Welcome to AusPostalHistory.com

THE SMALL ARMS FACTORY AT LITHGOW, N.S.W. 1912 - 1989

This 1943 violet 2d KGVI postcard is perfined OS/ NSW and postmarked with a machine cancel SYDNEY/ 10/ 9 15 AM /10/ 4 NOV/ 1948/ N.S.W. with a slogan cancel SEND MONEY/ BY POSTAL NOTE/ OR MONEY ORDER.  There is a red ‘clock’ cancel showing receipt on 6 NOV 1948.  It was addressed to Officer in Charge, Small Arms Factory, Lithgow (Figure 1).

The reverse shows that the OS/ NSW is definitely a perfin and not a black overprint and it reads:

 

  MEMO        Government Printing Office            Sydney 3 - 11- 1948
              I have this day forwarded per Passenger Train (to)
                  Lithgow             to your address
              Undermentioned     viz.    One 1 Parcel          Books
              T.H. TENNANT    Government Printer        per (initials)

(Figure 2)

 
The Small Arms Factory at Lithgow opened on 1 June 12 under the Defence Act 1903-1911, which enabled the Commonwealth Government to "establish and maintain arms and ammunition factories" and authorized "the employment of persons in a civil capacity for any purpose in connection with the Defence Force”. The Department of Defence was made responsible, under the Minister, for the administration of the Factory.  The Department had chosen the site for the Factory in 1909, and at the same time tenders were sought for plant to manufacture fifteen thousand .303 Lee-Enfield rifles per annum. 

Six mechanics were selected and sent to the Pratt and Whitney Factory in the USA to undergo training.  A Pratt and Whitney engineer, Mr A.C. Wright, was appointed the factory's first manager.  Mr F.R. Ratcliffe, a former employee of the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield (UK) and of Pratt and Whitney, was appointed Assistant Manager.  In 1912 there were 250 employees, and by 1913 the factory had produced the first consignment of .303 Lee-Enfield rifles for the defence forces.  An undated photograph of the factory is shown in Figure 3.

During World War I production was increased, new buildings erected and additional machinery acquired from Pratt and Whitney.  Employment had increased to 1,300 by 1915/16 when the first apprentices were taken on to train under skilled tradesmen.  In the post war period production decreased and there was a consequent retrenchment of employees in 1922.  The 1930's saw the staff numbers reduced to 250.  For the first time the Factory manufactured commercial products.  Manufacture of .303 inch calibre Bren light machine guns commenced on 8 January 1941.  A total of 12,000 people were employed by the Lithgow factory and other newly established Small Arms Factories during World War II.  Two men working in the factory are seen in the early 1940s (Figure 4).
 
 
Peak production of small arms amounted to 4,000 rifles, 150 Bren guns and 70 Vickers machine guns per week.  Bren and Vickers gun production ceased at the close of the war.  Production of the .303 Lee-Enfield rifle continued until 1956.  By 1959 the factory had been reorganised with new buildings and large-scale manufacture of the 7.62mm L1A1 rifle commenced.   Production of other military weapons, components and ammunition, as well as firearms for the civilian market, was undertaken.  Area security during WW 2 was of concern as shown by these  bunkers which are still found, around former anti-aircraft emplacements (Figure 5).

As of 23 April 1958 the Factory came under the control of the Department of Supply.  By 1959 Lee-Enfield rifle production had ceased and large scale production of the 7.62 mm L1A1 rifle for the defence forces had commenced, as well as expanded production in other areas.  A medal was issued in 1962 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory (Figure 6).
 
 
The Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum displays numerous non-military items manufactured during the near 80 years of precision engineering, including sewing machines, sheep shearing apparatus, hand cuffs and many other commercial items.


 

 
Copyright 2000-2016