Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Fulton family and volunteer rifle tradition in the Queen's Westminster Rifles

Figure 1. Sergeant A. G. Fulton. Photo taken by Lt. J.B.Baber.at Edmead's Farm
near Houplines, probably taken in May 1915. [1]

Sergeant Arthur Fulton was one of the stalwarts of the Queen's Westminster Rifles. An extremely able marksman, Fulton had been the King's Cup winner at Bisley in 1912, and would go on not only to survive the war, but also to win the Kings Cup for a second time in 1924.

Marksmanship was a family tradition.  Fulton's father, Sergeant G. E. Fulton had won the Queen's Cup in 1888 when serving with the Wimbledon Volunteers.


Figure 2. Sergeant Fulton from Middlesex.

George Fulton had started his shooting career in the Wimbledon Rifle Volunteers by 1881 and had won the Queen's  Prize in 1888, and the Grand Aggregate in 1890 and the St. George's in 1896 and 1900.  He went on to found his  own gun smithing company in about 1895.  At first this business operated out of Wandsworth before moving to Staines where there was a large range at the time. 

The National Rifle Association had moved its headquarters to Bisley Camp in 1890, and Staines was conveniently placed in relation to the ranges there and at Bisley. Fulton set up his business in a sectional wooden building equipped with verandas that was moved to the Bisley ranges from Wimbledon and which survives today [2]


Figure 3. Rifle Volunteers at Wimbledon 
(Please click on picture for larger image.)

George Fulton must have been one of the many young men who joined the Volunteer Rifles in the 1870's. The rise of Napoleon III's France and steam ships had made many in Britain concerned least an invasion be mounted on our shores. Any potential enemy could now arrive regardless of the wind.
The 1870 Franco Prussian War had shown just how vulnerable we had become with the advent of large European conscript armies just a few hours steaming from our coast.


Figure 4. South London Rifle Club at Nunhead Ranges 1879.
(Please click on image for larger version.) 
Private Low and Major Starkey of the QWR
are amongst the competitors.

This Volunteer movement has particularly popular in the Wimbledon, Peckham and Rye area and was open both to gentlemen volunteers and well as tradesmen like Fulton.  As can be seen from the photo above both gentlemen and ordinary men were able to mix at these events, which was not the case at most other times.  For many young men it represented the best way to get a holiday. The camps became great social events.

George Fulton's great ability in shooting must have attracted the attention of the Queen's Westminster Rifles, who were one of the keenest of these Volunteer Regiments, and they appear to have managed to lure George Fulton away by 1889 to join the unit. He was then enabled to set up his own business working to modify and improve rifles for competition.

"Staines, Dec.29.
15 November 1889
THE VOLUNTEERS."

"It was yesterday officially announced that Sergeant G.E. Fulton, of the Queen's Westminster Volunteers, the winner of the Queen's prize of £250 and the gold medal and gold badge of the National Rifle Association at Wimbledon last year, has carried off the championship and gold jewel of the North London Rifle Club this season with the best score ever recorded in the annals of rifle shooting under the same conditions. His aggregate of eight "shoots" at 200, 500, and 600 yards and of four at 800 and 900 yards with the Government Martini-Henry rifle totals exactly 1,100 points. Captain Cowan, of the Royal Engineers, is second with 1,088, and Corporal Leghorn, of the London Scottish, third with 1,073."[3]

George Fulton was a widely respected authority on rifles. In 1905 he wrote the following letter to the Times newspaper criticising the new service rifle then coming into service. 

"The Times
 
5 January 1905
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
THE NEW SHORT RIFLE.


Sir, In your issues of the 19th and 22nd there appeared some correspondence respecting the new short rifle. I am very sorry not to have been aware of this at the time, but hope that you will allow me, though late, a little space for a few remarks.
I have tried several of these rifles up to 600 yards, and one at 800, and cannot understand how the Hythe School find that it shoots closer than the long rifle. My experience is rather the reverse.
For so short a weapon it is ill-balanced and top heavy, and so is ill adapted for swift alignment of sights necessary in quick but accurate shooting at short range, which, I believe, the rifle, strangely enough, is supposed to be designed for.
They have bored holes in the butt, under heel plate, to reduce weight a trifle. This only makes balance worse, and a badly-balanced rifle or gun always handles heavily. The small shallow open notch of backsight and the large projections of the open topped hood on either side of foresight also hinder quick off-hand shooting. A large deep notch is the best for quick sighting, especially in an indifferent light, and a foresight then stands conspicuously alone, as on the long rifle.
I make these remarks as quick shooting at short range has lately been so strongly recommended by the military authorities.
Your correspondents consider the sights of the new rifle superior. In finish they undoubtedly are; but a traversing wind-gauge sight is fanciful, not practical. All very well for making minute alterations of the sight scale, when the wind is being judged by the state of the flags on a range; but I have often asked those who have seen service of what use such sights would be, and the answer is what I expected.
A good, well-finished tangent sight, with a large sight notch in leaf-cap for short ranges, and a very small narrow one on sliding bar, just sufficient to take in a moderate amount of foresight, for more deliberate shooting and medium and long ranges, the tip of sight level, with shoulders of notch working the ground line of objects aimed at, on the old approved method, would be more to the purpose than the new sight, with only one notch, which neither suits one purpose nor the other. Another objection to the short rifle is the greater flash it makes in the dusk.
The safety catch is not so handy, or so readily moved, as another form that has long been adapted to this action by a large firm of rifle manufacturers.
In conclusion, the authorities would have acted wisely in issuing a few hundred of these short rifles for trial by the best known all-round shots in the Volunteer Forces.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
G.E. FULTON."
[4]

The rifle George Fulton was referring to became the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk I, and was to become one of the most important rifles in military history, serving throughout the First World War and on into the Second World War.  Some remain in service in 2010 in India with the police force.

The Fulton's would go on to convert many of these rifles for target shooting. The main areas for improving were the screws that held the barrel to the wooden housing. With time and if maintenance was not regularly undertaken the screws would come loose and the wood would shrink, causing the barrel to move in relation to the wooden forward parts. This caused the rifle to loose accuracy. The Fulton's work on making it more accurate caused the Rifle Association to make the Bull's in targets smaller twice during the inter war period.

George Fulton was not unsurprisingly appointed the QWR's Armourer Sergeant. 

During 1905 he was part of a team lead by Captain Montagu De Mancha Shattock who beat an American team from the Seventh National Guard on July 6th and 7th at Bisley by 10 points.  Corporal Short, a National Guardsman hit the bulls eye with one of his shots, only to discover that it was on the adjacent target. This lost them the competition.

Between September 24th and October 7th 1906 a return match set up by Sir Howard Vincent, a wealthy former commander of the QWR was shot for at the Sir Howard Vincent Anglo-American Challenge Shield at Creedmoor near New York. An article in the New York Times contains the following paragraphs

"The make up of the English team this year is nearly the same as it was last.  Armourer Sergt. Fulton who has been in the regiment since 1881, is the crack shot.  His son A.G. Fulton, is nearly as good, having scored 261, against his father's 262 in the contest with the Seventh.  The father has the great distinction of having won the King's Cup twice.  His son missed it once only by a very narrow margin."

"From the accounts of the contest brought home by the Seventh's representatives, Armorer Sergt. Fulton is a most picturesque character. He is a gunsmith by trade, and is exceedingly quiet and unassuming.  At any sort of social gathering he never says a word unless it is tricked out of him.  Though he is a gunsmith and some of his fellows in the regiment come from the most aristocratic sires in Britain, the old Sergeant is much sought after." [5]

In the return match George Fulton does not appear to have taken place. Corporal Arthur Fulton, was one of the six in the team, and Rifleman Roche also shot in the match as one of two reserves. Sadly, on this occasion they were beaten by the American team. [6]

The importance to the Regiment of the Fulton's is hard to overstate. As soon as the Regiment mobilised in August 1914 they set to work to bring the rifles and marksmen skills to as high a level as possible.

The regiment had not been equipped with the Short Lee Enfield used by the Regular Army in 1914. These were in short supply, and reserved for Kitchener's new army.

The QWR were not expected to be sent overseas as early as they were.  As late as 29th September 1914 Lord Kitchener who inspected the unit at Gorhambury Park had told them "Not a man will leave until your second battalions are fully equipped and ready to take your place." [7]

Figure 5. Long Charger-Loading Magazine Lee-Enfield.[8]

On the 31st of October 1914, having been quite unexpectedly informed that the regiment was being sent to France, on the previous day, the 30th of October, it was then issued with an entirely new type of rifle, that they had not previously had any experience on. The rifle was one of the alternatives to the Short Lee-Enfield that had been rejected for regular service.

This was necessary because the one they had been training could not take the Mark VII cartridge being issued in France, which the Longer Charger rifle fortunately could.

Sergeant Arthur Fulton and his father George had suddenly to test and adjust approximately 800 new issued  rifles, working along with the other best regimental shots. 

The men themselves had no opportunity to test or familiarise themselves with the new rifles before they set off for France. Fortunately the main difference to the ones they had trained on, was in the sights and breach. These rifles remained in use until after the actions at Bellewaarde in 1915 when so many rifles were recovered from casualties in other units that it was possible to provide the battalion with the standard rifle used by the Regular units.


Figure 6. Private of the QWR equipped with the Long Charger
Lee Enfield during the winter of 1914-15 at Houplines. [photo by Lt J B Baber] 

Possibly because 2nd Lt Baber was one of the least experienced, and probably also the youngest officer, he was appointed as Machine-Gun Section commander, with Sergeant Arthur Fulton as his second in command. I expect that it was a great relief to Baber to have such an able man in day to day command of his unit.

The Lance Corporal was R. de R. Roche, another very experienced soldier who had served in South Africa during the Boer War as also in the machine gun section. He was George Fulton's brother in law, and a very fine rifle and pistol shot.

Sergeant Arthur Fulton displayed his skills as a marksman when he made a very remarkable shot. Spotting a German officer sitting in a window of a house in the village of Frelinghein well behind the lines, he estimated the range at 800 yards, and was able to pick the officer off with his first round. [9]

During November 1914 and into 1915 the Regiment suffered from having very little artillery support due to the shell shortage, and were suffering from German observation and snipers, so this success must have been a great morale booster.

Arthur Fulton went on to become well known in the 1918 to 1939 period for the unique distinction of being the only man to win the Sovereign's Prize three times, he has also won the King's Silver Medal three times and holds the record number of King's and Queen's Final Badges.

For many years' from 1920 until the advent of the P14 rifle in 1935, the S.M.L.E. was the only weapon permitted for the S.R. shooting under the N.R.A. Rules, and in the early days of that rifle's history the continuance of rifle shooting as a competitive sport undoubtedly hung in the balance. It was at this time that the pioneering work done by Arthur Fulton at Woolwich and in his spare time on privately-owned rifles which resulted in the process known as "packing" which did a great deal to bring about some sort of "levelling-up" of the standard of shooting obtained from these otherwise extremely inaccurate weapons.
By careful controlling the barrel vibrations, and skilfully adjusting the "packing" material so as to stiffen the otherwise weak barrel and action without restricting the expansion of the former, an extremely high degree of accuracy was obtained which enabled the size of the bullseye at all ranges to be reduced twice during this period.

Arthur Fulton who had a son, who became a noted shot in the 1950's, and a daughter was awarded the M.B.E. in the 1959 New Year Honours List for his services to rifle shooting.

A film from 1926 is held by British Pathe which shows the family of Sergeant Fulton called"Camera Interviews - Sgt. Fulton - The Famous Rifle Shot." which contains the following stills.



Figure 7. Sergeant George Fulton in 1926 (From British Pathe)

If you are connected to the Fulton family, or are able to provide any additional information on their activities with the QWR, I would be very interested to hear from you.


Figure 8. Sergeant Arthur Fulton with his dog Sailor in 1926
(From British Pathe)


[1] Edmead's Farm north east of Houplines village.  The farm formed part of the front line, but was totally destroyed by later battles in the area. It's location was at approximately 50 degrees 41' 52.09" N 2 degrees 55' 34.67"E. The site is just to the south west of the roundabout where the N58 from Belgium comes into France and joins the D945.
[2] G. E. Fulton & Son, registered gunsmiths.  See http://www.fultonsofbisley.com/history.htm
[3] from http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~fultondata/Biog01.htm
[4] from http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~fultondata/Biog01.htm.  See also http://www.milsurps.com/showthread.php?t=13678 for a very good article on the technical aspect of Fulton's work.

[5] The full article about this competition in New York can be found in the New York Times archive at http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F20C11F6355A12738DDDAC0994DF405B868CF1D3
[6] Report from New York Times, 6th October 1906, available at http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F20E13F73A5E12738DDDAA0894D8415B868CF1D3[6] Major J.Q, Henriques, "The War History of the First Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles, 1914-1918." page 10.
[7] Photo copied from Arundel Militaria website, which has several other pictures of a surviving example. http://www.deactivated-guns.co.uk/deactivated-guns/allied-deactivated-guns/super-rare-wwi-charger-loading-lee-enfield-rifle/prod_679.html
[8] Henriques, "The War History" page 28.


1 comment:

steve hammond said...

Excellent blog, I have an album which must be similar to yours, it has some of the photos you show in it too, all around Houplines.