Firearms in history

By Grahame Long

Dummy Rifle (or “fencing rifle”)


Chillicothe, Ohio


 Not to be confused with other “dummy” weaponry used to deceive enemy reconnaissance, these all-wooden “devices” mimic bolt-action rifle and bayonet forms and were used as training tools for American and other allied recruits. Due to expanding trench warfare tactics being employed throughout Western Europe by 1915, hand-to-hand combat training had become even more essential for those on the front. Furthermore, because of Allied shortages of rifles at the beginning of the war, plenty of new recruits were reduced to training with makeshift substitute weaponry. In Britain, for example, more than one million men had volunteered for service by the end of 1914, causing the demand for proper firearms (not to mention uniforms most other necessary equipages) to far outrun supply.

Even by the time the United States entered the war 100 years ago, domestic small arms production was inadequate. As one recruit wrote to his mother, “we are short of just about everything.” He was right. After all, Woodrow Wilson had just won a second term thanks in part to the “He kept us out of War” slogan and the American work force was already at full steam providing other nations with their needed supplies, military and otherwise.

For a time, stateside soldiers waiting for their turn “over there” had little choice but to wait it out before getting their hands on the real deal. To train, however, indeed there were options and compromises that, if not a bit silly looking, were still effective enough.

Although crude, simple wooden pieces such as the one pictured — a form similar to the model 1903 Springfield — served well in providing basic bayonet-fighting skills all the while protecting the combatants with a hard rubber ball fitted between the canvas straps at the end. Naturally, there were some severe drawbacks though. The weight was far lighter — nearly six pounds less than an actual Model 1903 which troops would soon carry into battle. To correct this imbalance, U.S. makers soon created metal, true-to-weight dummy bayonets with blunt ends, which could be fixed at the muzzle of the replicated gun. Other metal (and therefore heaver) furniture like bolts, trigger guards, sights and fixed magazines were added as well to help simulate the feel of a real gun.


Grahame Long is the chief curator for The Charleston Museum, author and proud contributor to the Charleston Mercury. Follow him on Instagram at @instagrahamelong.



Mercury newspapers can be found at the following locations:


Buxton Books

Caviar & Bananas

The Meeting Street Inn (Rack)

Clair's Service Station, Folly Rd. (Rack)

Harris Teeter, Houston-Northcutt Blvd. (Rack)

Mt. Pleasant Library, Mathis Ferry Rd. (Rack)

Pitt St. Pharmacy

The Square Onion, I'On (Rack)