The British Army webbing rifle sling we are looking at tonight was a very long lasting pierce of equipment, being introduced in 1901 and not being made obsolete until 1991. The webbing sling for use with the various marks of Lee-Enfield was only designed for carrying the weapon, rather than as an aid to fire. Nowhere in the weapons pamphlets of the period is the average soldier shown how to fire with the aid of the sling (separate snipers’ slings were available). The sling is made of webbing 1 ¼” wide and 46” long:At either end is a brass Catches, web sling; a 1 1/4 “ brass chape riveted to the sling with hose rivets:One of these is marked ‘MeCo’ and dated 1936:The sling was attached to the rifle at two points and was either tightened up so it looked smart on parade:Or left loose so the rifle could be slung over a shoulder:The slings were also used on early issue Thompson machine guns in British service, Lanchester machine guns and as carrying straps for the Bren sustained fire tripod. They could also be fastened together to form and improvised rope in emergencies. This was not always effective as Arnold Straw remembers:
A number of the men had been killed trying to reach the beach by fastening rifle slings together, but these had come apart sending men hurtling to their deaths on the rocks below, or, because in the darkness the height of the cliffs had been under-estimated, with similar results.
Corporal George Walker of the Argyll and Sutherland highlanders found another use for his rifle sling:
Another time, our section found ourselves in a farm house when the battalion stopped to consolidate the position after capturing the area. It must have been some German HQ mess, because there was a table laid out ready for a meal, and on the stove stocked up with wood, was a pan with a plucked chicken in, ready for cooking. We looked at it for ages, very tempting for hungry lads. After a while we knew we would be moving on, so we tied some rifle slings together, looped it round the pan, hid in the next room and pulled. The only sound was the pan crashing to the floor and contents all over the place. At that moment we were ordered to move on. I’ve often wondered if the wood in the stove had been booby trapped, and maybe have gone up if anyone had lit it.
The uses of slings could be vary varied, Alistair McGhee was in Burma when his jeep came off the road:
We sat for a while, feeling somewhat despondent, when I noticed across the paddy field, a Burmese peasant leading an ox. I made my way across the field and persuaded, by sign language (and bribery), the Burmese to bring his ox across the field to us. Using our combined rifle slings round the neck of the ox, we attempted to pull the jeep back onto the track — to no avail. Again we sat and wondered what to do next!
Slings were produced in Britain , Canada and India. I have not yet found pictures of Australian and South African examples, but it is entirely likely they were produced in those countries as well.