An old rifle discovered last year by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) staff on a north east nature reserve has just been identified as a French rifle from the 1800s. Staff from the National War Museum in Edinburgh have confirmed what it is, but the mystery still remains as to how it got there.
Andy Turner, SNH's reserve manager at St Cyrus National Nature Reserve, six miles north of Montrose, discovered the remains of the rifle in a sea cave on the reserve. He decided to contact the National War Museum to find out what it was.
"I am more used to discovering plants and insects on the reserve and we do have some rare ones such as the maiden pink and clustered bellflower," said Turner. "The cliffs and dunes of St Cyrus have a distinctive range of plants, including many southern species. The reserve is also noted for its rich variety of insects, particularly butterflies and over 200 kinds of moth, as well as breeding birds include stonechats and skylarks."
"Discovering an old rifle is a new one for me but I realised that the rifle barrel and bolt were potentially part of an important artefact, even though the wooden stock had long since rotted away, so I contacted the experts for help."
Jonathan Ferguson, assistant curator of military history at the National War Museum, realised that it was a rifle used by the French army and made in the town of Saint Etienne, near Lyon in south eastern France.
Jonathan Ferguson said: "The rifle was made some time after 1880 and is a Fusil Modele 1874 Gras. It's a single shot, bolt-action weapon with a bayonet fitting - typical of military rifles from the late 19th century up until the 1960s. Although this particular design was only used by the French army for around a decade, it also saw service with the Greek army, and many years later with resistance fighters in the Second World War."
Neither SNH nor the National War Museum staff have any idea how the rifle came to set sail for Scotland's north east coast. Now that it has been identified it is going back to St Cyrus to become part of the display at the SNH reserve's visitor centre.
Andy Turner hopes that one day the mystery may be solved: "Perhaps one day a visitor will tell us how it got here. In the meantime we will mount it and its details in the visitor centre for people to have a look at."