With their machine-guns and rifles at ease, this image shows a group of British soldiers going back to their billets for a rest after the fighting at Monchy. Although the thick barrel of the machine gun in this photograph makes it look more like a trench mortar it is a Lewis light machine gun.
The Lewis Gun was invented by US Army Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis in 1911, based on initial work by Samuel Maclean. Despite its origins the weapon was not initially adopted by the American military so Lewis resigned his commission and left the United States in 1913 and moved to Belgium. Although he established the Armes Automatique Lewis company in Liege, to facilitate commercial production of the weapon he had been working closely with British arms manufacturer the Birmingham Small Arms company (BSA) in an effort to overcome production difficulties. In 1914 BSA purchased a licence to manufacture the Lewis MG in the UK which resulted in Col. Lewis receiving significant royalty payments and becoming very wealthy.
World War I increased demand for the weapon and BSA began production (under the designation Model 1914). The design was officially approved for service on 15 October 1915 under the designation “Gun, Lewis, .303-cal.
Original reads: ‘OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN ON THE BRITISH WESTERN FRONT. Back for a rest after the heavy fighting at Monchy.’
The Battle of Arras 9th April to 16th May 1917
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