machine gun section commanded by a lieutenant and made up of two six-man squads operating a total of two machine guns. During World War I, the number of machine guns per battalion rapidly increased.
The British Army first used the Maxim gun in combat — in a limited capacity — during the First Matabele War in 1893. The gun officially entered British service in 1896, later seeing action during the First Boer War. The Vickers-Maxim Machine Gun Mk.I, also chambered in .303, replaced the Maxim gun in British service in 1912. But when the British Expeditionary Force departed for France in August 1914, many battalions took their older Vickers-Maxim guns with them.