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Monday, February 25, 2013

Royal Enfield motorcycle trained riders for World War II

John Thom trained British soldiers in 1940.
This handsome soldier astride a Royal Enfield motorcycle is John Thom, father of Derek Thom of the UK. Derek recently shared the photograph and this brief story:

"My late father was in the Lincolnshire Regiment in 1940 initially as a driving instructor. He survived the war but I often wonder what happened to his particular Royal Enfield.

"I'm sure my dad... would have been very happy to think others would see (the photo). He passed away aged 90 in 2009.

"I think the Royal Enfield was just one of many 'vehicles' he utilised in the early part of the war. I know he mainly taught soldiers to drive Bren gun carriers and even M-10 tank destroyers before he was moved to 17-pounder anti-tank gun training in another regiment in the post-1944 period.

"He didn't carry on biking that long but he must have had access to someone's machine just after World War II... a BSA. He often told me that he paced his brother Bob on long training runs. At that time Bob was a racing cyclist for the English Viking Cycle Team.

"I live in the city of Wolverhampton in the West Midlands as did both my father John and his brother Bob."

The motorcycle in the photo is a 350cc side-valve Royal Enfield WD/C. This model hadn't initially impressed the War Department but it was ordered in quantity after the British Army lost much of its motor transport at Dunkirk. An overhead valve CO model was also produced, to offer a little better performance.

There were plenty of both. Graham Scarth, chairman of the Royal Enfield Owners Club, told me that "The ledgers we have record nearly 12,000 Model C 350cc side-valve machines (and) over 25,000 Model CO 350cc overhead-valve machines... There will have been more of the Model C also, as there was an earlier ledger that the REOC does not have."

According to Jan Vandevelde, an expert on War Department motorcycles, the "C4362748" painted on the tank of this motorcycle is a census number from military contract C/8136 — for 3,000 WD/C motorcycles, with deliveries from June until October, 1941.

Is there any chance it survives? Not much.

After the war many ex-War Department motorcycles were sold to the public. Royal Enfield itself rebuilt ex-WD machines for sale to civilians, including many former soldiers, some of them perhaps trained by Derek's father.

And what then?

"In time new models did reach the home buyer and the crude military machines were driven into the ground, although that was never easy with anything capable of withstanding service use," author Roy Bacon writes in his book "Royal Enfield, The Postwar Models."

"Or they were just left to rot away until genuine ex-WD machines became rare and then valuable..."

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