This blog forms the first in a new series in which we provide a glimpse of what our archives reveal about the history of REME trades.

Although the focus in this series of articles will be on the current eight REME trades, it is worth mentioning that some of the historic trades (in 1942 there were 59) are represented in the archives as well. This series of articles was inspired by the excellent piece entitled History of REME Trade Changes since its Formation in 1942, by the Museum’s former Pictorial Archivist Malcolm Heppolette, which appeared in the REME Journal, Issue No 22, 2011. We are not, therefore, attempting to write a detailed story about each trade (for which we would probably need a whole issue of The Craftsman to ourselves), but only to provide a selection of what we have in the archives relating to our trades.

We start off with armourers, gun fitters included, which were amalgamated into the armourer’s trade in 2001. All the material in our archives is donated, so unfortunately we may not have everything that there is about a particular subject. The archives holds official and personal collections, including, but not restricted to, documents, photographic material and drawings. These items reflect various aspects of life as a REME armourer. Although we are looking mainly at the paper (2D) material, the museum’s collections include objects too such as: tools, tool boxes, tool bags, badges, medals and more. All this material helps us to tell the stories of REME armourers around the world, from the Second World War right through to more recent times.

The following examples relating to the Second World War are from the official records in our archives such as war reports, operational diaries, and other material describing REME trades from the period.

Document with type and handwritten entries in a table

The Armourer’s Quarterly Inspection Report for C Company, 1 Battalion Coldstream Guards, provides details of an inspection in June 1943, somewhere in the “Field” and lists the various weapons and their condition. A:2012.5588.

Black and white photo of men working at stations with bits of material in a warehouse.

The Central Armourers’ Shop, Small Arms Section, Malta, in 1944. A:1962.0510.07.

An average of 1,100 jobs were turned out from this 5000 square foot workshop. The print is from a photograph album produced at the time to give a “rapid pictorial view of the activities of REME Malta”, hoping that it would be of interest to all units on the island and to the various branches of Command HQ.

REME armourers are included in a list of REME Personnel of 1 Airborne Division in Airlifts on Operation MARKET. The document forms part of an Appendix to the DEME’s (Director of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering) Report on REME activities in Operation MARKET.

Typed document with information split under headings

REME Airborne Personnel, Op MARKET. E:08.0006.

We can learn more about the circumstances in which REME armourers served in Korea (1951-1953) from photographs such as the example which shows a mobile armourer’s workshop in Korea. The work of armourers in the 1950s is also demonstrated in a page from an Armourers’ Daily Job Book, 37 Rhine Workshop, BAOR (British Army of the Rhine), in two volumes. Volume I starts in 1944 and goes through to June 1952. Volume II continues on until December 1956. The jobs were listed over two pages per week, describing the types of weapons under repair as allocated per individual (including civilians), as well as the total production for the week of 9-15 December 1951.

Two images. The left is a black and white photo of a soldier leaning on a sign that reads " Armourer ". Shed building on wheels behind him reads " Armourer Shop ". The right image is a document on squared paper with handwritten notes in a table.

Armourer’s Mobile Workshop Korea (E:13.1503.037) and Armourers’ Job Book December 1951 (A:1975.1398).

Armourers at work in a similar large static workshop of the BAOR during the 1960s, are shown in the below image.

Black and white photo of men working at stations in a workshop. Large guns on wheels line the side of the room.

Armourers in 23 Base Workshop, Wetter, working on MOBAT Recoilless Anti-Tank Guns. E:09.0166.06.

Service at home is depicted in these images from 27 Command Workshops, Warminster, also in the 1960s, showing a Browning .303 Machine Gun being repaired in the armourers’ shop and a unit photo of the Central Armourers’ Shop.

Black and white photo of a man in an apron fixing a large gun at a workshop station. Other pieces of metal and materials on the station.

Repairing a Browning .303 Machine Gun at 27 Command Workshops, Warminster. E:09.0345.017.

Black and white photo of a group of men outside, smiling at the camera. Some wear military uniform, some wear aprons, some wear suits. Photo caption at the top reads " Central Armourer's Shop. 27 Command Workshops R.E.M.E. Warminster ".

Unit photograph of Central Armourers’ Workshop. E:09.0354.

Armourers’ personal collections provide a fascinating insight into the lives, careers and activities of the armourers who donated their material to the museum. The following photographs, which form part of these collections, depict activities such as maintenance, work on exercise and training during the 1970s-1990s.

Three images. From left to right, the first is a man inspecting a machine gun in a workshop. The second image is two men in military uniform attaching something to a tank. The last image is a black and white photo of a man working on a gun in a workshop.

Browning machine gun without barrel during assembly/disassembly (E:11.0862); Gun fitters on an M109 (E:11.0873); Armourer adjusting foresight of a 7.62 mm self-loading rifle in the armourers’ shop, 1 QLR LAD (E:11.0877).

Man in a brown jumpsuit works on a machine gun at a desk, which has other parts on it. A man in the background in a blue jumpsuit works on another gun. The hands of someone holding a gun are seen in the foreground. Posters of the inner workings of guns and machines on wall in background.

Assembly and disassembly of General Purpose Machine Guns. E:11.0876.

These collections also include such items as notebooks, service papers, medals, objects and other memorabilia. The examples below are of a notebook used during training in the 1940s and a page from an armourer’s apprentice notebook.

Three images of documents. From left to right, the first is the front cover of a book with the title " Exercise Book ". The second document is a handrawn diagram with added labels. The title reads " Tank Gun ". The last document is a page of handwritten notes.

Armourer’s Course Notebook Front Cover and Drawing (A:2012.5587) and a page from an Armourer Apprentice’s Notebook (E:08.0222).

Celia Cassingham, Museum Archivist

Published in The Craftsman, February 2022. The series on REME Trades will be published both in the magazine and on our blog.